Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Elvis Presley Remembered - An account by Robert Steven Mack of a recent visit to Graceland and how I learned about Elvis' life, career, and taste
Elvis Presley was unique: He led a unique life, had a unique career, and a unique taste for food and a way of life. Quite unique, particularly for a man of his impressive superstar status and wealth. Just have a look at Graceland, his "oddly" decorated and beloved estate; his Delta airliner converted to a home on wings with all the niceties; most importantly, I urge you to taste his favorite dishes. Simple but delicious! Try his mouth-watering banana pudding recipe, the appetizing morning dish of bacon and eggs, the simple but plentiful dish consisting of meat loaf and fried potatoes for TV dinners and such. Then there is, of course, my now absolute favorite that I tried while at Graceland: the grilled banana-and-peanut butter sandwich - to be eaten in total delight and relaxed satisfaction. Grilled peanut-and-banana sandwich is a must-eat when visiting Graceland!
Yes, Elvis was a unique guy. There have been thousands of fan clubs around the world, and yet he maintained a simple albeit plentiful life. He was celebrated as the all-American guy and starred in more than thirty movies made during the 1950's and '60's. Most of them were phenomenal box office successes. Yet, this all-American boy was keeping to his southern roots. Born in 1935, Elvis' grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by poverty and blues, disdained and rejected from a society not yet ready to accept them as a part of their culture. Elvis learned to appreciate the simple things in life. This is what he liked, what he wanted, and what he got. Sitting on the porch of some coloured neighbor on a frosty morning, listening to the sad on-goings of rhythm and blues coming from some poor tattered old banjo telling his story of despair over and over again and to the world. Yet, no one in the world was listening. Only this neighborhood was listening. Young Elvis loved going to the movies for ten cents and and a bag of popcorn, adding relentless longing to the experience. Just like anybody, Elvis had his silver screen heroes. And just like almost everybody, Elvis' heroes were Marlon Brando and James Dean.
Elvis was no more than 18 years old when the boy who became superstar Elvis Presley walked into a recording joint, "Sun Records" to record a record for his mother, Gladys. At first he failed. People told him he could not sing and would be a truck driver forever. Elvis did not give up and was finally signed with RCA Records and came to the curious attention of the public in incomprehensible fashion. His first hit was "Heartbreak Hotel." The year was 1956 - The year was Elvis'. After being propelled by "controversial" performances on The Steve Allen Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis put his name into to a different medium, Hollywood movies.
Whether on film, radio, or television Elvis ignited energy and fires,as well the imagination in powerful waves of inspiration.
Recently on a trip my parents and I made, while stopping at Memphis, Tennessee, my mother's omniscient knowledge, love, and devotion to the factors of his life and career made us give a few hours to visit Graceland, an estate of beauty and imagination. Graceland was once the favorite home of Elvis A. Presley. My visit to Graceland made it clear that all Elvis ever wanted to get out of life was happiness and to full fill his American Dream. Through all his countless live performances and movies, all the same nature, Elvis was a first-rate entertainer and always inventing a new way to entertain his audiences in a way pleasing and worth while for them.
Hard to believe, but there was a time before that stop at Graceland two weeks ago when I did not know as much about the Elvis phenomenon. As a knowledgeable historian of film, television, and its artists, I of course knew and read about Elvis. His dramatic endeavour in "Love Me Tender," his first film and the routine musical-comedies he did such as "Viva Las Vegas," "Fun in Acapulco," and nameless others. But did I know Elvis? No. Do you know Elvis? Probably not, unless you've been to Graceland at Memphis Tennessee. You do not go immediately to Graceland. After buying the pricey tickets -and wondering if this really worth all that money- my mother and I proceeded to the shuttle and pressed #1 on our audio tour guide. But not before getting my picture taken with "Elvis." I must say though, Elvis very nice about the ordeal. He was. He didn't one bit seem to mind me taking a picture with him to be magnetized on our refrigerator door for all our visitors to admire. In fact, I don't even think he knew:) It was a short shuttle drive to Graceland - where, I dare say, the spirit of Elvis dwells, though the background music on the audio tour guide helped me to get into the mood.
From the outside, Graceland doesn't look too extraordinary even to the point where you might secretly ask yourself: "So what's the big deal?" Still, after gazing at the mansion for a few seconds you begin to feel its strange presence; you have no idea what to expect. You go through the doors and press play. In the entrance hall you think to yourself and say "So this is how Elvis spent his days"...all the while listening to Elvis' music, fun facts, and trivia on your audio tour guide. The dining room is elegantly decorated with fine dishes and glasses of fine quality, the living room across the hall has a relaxed, "no sweat" sort of feel to it. It can only be the perfect place to kick off your shoes and read a good book. The kitchen is slick and modern-looking in 70's style, complete with a TV-set placed on the counter and an old oven situated heavenly in the other corner. You can only wonder if it was this clean when Elvis was still alive?
Descending into the basement, you'll see the billiards room and the pool room with the walls furnished entirely in cloth. After you tour the rest of the mansion, you'll enter the grounds and eventually come to an exhibit going through the history of Elvis' success story. When you have completed the tour, you will likely come upon Elvis' grave site where the remains of Elvis lie in harmony and peace - yet not complete privacy. Your next stop will be either to one of the shops or the automobile museum, a showcasing of Elvis' unique collection of automobiles...including his famous pink Cadillac. Feel free to stop by one of the restaurants there and get a promising lunch in '50s fast food style. You can also tour the two planes that once belonged to Elvis.
Elvis is unique. But for me, it took that trip to Graceland to bring me into the Elvis mode.
Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)