My family and I toured Graceland the other day. It was kind of funny going from the Biltmore Estate and the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s not to say that Graceland wasn’t impressive, but it was just……different. Biltmore was home to a tycoon while Graceland was home to a king, but we all know that money can’t buy you love, or happiness, or all of the things in life that seem to matter more than possessions.
Walking through the halls and rooms of Graceland, I was mixed with both a sense of awe as well as a profound sadness deep inside. It felt almost like hallowed ground, and I hesitate to even use the term “hallowed” but there’s no other word that I can find to describe it. It was almost as if you could feel Elvis in the air, hear his voice ringing through the walls.
The tour didn’t include the upstairs, where Elvis is supposed to have breathed his last breath. We walked through the first floor of the house, into his dad’s office, into the trophy building, and to the racquetball building. His accolades, accomplishments, and acquisitions were on full display for everyone to see. In some ways, I felt as if I was going over a friend’s house and having him show me all of his treasures and awards, bashfully boasting, but not with an arrogance so much as in an effort to be accepted, to be loved, to prove something to me.
As I meandered through these buildings, taking in all the features, seeing Elvis’ achievements, awards, outfits, and more, I started to think about the fact that he died at 42, a year younger than me. There is no mention in the house of his broken relationship with Priscilla. There is no mention in the house of how he died and what he had gotten into by the time of his death. No, this was a place of homage to a king and one of the reasons why it’s good to be king is that people might only remember the good things that you did.
At the end of the house tour, you find yourself in the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are all buried. Standing there a day after the five year anniversary of my mother’s death, I thought that I was going to start bawling like a baby. But why? It’s not like I knew him, but like I said, I was overcome with a deep sadness as I thought about him, his achievements, what he had become, and what he might have been had he lived on. As I saw my children walking through the garden ahead of me, I choked back the emotions that were desperately trying to rise up within my throat.
I stood over his grave, thinking about this man whose end had come too soon. I thought about what he had accomplished in his short 42 years and I wondered what he thought and what he felt in those last hours of his life.
After walking through the house and garden, we walked through the Lisa Marie, his custom airplane. We walked past his cars, his motor toys, and a few of his motorcycles. I’m not sure that you could call it “excess” but he liked things that were nice and he wasn’t afraid to pay for them. He had the money, after all, and looking at it all, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was trying to find something else with all this stuff, if he was trying to find the very thing that no amount of money could ever buy.
He had acquired a lot of stuff, had racked up lots of awards, he even had been quietly philanthropic with his money, giving to charities here and there without the usual self-trumpeting of most celebrities. He was the king of rock and roll, the man who had started it all with his swinging pelvis. His legacy was there before me, I had walked past it and I could hear it in the air, almost feel it.
Sure, he lives on, some may say, in his music, in this mansion, and in the hearts of all of his fans. But I wish that I could have jumped in a time machine and traveled back 50 years or so. I wish I could have hung out with him in the Jungle Room, picked up his guitar and jammed with him a little. In much the same way that Elton John sang about Marilyn Monroe, I think I could say the same thing about Elvis, I would have loved to have just had a conversation with him, to hear his heart a little bit.
I’m sure he was a fun guy, he liked to party, but I would have loved to have been there when the party was over, when his friends left, when there was quiet in Graceland, and when he was alone with himself. I wonder what thoughts he thought, I wonder what dreams he dreamed, I wonder whether he had any regrets running through his mind. I wonder who he really was when the lights were off, the cameras were gone, and he didn’t feel like he had to perform.
The day that we pulled out of Graceland, my son and I walked out to the entrance of the RV Park where we stayed and took the picture above. At the end of Lonely Street is the Heartbreak Hotel. Even if you turned off all the Elvis music playing around you, I think you might hear him faintly singing in the air.
It was good to pay homage to the King, a little sad, but he’s left a legacy, despite his flaws. And as we pulled out of Lonely Street towards our next destination, it was fitting that Elvis was playing in the car!