Recently I was in Kentucky for work and was lucky enough to have some leisure time. I drove to Memphis, a city I’ve only ever known because of my cousin’s love of Elvis Presley. I couldn’t wait to go to Graceland so I could feel what she must have felt for him. Instead, when I arrived in my blue suede shoes, what I got was a theme park.
The house was built in 1939 and purchased by Elvis in 1957. Graceland was once a proud estate home that Presley had bought to care for his elderly parents better than they were able to care for him in his younger years. Now it’s a museum with over 600,000 patrons every year. Really, it’s a Mecca. People make the pilgrimage to somewhere beyond their radios and TVs to feel closer to him. For me, I was searching for a connection to my cousin who passed away when we were kids.
Once inside the mansion, the seductive voice of John Stamos filled my ears from a self-guided iPad tour. I quickly felt cheated from any memories of my cousin. There was no reminiscing to be found in Elvis’s pool hall, racquetball court, trophy room, or his gaudy 70s “Jungle Room.” Staring at my reflection in the ceiling of Elvis’s basement media room, I realized that going to Graceland to feel nostalgic was impossible. I was lying to myself. If it hadn’t been for the Graceland facts narrated by John Stamos, I probably would have breezed through the lofty place in under 10 minutes. I was looking for something that couldn't be found in an aging gilded shrine. Back at the ticket office and rows of repetitious gift shops, all that was missing were bumper cars set to Jailhouse Rock and an overweight impersonator for photo ops.
I suppose what I really wanted was for my thirteen year old cousin to be swooning in Elvis’s old home; to feel her excitement instead the lack of my own; to remember her in her room filled with paraphernalia, records, pillows, and anything else that resembled her idol.
The tour ends with a walk by the graves of Elvis, his parents, and his brother. This was the longest part of the tour as the crowds bottleneck around to gaze upon the tombstone of Elvis. I have always felt an obligation to like the music and movies of Elvis more than I actually had because of my cousin. But seeing the people surrounding me at Graceland, I felt that they too were looking for an unknown connection. They had the same “is that it?” look upon their faces, or maybe I was just seeing something that wasn’t there. I left Graceland empty in my blue suede shoes.