Graceland: When will they open The Bedroom?

May 29, 2007

The Commercial Appeal has a piece today on Graceland’s preparations for Elvis Week, the annual August celebration commemorating the August 16, 1977 death of the King. According to Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden, “Elvis is getting bigger all over the world. We say it, and I know it sounds like a company fight song, but it’s true.”

Well, maybe. The article notes that “tourism to Graceland was down last year to roughly 554,000 visitors from an annual average of roughly 600,000.” As noted on this blog and other places, Elvis has been surpassed on the list of top-earning dead celebrities by Kurt Cobain. The youngest teenager to have seen a first-run movie in which Elvis was an actor is now 51 years old. Graceland, as do all attractions, needs to have something new from time to time. Over the years the Elvis people have opened new rooms and exhibits, and have even given their blessing to an Elvis impersonator contest. This year, by means of a mirror, visitors will be able, for the first time, to peer into Elvis’s mother’s closet.

The big lures, the one that would make the turnstiles spin, however, are Elvis’s bedroom and the bathroom in which he died. No one other than family and, one presumes, Graceland staff have been admitted to this holy of holies. According to this William F. Buckley column from 2000, “Even Al Gore we had to say no to. Even Peter Guralnick (the renowned Presley biographer).”

The question is not if Graceland will ever open the bedroom and bathroom, but when. As wonderful as Elvis was and as timeless as his music is, his fans are aging, and it’s not clear how many of the iPod generation will want to make the pilgrimage to Memphis. To keep Graceland at the top of the list of the most-visited private homes in America, those doors will someday open.

The person who holds the key to this decision is Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’s only child and the owner of Graceland, who is now 39 years old. She has her own show business career, to be sure, and could never work another day and still remain a wealthy woman. But the pressures to open that door will build, and someday those doors will open.

My money is on Elvis Week of 2027.

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Creation Museum opens: Thank God for Kentucky!

May 28, 2007

The Creation Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time today, attracting a great deal of media attention. Everyone who cares about Tennessee’s national image should mark this opening by bowing down and say “Thank God for Kentucky!”

We used to say “Thank God for Mississippi,” for so many times the Magnolia State kept Tennessee off the bottom of the list of the 50 states in dollars spent on public education or items along that line. Now Kentucky has caused us to dodge a bullet, for is the unfortunate site of the Creation Museum, an embarassment that is at once an affront to science and an insult to intelligence.

I know that a state has no control over what sort of institutions choose to set up shop there, and Tennessee already has enough eye rollers, thank you very much, but we certainly didn’t need this one. We’re still living down the Scopes Trial. Having a place like the Creation Museum or Bob Jones University (which was founded in Cleveland, Tennessee but mercifully slunk off to South Carolina) has a bad effect on how a state is perceived by the rest of the country.

Having this Creation Temple of Disinformation in one’s borders lowers the stock of high school graduates, reduces the influence of that state’s colleges, and makes Kentucky the fodder for comedians everywhere. Thank goodness it wasn’t Tennessee!

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Tennessee wineries make The Wall Street Journal

May 25, 2007

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article on the explosion of vineyards and wineries around the country. The Journal article reports that “There are 5,110 wineries in the country — 1,773 outside of California, Washington, Oregon and New York, according to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.”

That’s a lot of corks in a lot of bottles.

The newspaper dispatchd a reporter to drive around and sample the various wines–how does one get a job like that?–and two Tennessee wineries were included among the five states featured in the piece: Holly Ridge Winery in Livingstone on the Cumberland Plateau and Sumner Crest Winery near Portland. Both make sweet wines. The piece quotes Curtis Wallin, owner of Holly Ridge Vineyards in Livingston, Tenn. as saying, “I don’t care much for sweet wines. But I do like the way they ring the cash register.” The photo below is of his wines.

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


‘The Miracle’ in Pigeon Forge

May 22, 2007

And it came to pass that they went unto the town called Pigeon Forge, therein to look upon the wonders along the street called Parkway. They came looking for a wondrous woman named Louise Mandrell, but they found that she had departed the city, leaving only her website, which hath the gift of everlasting life. In her old theater, however, a wondrous new show offered an aerial battle of angels, Lucifer live and on stage, Adam & Eve & the apple, and an on-stage crucifixion and resurrection. All this was billed as The Miracle, and it was revealed to them that they could witness all these things for $33.40 a head.

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American Legacy features DeFord Bailey

May 22, 2007

American Legacy, the magazine of African-American history and culture, has an insightful article in their summer issue on Deford Bailey, the first black star of the Grand Ole Opry. Bailey played harmonica on the very first show in which the name “Grand Ole Opry” was used, in 1927, and continued performing until 1941, when he got in the middle of a royalties fight between ASCAP and BMI and quit.

Unlike his blues counterparts, Bailey played a country-flavored harmonica. You can hear several of his songs here. While on the Opry, he was very popular with audiences and performers alike. The fact that the Opry was on radio and listeners could not see him made it easier to break a black performer into country music.

Bailey put up with a great deal of racism in his life. He was often referred to as “the mascot” of the Opry, and when he traveled with Opry stars, he was refused service at hotels and restaurants. When he left the Opry, he set up a shoeshine business in downtown Nashville and ran it, according to the article, until 1971, when he was 72 years old. He died in 1982, and was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


‘Iron City Blues’ film can’t even win Goober award

May 21, 2007

Having a slow day down at the film development office? Here’s a formula that never fails: pick some backwoods Southern town, hint that outsiders aren’t welcome there–“you ain’t from around here, are ye?”–and send some outsider in to check things out.

The latest version of this tiresome stuff is Iron City Blues, a documentary that depicts–well, let’s go to the press release, along with a little commentary:

After years of hearing urban rural legends about a lawless old mining town with a sky-high murder rate, (uh, when your population is only 368, all it takes is one killing to game the stats) blues musician Big Mike Griffin rides to Iron City to learn the truth for himself. Unlike nearby McNairy County which was home to Sheriff Buford Pusser in “Walking Tall,” Iron City has remained lawless and untamed. To Big Mike, it was the perfect subject for a blues song.

Along with a former Marine as a guide, Big Mike rides through Tennessee’s backroads to the heart of Iron City. (Blink and you’ll miss this “heart.”) There, surrounded by buildings ravaged by fire and years of decay (we couldn’t afford to film in Detroit), he interviews a fascinating collection of locals who seem to actually enjoy living their lives on the edge of anarchy. (As do most residents of peckerwood towns from coast to coast.) The resulting song, a high-energy blues anthem infused with southern rock (invoke Lynyrd Skynyrd here), is as much a celebration of Iron City as it is an ominous warning to outsiders.

Cue the banjo music, folks, it’s Deliverance 23!

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Bob Barker’s Tennessee career

May 15, 2007

Bob Barker, the longtime TV game show host who is being canonized on nighttime TV with two (count ’em!) specials, is receiving all manner of print tributes as well, the most recent in today’s New York Times.

None of these tributes, however, mention his brief but very successful career as a game show host before live audiences in Tennessee and other southern states in the late 1970s. I was a Knoxville-based stringer for The New York Times during those years, and I wrote a piece in the Times about him. Therein lies a tale.

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