Lots of people are obsessed with The King. Here’s the latest, via the Washington Post Style section.
Today’s Memphis Commercial Appeal has an article describing big–and much needed–changes at Graceland. Bob Sillerman acquired an 85 percent interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises in 2005, and now he is rolling out $250 million worth of projects aimed at keeping the King on his throne. Longtime President and CEO Jack Soden is the spokesman for the new efforts.
For the Elvis fan who has everything, here’s one more must-have item: a life-size bust of The King that can sing, make comments, and blink his eyes. The company behind this technological delight, Wowwee Alive, first produced the head of a chimp, but now the product line has evolved.
Elvis comes alive–at least from the neck up–according to the company web page, recounting 37 monologues about his life and singing eight of his best loved songs, including:
That’s All Right
Love Me Tender
Blue Suede Shoes
Baby What You Want Me To Do
That last song may portend the future, if and when the company ever releases the full body model. The cost for the bust will be around $300.
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 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.
This week’s Memphis Flyer brings news of a new Elvis book, this one focusing on the King’s love of law enforcement. The groaner of a title is Elvis: In The Beat of the Night. Michael Finger of the Flyer writes: “The entertainer liked to hang out with policemen, collected police badges wherever he traveled, and enjoyed being made an honorary policeman in any city where he performed.”
The book, written by retired Memphis police captain Robert Ferguson, came into being at the urging of Peter Guralnick, who interviewed the Ferguson for the two-volume biography of Elvis and urged him to write a book of his own. The book was self-published and costs $14.95. It can be picked up in Memphis at Davis-Kidd Booksellers and at Borders or ordered directly from the author by calling him at 901-380-8411.
I grew up with Rolling Stone. I was 15 years old when it hit the streets, and I subscribed as soon as I could. I would come home from high school to find my mother fuming about “that trashy magazine” that had arrived in the mail that day.
Rolling Stone has come out with a wonderful 40th issue, which includes interviews with people ranging from Jimmy Carter to Tom Wolfe as well as a list of “40 Songs that Changed the World.” First on that list is Elvis’s “That’s All Right.” Toward the back of the magazine, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards weigh in on the effect of the King on their music.
From Jagger: “The Elvis period was super-rebellious. Because that kid of music was much more shocking than the music of the Beatles–the early Beatles. . . .The wild men–Elvis, Jerry Lee–they were much more scary.”
From Keith, upon being asked what was the first rock & roll record you heard?: “The one memory that sticks out immediately is hearing “Heartbreak Hotel” one night on Radio Luxembourg. It was hard to get the signal, so you’d be walking around the room with the radio, going , ‘Oh, no, it’s fading!’ But it was like the world went technicolor.”
The keepers of the Elvis flame have rolled out television ads, a new website, and print ads to revive the lure of the King and to get people to visit Graceland. Here’s a New York Times article on the effort, which notes that “Cirque du Soleil is developing an Elvis-themed tour and has signed a deal for a permanent Elvis show based in Las Vegas from 2009 while American Greetings is planning to expand its line of Elvis Christmas tree decorations and greetings cards.”
The Elvis folks need to do something, for the King has begun to slip. Last year he dropped to second place in the roster of top-earning dead celebrities. This year marks the 30th anniversary of his death.
I downloaded the latest brochure for Graceland, which you can do here, and looked to see how Elvis is being pitched. To say that the brochure disappoints is an understatement. An older couple on the cover looks as if they are killing time while waiting for the four-hour effects of Cialis to wear off. A white-bread family of four is seen oohing and ahhing over the Elvis artifacts. There is not one black face in the entire piece.
Elvis became The King because he was a white trash rebel with nothing to lose who had the audacity to take black music and blast it into the consciousness of white America. That Changed Everything. He became who he was because he came of age in a city where the musical planets had lined up for a Mississippi-born boy who would listen to the Statesmen one night and buy clothes on Beale Street the next day.
The way to keep Elvis alive is to keep the focus on the music. Encourage people to remix his songs. Remember what Junkie XL did with “A Little Less Conversation” in 2002? That song, one of the minor pieces in the canon, became a number one hit in over 20 countries.
Just a few miles from Graceland is Soulsville, the celebration of Stax Records. The Elvis people should enter into a partnership with Soulsville and encourage some of the 600,000 people who come to Graceland to visit this studio where black music, loved and championed by Elvis, came into its own.