Unamazing Graceland

Paul Simon had already been to Graceland, I figured, so I needn't bother.

I don't own any of Elvis's records and can't name any of his movies, but sure, I respect Elvis's contribution to the birth of rock 'n' roll. He made some great records, though I can't remember the last time I felt like listening to one.

So while in Memphis, Tenn., for a wedding, I thought my priorities for additional activities were clear - barbecue and blues. Yet there I was, paying $16 for the "mansion" tour and another 7 bucks to see Elvis's customized jet. We passed on additional charges to see The King's car collection, his saddles and riding gear, and his leftover cheese sandwiches. (I made that last part up.)

There are two things you should know about Graceland. First, it's inevitable. As one of our party put it, "I may never get to Memphis again - I'm going to Graceland!" Even an Elvis agnostic like me feels the pull.

Second, and this is the shocking part, Graceland is intrinsically b-o-r-i-n-g. They may not have lacquered up Elvis's lunch, but one of the alleged highlights of the tour is his kitchen. His very ordinary, very dull kitchen. Why, Elvis had four burners on his stove, too, and according to the tape of Lisa Marie Presley's reminiscences playing in the background, that television in the corner was always on! Pinch me.

And that's another thing. I didn't see one person faint in or around Graceland. No one cried either, nor were any bouquets tossed onto Elvis's very plain tombstone. No gilt, no rhinestones.

No Elvis impersonators were among my group. No one burst into spontaneous renditions of "Heartbreak Hotel." No one wore blue suede shoes. There were very few instances, in fact, of big hair and the number of motorcycle gangs rumbling in the parking lot was exactly zero.

Most of the other visitors seemed to be there for the same reason I was: Because it's there. They had the same glazed expressions you see among museumgoers everywhere - trudging forward, trying to keep up with their audiotours as they headed for the gift shop.

I guess I was expecting a place that looked like an episode of "The Simpsons" come to life - throbbing in unnatural colors. OK, the jungle room did come through on that score. The next most interesting feature was the TV room, where Elvis could watch all three networks at once. He copied the set-up from Lyndon Johnson. What a rebel, that Elvis.

The forgotten truth about Graceland is that it was the home of the artist known as "fat Elvis," as opposed to the more youthful, less sedentary (and drug-addled) Elvis. "It's like a time capsule of a really dull time in history," my wife said.

"You should be here in August," we heard later. "You get the crying and flowers as you get closer to the anniversary of Elvis's death."

Maybe that should be the only month they open Graceland to the public.

For fanatics, I'm sure Graceland is a field of dreams. For the rest of us, it's just a yawn.

William S. Klein is a political consultant.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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