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2005-11-01 All shook up in the home of The King

He sold one billion records worldwide, had eighteen number ones, fourteen Grammy nominations (three wins), a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Gold, Platinum and Multi-platinum awards for 150 albums and singles  he was, of course, that foot-tappin, finger-snappin, pelvis-swayin King of Rock n Roll  Elvis Aaron Presley.

 

Recently I had the fortune to work in Memphis, Tennessee  birthplace of the blues, landmark of the US Civil Rights struggle (the scene of Martin Luther Kings martyrdom in 1968), and the capital of Elvis idolatry.

Named after the Egyptian city on the Nile, Memphis boasts a mammoth musical heritage. Downtown Beale Street, on the east bank of the Mississippi, with its assorted clubs, restaurants and bars, resembles a "blues theme-park".

In the renowned Sun Studios, legendary names from Roy Orbison to U2 have immortalised their talents on disc. Graceland, opened in 1982 by Elviss ex-wife Priscilla, is three miles south of downtown on US51  Elvis Presley Boulevard. Elvis was born on January 8, 1935, in a little two-roomed house in Tupelo, Mississippi. His twin brother Jessie was tragically still-born. Young Elvis became very much influenced by the Tennessee black culture, and the black R&B influences from Beale Street.

Apart from three Canadian concerts, Elvis really only performed in the US. But what perhaps deems Elvis The King is the fact that his music is a fusion of white, black, gospel, country, rock n roll and pop, a watershed in the history of popular music. "If there was music that bleeds, this was it" (Grei Marcus). Elvis was an icon for others to follow  John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Elton John, to name but a tiny selection.

In 1957, Elvis purchased Graceland with its 500-acre estate for $100,000, and he was to live here until his untimely death in 1977, at the age of just 42. I just about made the final tour of the day at 5pm (missing out on the Elvis car collection including the famous Pink Cadillac, and Lisa-Maries airplane).

I plugged in my clear and thorough audio-guide, and walked through the front doors of this historic home, straight into Elviss sitting-room. The white suite and stained-glass dividing doors of the main room immediately transported me in a style-capsule back to the 60s and 70s.

The dining-room, opposite, was equally loud and gaudy - mirrors everywhere, and a vast chandelier over the dining room table. Understandably, upstairs is out-of-bounds, so next we were led down a mirrored stairway to the bright yellow and blue TV room  hideous, but irrefutably of its time. The multi-coloured, kaleidoscopic fabric-lined pool-room, and the jungle room with its green shag-pile floor and ceiling carpets, and fake-fur rugs, have got to be seen to be believed.

In the Garage Museum, the white fur-lined double bed with built-in stereo system redefines taste. For me, it was the old footage of Elvis at home, with his family, swimming, partying and laughing, which was the most moving.

We moved out through the peaceful backyard, past the horse paddocks, into Vernons office. The footage of Elvis returning from the army displays the shy and endearing Elvis. In the Trophy Room, we viewed endless memorabilia, including hundreds of golden discs lining the walls, each representing a million sales, personal letters from US presidents, glittery and sequined stage costumes from terrible to tolerable (that pale-blue body-suit, aaagh), movie clips from his 30 or more movies, and hundreds of personal cheques to charities  private donations which were kept quiet until after his death. In the Racquetball Court, hundreds more gold and platinum discs, and the sunken lounge with the piano, where he played and sang on his last day.

Elvis is laid to rest by the pool alongside his closest relatives  his mom, his dad, his little twin brother Jessie, and his grandmother Minnie who outlived them all! The memorial garden with plastic wreaths from all over the world, the eternal flame, and the audio guide with contributions by Priscilla, Lisa-Marie, Colonel Parker and others, mean that the entire experience, while tacky at times, is highly charged and emotional.

I didnt fall for the Love me tender lovehearts wrapped in a parchment within a snow scene, but I left with no doubt in my mind at all that this was a man who, single-handed, changed the course of popular music forever.

And Im certain the 625 active Elvis fanclubs worldwide would agree.