Caught in a (time) trap, it's Elvis' graced land

August 16, 1992|By Ann G. Sjoerdsma | Ann G. Sjoerdsma,Contributing Writer

Hold me close, hold me tight,

Make me thrill with delight,

Let me know where I stand from the start,

I want you, I need you, I love you

With all my haar-haar-heart."

Everlasting passion. Burning love. The rich, melodious voice shimmies down your spine and massages your weary soul.

My brain is flaming, I don't know which way to go.

--Elvis

Here at Graceland on Elvis Presley Boulevard in hot Memphis, Tenn., the voice envelops you. The still likeness, in the visitor center museums and souvenir shops across from the mansion and in the mansion itself -- Elvis as a young rockabilly cat, Elvis as a slick movie star, Elvis as a smiling newlywed, Elvis in cool, red '50s threads, in black leather, in a Las Vegas jumpsuit -- reminds you of his past glory and of his Aug. 16, 1977, death at age 42. But the music still pulsates; the voice still thrills.

I can feel it -- feel it -- feel it -- feel it --

Way down where the music plays,

Way down like a tidal wave,

Way down where the fire flames,

Way down . . . oh, way on down.

The Elvis blues exploded with an erotic tension and a youthful exuberance that no one has captured since. Raw, pleading, urgent, sexy and hard-driving, yet romantic and tender -- too much for an 18-year-old with long sideburns who paid $4 to cut his first tracks, "My Happi- ness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," a gift for his mother Gladys, at Memphis' legendary Sun Studio in 1953.

A year later, Elvis would give Sun producer Sam Phillips an exciting new sound with "That's All Right (Mama)" and forever change popular culture. The polite, religious country boy from Tupelo, Miss., couldn't even read music. But, Lord almighty, could he feel it.

Elvis paid $100,000 in 1957 for the 13.8-acre country estate known as Graceland, built in 1939 and named for an aunt of the previous owner. He and his parents had lived in Memphis, in public and low-rent housing, since he was 13. He bought the mansion for his mother.

Looking at the thick commercial blight of car dealerships and fast-food joints now lining Elvis Presley Boulevard, a stretch of Highway 51 South dedicated to the performer in June 1971, it is hard to believe that Elvis ever found refuge here. Yet, somehow, Graceland transcends, even as it succumbs to, its trashy surroundings: a gaudy, but triumphant symbol of Elvis' pink Cadillac dream, as contradictory as the man himself.

Fame and fortune,

How empty they can be.

But when I hold you in my arms,

That's a heaven to me.

Who cares for fame and fortune?

They're only passing things.

But the touch of your lips on mine

Makes me feel like a king.

If you're lucky, when you check into Memory Lane Inn [(800) 874-7084, $34.95 and up], a block south of Graceland, the 24-hour Elvis movie channel on the TV in your tacky, rather worn room will be showing Elvis' best film, "King Creole" (1958). No matter, that's the legend up there, his hair dyed jet-black to look like Tony Curtis', his lip curled in a playful sneer, his eyes taking you in.

The movies -- Elvis made 33 in all, two of them concert films -- just like the motel's guitar-shaped swimming pool and the lobby photo gallery of Elvis impersonators, are as much a part of the Elvis experience as the music. The nearby Wilson World Hotel [(800) 333-WILSON, also $34.95 and up], supplying a refrigerator and microwave in each room,provides more conventional comfort, but if you've come to find Elvis, you have to reach beyond . . .

To tattooed bikers in cowboy boots, cellulite in shorts, and all of desperate America waiting for one of the every-five-minute shuttle buses to carry them past the custom-made musical-note gates at the driveway and behind the graffiti-obscured ("He touched me and now I am no longer the same"; "Elvis, if I follow you home, will you keep me?") stone wall, to Elvis' graced land.

Full of attractions

You have your choice of attractions -- the mansion, the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, the Lisa Marie jet and Hound Dog II Jetstar and the "Sincerely Elvis" museum of personal "artifacts" -- and you must see them all. Call ahead for reservations, (800) 238-2000, especially if you want to go at Christmastime, or around Elvis' Jan. 8 birthday, or during Elvis Week in August (ending today); and when the honeyed voice puts you on hold, "Shake, Rattle and Roll" with the King.

The all-attractions "platinum" tour ($15.95 for adults, $10.95 for children 4-12) is your most economical buy. But if you're a real Elvis fan, the highlight of your four hours at Graceland will be a free 22-minute film, "Walk a Mile in My Shoes," playing continuously in the visitor center. Dangerously good-looking and sexually intense, but self-mocking and good-natured, the screen Elvis magnetizes.

"That ain't tactics, honey," he tells a beautiful co-star after roughly kissing her, "that's just the beast in me." Even today, women in the audience squirm in their seats.

Frozen in the '70s

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