Offbeat hijinks at Graceland

Bush and outgoing Japanese prime minister visit Elvis' home

July 01, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- President Bush doesn't get a lot of tender love these days on the world stage. But yesterday, taking his Japanese counterpart on a private tour of Graceland, Bush received a big hunk o' love.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi - calling it a "dream" to see the home of his longtime idol, Elvis Presley - was reduced to almost uncontrollably giddy giggling as he broke into a serenade for Bush, first lady Laura Bush and Presley's former wife, Priscilla, and daughter, Lisa Marie.

"Love me tender," Koizumi crooned through a thick accent as he stood with the others in Graceland's famously tacky jungle room - replete with fake-fur-covered furniture, an indoor waterfall and avocado-colored shag carpet covering floor and ceiling.

The Bushes, clearly unaccustomed to such affection (or perhaps still disoriented from the mirrored ceilings in the downstairs television room) looked on with strained smiles. But Koizumi persisted - belting out another one of his favorite Elvis hits.

"Wise men say," he chimed, "only fools rush in."

Lisa Marie Presley spoke up, wondering where the group could find a karaoke machine. But Bush had heard enough. He tapped his friend on the shoulder and shook his hand - effectively cutting off the performance.

"I thought you were going to do `Blue Suede Shoes,'" Bush cracked.

The exchange marked only one of several offbeat but affectionate scenes during Koizumi's "sayonara summit" this week in the United States.

The prime minister is soon leaving office, and ever since he first met Bush exactly five years ago - and played a game of catch at Camp David - the two leaders have forged a close friendship.

Like Bush, Koizumi is a baseball fan and a lover of country music. In perhaps the key element to his rapport with Bush, he also has been a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq.

Yesterday's tour was a bit of a reward for that rare loyalty. Koizumi, who shares Elvis' Jan. 8 birthday, is obsessed with Presley's music - even producing a CD in Japan of his 25 favorite songs by "the King."

The trip followed a gala White House dinner Thursday night at which the two leaders exchanged compliments.

Bush drew parallels between Koizumi and Presley. "Like you, he had great hair," the president said during his dinner toast. "Like you, he was known to sing in public."

Koizumi said that, as a child, "my exposure to America was Presley - which is a vivid memory of my youth."

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