Elvis’s Memphis

In Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis”, the road to stardom and immortality begins in earnest in Memphis. From the Lauderdale Apartments to Beale St and Graceland, it’s where Elvis becomes ‘The King’. That legacy still brings tens of thousands of tourists yearly to Elvis’s Memphis.

Elvis's Memphis This Magnificent Life

This latest Luhrmann film is pure Bazmatazz. His vision was never to document Elvis’ life faithfully. Like Elvis, his raison d’être is to entertain. Each of the auteur’s cinematic triumphs is extravagant and makes you fall in love with the protagonists. Villains are always plotting the demise of the heroes, be they the Duke in Moulin Rouge, the feuding families in Romeo and Juliet or one Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis.

Many critics fail to understand that the Colonel was no Faustian villain. Parker is no Mephistopheles – Elvis never sold his soul to his manager; or anyone else. Elvis’s soul continues to reside in Memphis.

Memphis – the home of Rock ’n Roll, the Blues and it’s got Gospel in the air

Elvis’ Memphis

The King is omnipresent in Memphis. But don’t let that bronze Elvis that quietly guards the top end of Beale St fool you. He impacted the city economically, socially and culturally while alive and still to this day. Memphis doesn’t live in the shadow of Elvis. It lived instead in the shadow of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The memory of Dr King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel prevented the city from realising its tourism potential for many years. Like Dallas, the mourning period was long.

Memphis has been rebuilding and transforming into one of America’s most vibrant cities. More than the home of barbecue and blues, it is a craft brewery capital with world-class restaurants and museums that tell the city’s story in many surprising ways.

Graceland and the Guest House at Graceland

If you’re looking for Elvis, you came to the right place. Start at Graceland – the faux antebellum mansion Elvis bought for his beloved parents, Gladys and Vernon. It’s the starting point of Elvis’s Memphis. Entering the family home is like living in an episode of The Twilight Zone; the rooms are familiar but somehow shuffling along single file with other tourists seems irreverent. Graceland was the King’s only retreat from public life, so it feels like we’re still invading his privacy even if he died more than forty years ago.

Memphis ThisMagnificentLife
David Meany / Contiki Purchase/ Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau

Elvis hung out with his Memphis Mafia in the Jungle Room and the Pool Room’s mesmerizing pleated fabric ceiling and walls. Unfortunately, both were designed with little attention to style or taste. The clash of wallpapers and bad ’70s furniture makes you seriously doubt the boy from Tupelo’s design sense.

Memphis ThisMagnificentLife
The Pool Room, Graceland

As the mansion tour ends at the Meditation Garden with Gladys, Elvis, Vernon and paternal grandmother Minnie Mae’s grave sites, it’s a good time to reflect and catch your breath before the monolithic Elvis Presley’s Memphis. The former shopping centre is a 200,000-square-foot exhibition complex that accomplishes its mission of keeping the King firmly on his throne.

Memphis This Magnificent Life
Andrea Zucker/ Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau / Memphis Convention & Visitor Bureau

Several vast pavilions (each with a gift store) cater for the converted. ‘Elvis The Entertainer Career Museum’, “The King of Karate, and ‘Lisa Marie – growing up Presley’ are some themed exhibits. Now, the icon’s catchphrase “Takin’ Care of Business” becomes starkly real. A replica Nudie suit, gold record or piece of TCB merch can all be yours.

Elvis's Memphis This Magnificent LIfe
Image: Liz Bond

 

Elvis's Memphis This Magnificent Life
Image: timbond.photography

Across Elvis Presley Boulevard, the Guesthouse at Graceland resort has been designed for the faithful to end their pilgrimage in southern comfort. (Hospitality, not liquor). Thankfully, the Presley family estate didn’t replicate Elvis’ distinct interior design sense at the Guest House. Instead, guests arrive via a grand driveway and a towering foyer. With many photographic reminders in both public spaces and rooms, you can’t forget to remember to forget where you are.

Memphis This Magnificent Life
Image: timbond.photography
Touring Sun Studio

Elvis’s Memphis continues at Sam Phillips Sun Studio. At just 18, not only did he record a song for his Momma as a birthday gift, music and popular culture changed overnight. John Lennon said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing”. Another famous fan, Bob Dylan, recalled, “Hearing him for the first time was like bustin’ out of jail.” The biggest music stars of the time also began their steps to stardom at Sun Studio.

Memphis This Magnificent Life

When you walk through the neon and glass door, a large black and white pic takes pride of place. Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash all stand behind Elvis on piano. Then, by chance, on December 4 1956, Perkins and the relatively unknown Jerry Lee were recording when both the Man in Black and the King stopped by Sun Studios. And what happened next is legendary. Thankfully, the engineer Jack Clement hit the record button, and we now have the ‘Million Dollar Quartet Session’.

Elvis's Memphis This Magnificent Life
Image: timbond.photography

No mere shrine to the extraordinary talent recorded there; Sun Studio was a vital part of the beginnings of Rock n Roll. The guided tour is intimate, interactive and revealing, covering the sounds and experiences of these young artists who created a musical and cultural revolution. The perfect full stop is finishing in the studio where Elvis first recorded ‘That’s All Right’. Sam Phillip’s never wanted the microphone from that historic moment behind glass in a museum. A little battered, the mic is close to a duct tape X on the linoleum floor. To fans, this is hallowed ground. When Bob Dylan visited, he kissed the floor.

Walking in Memphis

Take the advice of the Grammy-award-winning Marc Cohn and go walking in Memphis.

At the corner of South Main and Beale, the Orpheum Theatre has been glittering since 1928. Walk down Beale St around sunset to catch Andrea Lugar’s bronze and youthful Elvis during golden hour at Elvis Presley Place.

Memphis ThisMagnificentLife
Elvis on Beale St
Image: timbond.photography

Head on over to Catherine and Mary’s for happy hour and dinner. One of the finest and tastiest restaurants in the city sits in the Chisca Apartments, where DJ Dewey Phillips played “That’s All Right (Mama)” fourteen times on his radio show on WHBQ. Then, head a little further along Main St to the Arcade Restaurant. It’s where Elvis often hid from girls who couldn’t get enough.

Memphis This Magnificent Life
Phillip Parker / Copyright © Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau 2011 All Rights Reserved

Just around the corner from Gus’ World Famous Chicken, the Hotel Pontotoc is both hidden and in plain sight. The old metal sign doesn’t give too much away.  But, this was once downtown’s most successful bordello.  Elvis may or may not have lost his virginity within these walls. No matter the history, this building captured Memphis’ mood before the city made a historic comeback.

Elvis's Memphis This Magnificent Life
Image: timbond.photography
The Beauty Shop Restaurant in Cooper-Young

This former 1940’s-style beauty shop is where Priscilla went to perk up her jet-black bouffant and is now one of the city’s hippest restaurants. It’s chic and gloriously kitsch all at once. And the food is fabulous.

Elvis's Memphis This Magnificent LIfe
Image: timbond.photography

Memphis gets into your head. It gets in your veins and pumps right to your heart. And that’s where Memphis will stay. Forever.

To explore more of Elvis’s Memphis, go to Memphis Travel

Disclaimer: TML were guests of Memphis Travel.

 

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Liz Bond

Liz Bond comes from a PR background and loves fine wine, great food and rewarding travel - all the magnificent things in life. She prides herself in meeting famous celebrities at baggage carousels.

2 Comments
  1. That looks so Beautiful I would love to see that wonderful place more than anything in this world .. 🌞

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