Oddly I’m not much of a fan of the music of Elvis Presley but I’m a huge fan of the Cult of Elvis. His staying power and continuing impact upon the cultural landscape long after his passage to the great beyond (assuming one believes he’s truly gone) simply cannot be denied. Let’s explore a few of the places of significance during his lifetime courtesy of Google Street View. My apologies in advance to those true aficionados in the readership who will undoubtedly find this timeline both horribly simplistic and greatly compressed.
I cannot trace the origin of my Elvis fascination. I remember clearly when The King passed away but it meant little to me at the time. The fixation developed slowly over many years. Certainly it was well developed by the time my wife (then fiancee) and I threatened to elope to Las Vegas for an Elvis wedding. That triggered my mother-in-law to step in and lay down the law. We had a very dignified traditional wedding in the Midwest with no Elvi (that’s the generally accepted plural of Elvis) anywhere in attendance.
Years later we learned that my mother-in-law actually tried to find an Elvis impersonator for the wedding reception but the only Elvis living in that sparsely populated corner of the Midwestern was already booked that weekend.
However we happened to be in Las Vegas in 2006 and made time for an Elvis "renewal of the vows" during our brief visit. It was the culmination of a longtime dream and something we’ll always treasure.
I also attended a conference a number of years ago where the opening reception featured an Elvis theme. There were impersonators of every type and demographic imaginable: African-American Elvis; Transgendered Elvis; Little Person Elvis; Clown Elvis; vintage 1950’s Elvis; pudgy 1970’s Elvis, and so forth. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my year.
The key to my enjoyment of the Cult of Elvis is viewing the phenomenon and its high priests, the impersonators, as caricatures separate and distinct from Elvis the man. I realize others take things more seriously and consider all things Elvis sacrosanct, and I mean no disrespect. Nonetheless there are few things that amuse me as much as an Elvis impersonator. Especially a really bad one.
When I look out into your eyes out there,
When I look out into your faces,
You know what I see?
I see a little bit of Elvis
In each and every one of you out there. — MOJO NIXON
Tupelo, Mississippi is so incredibly intertwined with the birth of Elvis Presley that their Convention and Visitors Bureau includes it in their title tag. Elvis was born in 1935 in this modest shotgun shack his father built for $180. Today it is part of a 15-acre park commemorating the monumental event. Tupelo purchased it using funds it raised at a concert Elvis performed there in 1956. The town so reveres its hometown hero that the walking tour even includes the "Lee County Library, where Elvis received his first library card."
Things I find remarkable at this spot:
- The amazing humbleness of the Elvis Presley home.
- The historical significance attributed to something of such recent vintage.
- The obvious bewilderment of the visitors on the front porch at the sight of the Google Street View car with its array of cameras driving by.
Elvis dropped in at Sun Record’s Memphis Recording Service in 1953 to record a present for his mother, so the legend goes. It would be another year before Sam Phillips noticed him and made him a star. This is the building in Memphis, Tennessee where everything began. Numerous musicians both famous and obscure have cycled through these walls in the meantime in an attempt to recreate the magic. It has become a National Historic Landmark and has a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Today Sun Studio is a museum that continues to function as an active recording studio.
The second phase of the Elvis Presley phenomenon, and the portion that seems to fascinate me intensely, intertwines directly with Las Vegas, Nevada. Elvis began to fall out of favor in the 1960’s. He needed to reinvent himself. He pulled this off brilliantly in what became known as the 1968 Comeback Special on the NBC television network. This catapulted him back into the spotlight, ready to preform before live audiences once again. Elvis weighed several lucrative performance opportunities before selecting the International Hotel, now the Las Vegas Hilton, as his venue. His cemented his legacy at a string of powerful performances that took place in this building.
It’s hard to imagine the form the Cult of Elvis would have taken, if indeed it could have existed at all, without the white-jumpsuit years in Las Vegas.
I’m not sure what more I can add to Graceland, the Elvis Presley estate in Memphis that was his home from 1957 until he passed away in 1977 and now serves as his final resting place. Be sure to check out the GracelandCam for live shots of the Graceland mansion too. Graceland is located along Elvis Presley Boulevard, near the Graceland RV Park-Campground, the Rock & Roll Cafe, Heartbreak Hotel and… the China Buffet?!?