US Road Trip Travelog: 14th February 2005

I'd - largely - stayed off the 'big ass' beers last night so this morning was a lot less painful. Into the Riviera then for a short drive south of Memphis.

Graceland exterior
Graceland, former residence of one Mr Elvis Presley.

The whole Graceland experience - house, cars and planes - costs $25. The house itself is a lot smaller and more tasteful, from the outside, than I'd expected. This is another one with a headset and audio guide. I was hoping to hear the dulcet tones of Priscilla Presley doing the commentary, but it's just some good ol' boy doing the talking.

Graceland basement room
The basement at Graceland. Note mirrored walls and ceiling.

The upstairs sitting and dining rooms in Graceland are surprisingly restrained. The basement, however, isn't. But it is a great 'frozen in time' example of what was considered to be stylish in 70's America. Check out the whole stack of records lined-up in the top left hand corner.

Graceland jungle room
The 'jungle room', complete with heavy carved wooden furniture and even a water feature in the corner.

Most people deride Elvis's taste, but I must admit I quite like some of these rooms. The 'themes' are all very different from each other and I think they show a certain sense of fun. Hell, if you've got all that money why not have a laugh with it?

There are corridors and rooms stuffed full of awards and gold records but frankly they don't do much for me. The back of the house - my camera batteries had died by this point - has a paddock, a racquet ball (whatever that is) court, the pool and the gravestones. If you come here to worship Elvis then I'm sure it's great but I'm not that type of fan.

Priscilla Presley's Mercedes
A classic beauty (and some old car).

Strangely enough, the most personal and poignant part of the whole tour is in the Automobile Museum. There's a TV in here with a continuous loop of Elvis's home movies, showing him horsing around in the (surprisingly small) pool, zooming about in a snowmobile and with his wife and daughter on the beach. It's genuine and unaffected and shows a side of the man unseen elsewhere.

Stax exterior
The outside of the - I think newly-reconstructed - Stax building.

One of my guidebooks refers to the the site of the old Stax building as a vacant lot, so I think this must be a recreation. If Sun Studio is the home of rock 'n roll then Stax must be the home of soul music - Otis Redding, Issac Hayes, Booker T and the MGs and many others all recorded here. The museum also points out that a lot of their artists were also local people and, as with Sun, there was no colour barrier at Stax.

Stax recording studio
The recording studio at Stax. Photography was also banned in here, but I was feeling rebellious (and I was just about the only person in there).

The museum isn't as good as some others - I think it may still be early days at the moment - but is still well worth $9. Stax was a great label and their trademark sound (they used the same 'house' band for many recordings) is beginning to worm its way into my consciousness. On the downside, Memphis is costing me a fortune as I 'merchandise-up' on the way out, as I have at Sun, the Memphis Rock 'n Soul Museum and Graceland.

A tram in downtown Memphis
The trams are a relatively recent import to Memphis. I think I read somewhere that they were actually bought-in from Portugal, of all places.

It's a lovely day in Memphis, with the temperature in the late 60's and a nice breeze. Perfect. I decide to go for a walk to the Arcade - supposedly the oldest restaurant in Memphis - but they're just closing when I get there around 3 p.m. They direct me to a bar (the Blue Parrot, I think) up the road where I can get some food and a few beers. On the walk back into town I see the National Civil Rights Museum. To be honest I'm a bit 'all museumed out' by now, but it would be daft to pass up the opportunity.

The National Civil Rights Museum
The National Civil Rights Museum.

The museum is housed in what was the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated. Normal entrance fee is $11 but it's free on Monday afternoons. It's a very sobering and educational experience. Not 'fun', but definitely worthwhile. The most surprising aspect is that, even after all these years, they still don't know who bankrolled his assassin. Like the killing of J.F. Kennedy there are as many theories as there is a lack of any definitive evidence.

Tonight I will be mainly staying in my motel room eating potato chips (crisps) and watching TV. I'm knackered after all the walking around over the last few days. The big news in the local papers and on TV is of a former local medical examiner who claimed that he was kidnapped, wrapped in barbed wire and left with explosives strapped to him. Now, it seems, he may have staged the whole thing himself. Only in America.

US Road Trip Travelog: 15th February 2005 >