An Open Letter to Elvis Presley

An Open Letter to Elvis Presley

Dear Elvis,

How’s it going? Are you alive or dead? I know, you’re probably dead, which makes that an insensitive question—but if so, you’re not actually reading this, so who cares?

Yesterday for the first time I visited your house, Graceland. It was a pretty big deal for me. I had to screencap this moment. It felt mythic.

I’m not even that huge a fan of your music, truth be told. Not like you need any more fans: your racquetball court holds a trophy the size of a SmartCar calling you “the greatest recording artist of all time.” Are you cool with them turning your racquetball court into a trophy room? I mean, if you wanted to build a trophy room, you would’ve built a trophy room, right? They still make records at the Sun studio where you cut your first hits. Why don’t they still play racquetball on your racquetball court?

So that seems a little sacrilegious, but the rest of Graceland feels very much in your spirit. It’s big and gaudy and commercial, which was pretty much how you liked things, it seems. Those jumpsuits, the giant signs blaring your name, the Vegas shows…if Graceland and its satellite exhibits make anything clear, it’s that you lived the life you loved.

Or did you? Dead on your bathroom floor at age 42, stuffed with drugs like a Thanksgiving turkey. What was your deal? It’s not that I can’t imagine someone so successful becoming so depressed—success can be hard. But you seemed to glory in it, growing from a teen idol to something much bigger and much stranger, wearing bizarre outfits and watching three TVs at once. Which was the room where you shot one out? I should have asked, though they probably wouldn’t have told me.

I enjoyed your décor. I think it gets a bad rap. No doubt your taste in interior decoration was a little extreme, but this was the mid-70s. You certainly weren’t the only man in Memphis who carpeted his ceiling; you just had the misfortune of dying before that era ended. If you’d hung on for a few more years, Graceland might have ended up full of glass and gleaming chrome, and a vitrine would display your personal terrier-sized cell phone. I’ll bet you would have been way ahead of Paris Hilton in crusting your phone with rhinestones.

My girlfriend and I were trying to figure out what kind of guy you would have been. “I’ll bet he was kind of a frat guy,” she said. “Well, no, maybe not exactly a frat guy—just country. Real country.” Noting that you were an avid reader, I imagined that if you’d been there to welcome us personally, you would have served us a few beers and then buttonholed me to talk about sociology. I’ll bet you had views on sociology.

We visited that old studio, too—that studio where you walked in and paid four dollars to cut a record, supposedly for your mom’s birthday. They taped off the spot on the floor where you stood to record “That’s All Right.” Believe it or not, the studio still has the same linoleum floor, the same cruddy acoustic tiles that hung over your head and the heads of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Howlin’ Wolf, and Roy Orbison. They’re all gone now; only Jerry Lee Lewis is left banging the ivories and God knows what/who else.

Anyway, thought you’d appreciate knowing that all your crap is still there at the house. I think that what I like most about Graceland is the idea of Graceland: the idea that you’d have a house, with a name, in the city where you made your own name. A place that you decorated yourself and where you were buried. A place for people to come, to write songs and make movies about, a one-man Mecca of kitsch. I was going to call it “a Sistine Chapel of kitsch,” but I’ve already used that phrase to describe the House on the Rock. That guy couldn’t swing his hips like you could, but he outdid you in kitsch point, set, match. Do they use those terms in racquetball? Guess it doesn’t matter now.

Jay Gabler