This year has been one of the hardest years for me to come up with a way of approaching my annual trip to Graceland. In recent years, I have had some idea of an approach that I wanted to take before I even left home. This year has been full of distractions. Other things seemed to take more importance that a trip I have taken ten times before. Why was I going this year? It seems to be more out of habit than anything else. People expect me to be at Graceland on August 15. And these are not people that are there. Friends and family want to ask me about it.
My friend Nick had gone the last two years and once before that. He had things come up that prevented him from going. Another friend, Tina, asked to go. Would she be up to the task? Would she cramp my style? Would I be able to do the things I normally do without any problems? It turns out that Tina was a great guest for the Candlelight Vigil trip. She likes to people watch and is willing to talk to total strangers. It is a small plus that she is an Elvis fan.
Before I left town, I stopped off at the bank. I thought I recognized the teller as a lady that had gone to Lambuth when I was there. I decided that it was not her and that it could possibly be her mom or a much older sister. Definitely not someone my age. When she waited on me, she asked me if she knew me from somewhere. It turns out she was exactly who I originally thought she was. It also meant this lady was only a year older than me.
My ability to determine anyone’s age has pretty much gone out the window. Although I turned 50 this year, I imagine myself much younger. I don’t see the guy in the mirror as often as I see that guy that went to Graceland 10 years ago who had just lost a significant amount of weight and was in pretty good shape. All of this was running through my mind as I stood taking part in our first “encounter” of the day. As my friend Nick and I were walking to the visitor center from the parking lot, we ran into our first group of people wearing similar t-shirts. I asked who they were and where they were from. Their shirts said that they were part of a flash mob. They told us that it was taking place next to the Sirius radio booth in 30 minutes. We made sure we were there at start time. This was the first time I’d been present at a flash mob so my knowledge of them is limited to what I’ve seen in videos. It didn’t appear that they knew what they were doing. Lots of clapping but not much else. Pretty soon they started play the song “C’mon Everybody” from “Viva Las Vegas”. This is one of those songs where they give you instructions on how to dance. It’s one of the best parts of the movie. Anyway, people in the mob started dancing together or at least trying. There were people from everywhere in the mob. One of the ladies that had told us about this was in a motorized cart. She couldn’t really dance but did the hand and head motions. It was during the dance that I noticed she was wearing blue suede shoes. Earlier she told us they even had one lady in the group from Transylvania. It was while I was watching the flash mob that I thought about the age of these ladies. Most of them are my age. Not necessarily exactly my age, but most of them are right around my age. Even blue suede shoe lady. I wonder how much older she is? Or is she actually younger than me? There was a lady gyrating way too much with a Loverboy-type headband. I can’t help but look at her and think she is way older than me while the reality of the situation is that she is probably a little younger than me. Anyway the song ended and the mob broke up. The participants passed out beads. No one had to show anything to get them and I ended up with two strands.
Fan from Memphis
This was the tenth consecutive year that I have gone to the candlelight vigil at Graceland. You might think that I have some sort of ritual that I go through before I leave, but it really varies from year to year. There have been years when it was vital that I purchase tires before I left. This year, I decided to get a haircut. I’ve eaten at home before I left, stopped for fast food on the way and eaten Mexican food in Jackson before I left. This year, it was a trip to Krystal before the haircut. Lots of people ask if I “dress up” for the vigil. For the past several years, I’ve worn a bowling style shirt that my wife made for me but this year, I just wore a polo shirt. Each year has its own style, its own flow and routine. I try to be as open as I can to the possibilities for each year. I hope I learn and experience something new and different. This year was no disappointment.
With Dr. Nick.
"Oh! This is nice! Louie!!" She looked around the store with a dead look on her face. Finally Louie shows up and she shows him the life size cardboard cutout of Elvis. "Wouldn't this look nice in our living room?" Louie replied "actually it wouldn't." It was a rare moment of honesty that you don't see that often at Graceland. I don't know where they were from, but judging from their skin tone and a possible accent, Mr. and Mrs. Louie may not even be from the U. S. Even if they are, there is a good chance they flew to Memphis for Elvis week. In a post economic meltdown world, I can imagine them trying to board a plane with this thing. How much would it cost and where do you store it? It reminds me of the fight I took out of Memphis the day after Elvis' birthday several years ago. A fan club from England was on the flight and someone was trying to board with a velvet Elvis painting. They don't go under the seat or in the overhead very easily. Now you can't even find a velvet Elvis painting at Graceland. Louie isn't the only one feeling the pressure. It seems like Elvis Presley Enterprises as well as the fans are all feeling the economic crunch. On a week that celebrates the death of a musical icon, the presence of death feels even more real this year.
When you've been to Graceland for the candlelight vigil 6 years in a row, you don't expect trip number 7 to have any firsts. You think you've seen it all. This one had several firsts. Here is a list:
1. First time to write my name on the wall.
2. First time to go on the trip with more than one friend at a time.
3. First time to take pictures inside the house with a good camera.
4. First time to talk to brothers that were both Elvis Tribute artists.
5. Frist time to break in line at the candlelight vigil (in front of the brothers and their wives).
6. First time to get hugged by an Elvis tribute artist (the brothers).
7. First time to get a kiss at the candlelight vigil (from one of the brother's wives).
8. First time to see a crowd of Elvis fans stand during the singing of "American Trilogy". It was during the "Dixieland" part of the song and the guy leading it sounded like he was from New Jersey.
9. First time to see a group of Elvis fans use a communal wash cloth to wipe down while standing in line for the candlelight vigil, even after they dropped it on the ground.
“Hi! This is Art Wheeler. I will be out of the office on August 15th and 16th in observance of the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Thank you very much.”
This is the message I left on my voice mail at work. My office email had a similar message. This would be the 6th time I had been to Memphis for the Candlelight Vigil. The first year was 2002 for the 25th anniversary. The last three years I have continued to go to talk to people and take pictures. While I don’t really consider myself a big Elvis fan, I am fascinated by the phenomenon of the celebrity of Elvis. I am interested in what brings people back each year. I observed several things this year that I wanted to document. Some of them have pictures and some are just memories. This is an attempt to capture some of those memories.
As I prepare for my annual trip to Graceland, I looked through some old stuff. Here are some notes on my annual Graceland trip I forwarded to friends back in 2006.
-You no longer have to pay to park in the official Graceland parking lot.
-The Graceland Crossing souvenir mall is now called “Elvis After Dark”. It is an official Elvis property now and has an arcade.
-George Klein (member of the Memphis Mafia) actually looks younger now than when he hosted “Dance Party” on WHBQ-TV in the early 70’s.
-You can argue as loud as you want to in a souvenir store if you are German, shave all your hair off except for a very short oblong circle on the crown of your head that you dye orange, wear dark sunglasses, army boots and a kilt. This is especially true if you are female and are arguing with your sister who is dressed the same way.
-Blue Hawaii costs $29.99 on DVD in the shops at Graceland. The same DVD costs $5.50 at Wal-Mart.
-A paper Japanese lantern does an effective job of protecting a candle from the wind at the candlelight vigil and looks neat in pictures.
-Not all Japanese know how to correctly unfold a paper Japanese lantern before lighting the candle, thus endangering the lives of many Elvis fans at once.
-The only store where you can buy magic markers to write your name on the wall at Graceland is Boulevard Souvenirs. This is also the only Elvis souvenir store that sells t-shirts with pictures of girls in rebel flag bikinis that say “tequila makes my clothes fall off".
-Anyone that needed a bra when Elvis was alive should not go out in public without one now. Tube tops are especially unflattering.
-If you consider the stroll to the Chinese buffet to get food while at Graceland, it is probably still worth the extra few steps to go on down to KFC. You would only be disappointed with the crab legs.
-The French are confused with the pricing policies of KFC and a table full of them can obsess over a receipt throughout an entire meal.
-KFC foods may contain ingredients that cause 6-7 year old girls to dance around and chant, “Go Elvis! Go Elvis!”
-The winner of the UK version of “American Idol” from 4 seasons ago makes a great Elvis impersonator even if he has only been singing for 4 years.
-Elvis impersonators from Tuscaloosa, Alabama look more like professional wrestler Bill “Superstar” Dundee than Elvis.
-The Elvis folding chair comes in the “Vegas”, “GI Blues” and “Blue Hawaii” designs.
-Some Elvis fans from St. Louis impersonate Elvis fans from Sweden.
-The only weight available for the Elvis bowling ball is 16 lbs.
Since 2002, I have gone to the Candlelight Vigil at Graceland during Elvis Week every year. Many of these years, I have written essays, recorded observations and taken pictures that I have shared with my friends. I will be sharing these here on my blog this month. I also have a video called "Elvis Still Rocks" that is an account of my first trip to a Candlelight Vigil. This video will be available to my subscribers of my website newsletter. Sign up now and stay tuned for details.
I usually post some pictures and observations during my trip. If you want to follow my posts, you can follow this link to my Facebook page.
Singer, Songwriter, Entertainer, Storyteller