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ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

 Down Memory Lane Inc. - A visit to Graceland

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flag-us Graceland is the estate that Elvis Presley bought in 1957, when he was 22, for 100.000 $. It spreads over 14 acres and includes several buildings, the main one built in 1939 in typical Southern colonial style. Elvis lived there with his wife and daughter, his mum and dad as well as a few cousins and a payroll of hangers-on until his death on August 16th 1977. 

Elvis actually died in Graceland, in the toilet of the master bedroom, on the first floor, while reading a book about sex and astrology. Graceland is also the place where Elvis is now buried alongside his parents (his mother and father respectively died in 1958 and 1978), buried at the back of the main building, in what has been called the Meditation Garden. Graceland was opened to the public in 1982, the ground-floor at least, as well as several outbuildings which have been turned into museums: an Automobile Museum, where Elvis's several Cadillacs and Harley Davidson motorbikes are displayed, an Airplane Museum where one can step inside his small Hound Dog Lockheed and the larger Lisa Marie jet, named after his daughter, and finally the Sincerely Elvis Museum, a collection of memorabilia. 
Since its opening, Graceland has become the most visited home in the United States after the White House, attracting 700,000 American and foreign visitors a year. Graceland has thus quickly established itself as a major landmark and place of memory not only for rock & roll fans but for mainstream America.

Unsurprisingly, Graceland is an ambiguous place. It is at the same time, being Elvis's real home, a 'natural' site, and a contrivance; the moving locus of his life and death and an abstraction; it features a mythical, reified Elvis, set for ever in an immutable, idealised past, yet constantly reinscribed within the flow of American collective and individual consciousness. Futhermore, the mystic and spiritual dimension Graceland has come to take for some cohabits with the lucrative venture Graceland Inc. The mixture of things sacred and profane, of the spiritual and the mercantile reflects the very contradictions of Graceland's former owner. 'Do I contradict myself?/ Very well, then, I contradict myself/ (I am large, I contain multitude)' wrote Walt Whitman (1974, p.168). A manifesto Presley could have adopted. Indeed, Presley was, to use Douglas Brinkley's words 'insolent and courteous, narcissistic and humble, a greaser and a good boy, a Pentecostal pious and a hellcat hedonist, a multi-millionnaire and a poor boy for ever' (1993, p.142).  A contradictory status taken up by Greil Marcus in Mystery Train when he says: 'Elvis has emerged as a great artist, a great rocker, a great purveyor of shlock, a great heart throb, a great bore, a great symbol of potency, a great ham, a great nice person, and, yes, a great American' (1975, p.138). 

Withdrawn within the walls of Graceland, an unlikely retreat just across a shopping center and a few steps off the road (today Elvis Presley Boulevard) that leads to nearby downtown Memphis, Elvis lived there a life of intense boredom and extreme entertainment. In Graceland, the revolutionary side of Elvis (a harbinger of racial integration, displaying his sexuality with an ambiguity black music never possessed while doing away with the traditional creed of toil, continence & thrift), this revolutionary image coexisted with the entrepreneurial Elvis, his readiness (or resignation) to be marketed as a commodity.


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