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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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Cqy:  There may be a reason for Graceland's ambiguous status. Indeed, as the symbol of both a man, Elvis Presley, and an era, the Golden Fifties, it assumes simultaneously an intimate and universal dimension. On the one hand, Graceland seems to offer a share of Elvis's intimacy. Private emotions are made public. There, for the first time, does the myth become human. There did he live and die. Elvis and his wife Priscilla Beaulieu had personally, so we are told, chosen the fitting of the rooms now opened to the visitors. Little has changed since the days Elvis lived there. There is the Jungle Room with its carpeted walls, leopardskin lampshades, zebraskin sofas and ceiling mirrors, the TV Room with 3 huge screens where Elvis liked to watch several football matches at the same time, a Hall of Gold where he had put his huge collections of gold records & various awards on display, the Music Room, used to fool around with his most musical guests.

A Trophy Room has been added which contains various stage outfits, jewellery, personal mementos, photographs etc. as well as his collection of guns. Sharing Elvis's intimacy has led many to endow Graceland with a spiritual dimension. As a matter of fact, the anthropological reading of rock music I have attempted elsewhere led me to analyse this form of entertainment as a sacrificial ritual (Chastagner, 1997). Accordingly, rock stars come up with two different functions, idols to be adored and victims to be sacrificed, which obviously amounts to the same. This may have a connection with the religious perception of Graceland. The whole building, some say, exudes a quasi-mystic mood. They talk of it as a 'religious shrine' (Brinkley 1993, p.145). After all, Elvis's body is only a few steps away. In 'Pharaoh's Palace', David Wojahn captured the banality, the ordinary pathos of this religious experience:
We weave down the sidewalk to the grave, the clumsy epitaph his Daddy wrote. A woman walks off sobbing to herself. Her husband in cowboy boots face a patch of oily sores, follows her shaking his fist, slaps her twice and tells her Goddamn you, shut up.

Mdr) He grabs her off by the arm, but still she's wailing, sorrowfully crouched on a bench. On the parking lot loudspeaker   he's performing "Young and Beautiful". On the two-lane headed home, we stop at a house claimed by kudzu & grass, barn and house collapsed, wood a uniform gray, windows shuttered. Evening comes on: we walk a path to a family plot, a hornet's nest patching a single marker proclaiming no name, only HERE US O LORD IN R SORROW  (Wojhan in Marcus 1995, p.71)

Everyday reality at Graceland is not far from Wojahn's transfigured vision. A few snapshots given by Brinkley: People crying out at the Meditation Garden,  saying 'he loved us, he died for us', -on the cross, one could add. Another couple, still using religious metaphors, Saint Francis of Assisi this time: 'sparrows are fortunate 'cos they spend all their days close to Elvis'. A wall runs along the house, people scribble messages & graffiti on it; a girl is scrawling 'Elvis help me find a job', re-enacting the prayers for the saints. The process ritualizing rock music is here at work. And if Elvis has been turned into a cult, Graceland is its Mecca.


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° Rubrique About The World