The Scotsman, June 2022
It’s a crying shame that director Baz Luhrmann didn’t film his Elvis biopic in Memphis, instead recreating Presley’s hometown in a studio in Australia. Because Memphis already looks like a readymade stage-set, perfectly preserved, as if just waiting for the young rockabilly to swagger back into town. Which is great news for music lovers, because while Luhrmann chose to replicate Memphis’ neon-lit diners, rootsy recording studios and rags-to-riches homes, visitors seeking the original locations will find them ready and waiting in this nostalgic Southern city.
Touching down in Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi River, my first stop is the Lauderdale Courts apartment that lifted the Presley’s out of poverty when Elvis and his parents first arrived here, fresh out of small-town Mississippi and in search of a better life. Fortunately, they swiftly found it when they moved into this pioneering redbrick complex, heralded as one of America’s first public housing projects. The wonder of this five-room apartment, where Elvis lived between the tender years
of 13 to 17, is that fans can now sleep overnight in the teen idol’s bedroom. Lovingly restored to its former mid-century glory, the flat now dons the crown of being the only
Presley-owned property in the world to offer fans overnight visits. At a cost of $250 per night, guests have access to two double bedrooms, a living room stocked with
Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas films to watch on the small-screen, a kitchen with vintage appliances and a retro bathroom boasting its original tub.
Stepping inside Elvis’ bedroom sanctuary, the walls are decorated with hot-pink lipstick kisses; a lingering reminder of the parade of fans who pay $10 each for a
walk-through tour during his birth week in January and his death week in August.
Leaning out over the window ledge where Elvis once perched to practice his guitar, I soak up the sound of passing freight trains before adding my own imprint to his storied bedroom wall.
Following Elvis’ American Dream trajectory, I head across town to pay my respects at his beloved Graceland mansion. It’s now been 45 years since Elvis passed away
in the upstairs bathroom of his palatial home, but astonishingly, Graceland still holds such universal intrigue that it remains the second most visited private home in the US. My self-guided tour of his more-is-more castle leads me downstairs into the basement, where three TV sets are lined up as Elvis liked to watched them all simultaneously, below a disco-tastic mirrored ceiling. The crescendo of the tour is the fantastic Jungle Room; a slice of pure Polynesian paradise transported to Memphis, with green shagpile carpeting splashed across the floor and ceiling and a fake indoor waterfall flowing freely down the far wall.
Graceland’s house tours once culminated with a reflective moment at Elvis’ grave in the meditation garden, but in recent years the estate has evolved to now include a
$45-million entertainment complex. Here, you’ll find museums showcasing Elvis’ impressive fleet of cars, extensive wardrobe of sharp threads and a cluster of restaurants serving up down-home dishes.
A short wiggle from the complex there’s another new addition; the 450-room Guesthouse at Graceland resort, where I check in for the night to be greeted by the house band giving a raucous rendition of Heartbreak Hotel in the lobby. While dedicated Elvis fans will find much to love here, with nightly Presley film screenings, jumpsuit artworks on the wall and complimentary peanut butter and jelly snacks, it’s also an equally good spot for the uninitiated, with comfortable guestrooms and a sparkling, turquoise pool for cooling off when Memphis’ weather gets balmy.
The next morning, following a breakfast of kings at the Arcade Restaurant, a gorgeously photogenic diner once frequented by Elvis, I make my way to Sun Studio.
This historic recording studio launched the careers of legends such as B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course Elvis, when he cut his
game-changing hit, That’s All Right in 1954. Nowadays, cool young musicians lead the tours, culminating with a photo-op holding Elvis’ original chrome microphone.
Not only can visitors walk in Elvis’ footsteps, but they can also still speak to the people who knew him personally, as I discover on a visit to the Lansky Bros. shop, situated in the grand Peabody Memphis hotel. I’m greeted at the door by Hal Lansky, the second-generation owner of Elvis’ favourite clothing store. A Memphis native, Lansky has fond memories of spending time with Elvis while growing up. "You can touch the shoulder that Elvis touched,” he laughs, pointing to a framed photo of Elvis resting his hand on Lansky’s shoulder.
"People come to Memphis to walk the streets that Elvis walked. They can still come here and meet the musicians who played with him, the original people who knew him. Sadly, in a few years’ time, that won’t be the case,” Lansky notes, as Elvis serenades us over the speakers..
“And you know, Elvis never forgot where he came from” he says as I head towards the door, past the blue suede shoes and two-tone bowling shirts. “He’ll always be king of this town”, he adds, as a steady stream of curious visitors wait patiently to catch a few words with the owner of Elvis’ tailoring house.
Heading back to my jumpsuit adorned suite, it dawns on me that without Memphis we simply wouldn’t have heard of the star that was Elvis Presley. It’s the city that gave an impressionable young wannabe all the ingredients needed to create the trailblazing sound of rock and roll. And as Lansky observed, even after he hit the big- time, Elvis stayed faithful to Memphis. In return, the city is now keeping the flame of his legacy burning for a new generation. And for that we say thank you Memphis, thank you very much.
Zoey Goto was a guest of Memphis Travel.