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Monday, August 16, 2021

Welcome To My World

Elvis grave at Graceland photographed during Elvis Week 2005.

This post is a loose translation of a radio program I did in Sweden after having returned from Elvis Week in Memphis 2005 - 16 years ago.

Intro music: Beginning of "Welcome To My World"

The song "Welcome To My World" is playing in the visitors' headphones on their way up to Elvis Presley's home in Memphis - Graceland. And even though the song was not originally sung by Elvis to greet tourists, I think it feels quite appropriate. 

Because Graceland, and a large part of Memphis for that matter, is truly a world that revolves around Elvis. And this is especially true during the days around August 16, which is the date Elvis died. This is when the annual Elvis Week takes place, when fans from all over the world and of all ages gather in Memphis to pay tribute to their idol.

Music: Ending of "Welcome To My World"

A huge sign in Memphis stating the obvious.

On the way from the airport, I see huge billboards by the roadside with the slogan "Elvis lives." And once at the hotel, this feels like the place to be if you, like me, have liked Elvis since childhood.

Music: Beginning of "Heartbreak Hotel"

In the foyer, Elvis music blasts out from the head speakers by the bar, everywhere are people wearing Elvis t-shirts, and at the reception there is an Elvis impersonator wearing a blue jumpsuit and obligatory sunglasses.

And as if that wasn't enough, I see Elvis' old friend Sonny West sitting at a table signing autographs. It turns out that he performs at the hotel every night, talking about his time with the King. After saying hello, I ask him to comment the fact that Elvis, 28 years after his death, seems to be more famous than ever.

"Well, if you would have asked me at the end of the fifth year, at the fifth anniversary of his death, if he would continue to be so big, I would have said 'No i don't think so.' Would I have been wrong, right."

But since new fans are constantly discovering his music, he continues to be at least as famous now as then, is Sonny's explanation.

Music: Beginning of "Memphis, Tennessee"

In front of Graceland - a dream come true.

Just a few minutes bus ride from the hotel is Graceland, the destination of my journey. The house is located on Elvis Presley Boulevard, opposite Graceland Plaza, where the bus stops. Here, tourists flock around the souvenir shops that have grown up like mushrooms out of the ground, and the wealth of invention when it comes to what to buy with Elvis motifs knows no bounds.

In addition to sweaters, caps, key chains and fridge magnets, there are, for example, baby clothes, slippers, wallpaper, rubber ducks, the Elvis wine Jailhouse Red, bowling balls and Graceland in the form of a soft toy.

But I'm here to see the real Graceland. The trip costs 28 dollars, but in addition to the house I get a look at Elvis' cars, motorcycles and his private jet Lisa Marie, christened after his daughter.

The house itself turns out to be a bit smaller than I thought. But it's fascinating to see the different rooms, especially the Jungle Room where Elvis recorded his last studio songs among gods statues, a small waterfall and armchairs with armrests shaped like dragons.

Studio banter: "It's Easy For You"

The Trophy Room - mindblowing.

Another highlight is the Trophy Room, Elvis' old squash hall where the walls are covered with gold plates from floor to ceiling and some of the most famous jumpsuits are on display. I just stare with my mouth open like all the other tourists. Then, after the tour has ended at Elvis' grave, I meet two lyrical Danes, Kirsten and J├Ârgen.

"This is a dream come true, I have seen pictures of Graceland and know it meant a lot to Elvis, so it was fantastic to see it."

"It has always been a dream to see it, since I became a fan at twelve, and now I had the means to do it."

As Elvis, for obvious reasons, can't perform for us, we who are in Memphis have to make do with the next best thing. During Elvis Week, a number of concerts are arranged with his old musicians. Among them are the guys who accompanied Elvis in 1969 on songs such as "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto."

Music from the actual concert

And pianist Bobby Wood and organist Bobby Emmons, who are usually anonymous studio musicians, think it's fun to be in the spotlight for once.

"Its a good feeling, you know, that there are fans out there, people that actually like you."

"They consider that what we did had some bearing of the records that they love so much, it just makes you feel great.

Together with two of my musical heroes: Bobby Emmons and Bobby Wood.

During one of the last nights in Memphis, I am part of a somewhat different experience - the Candlelight Vigil.

Traditionally, the night before the anniversary of Elvis' death on August 16, the celebration during Elvis Week reaches its peak as thousands of fans gather outside Graceland to honor the King. Together with all the other fans, I receive a candle, and then stand in the queue that slowly winds through the gates to Graceland, past Elvis' grave and out again. It feels a bit like a marathon, there are fluid checks everywhere and it takes three and a half hours.

TV is there and the next day I read in the newspaper that we were 10,000 people who attended.

Music: The beginning of "Talk About The Good Times"

Elvis Week is over and it's time to go home again. I have to agree with my Danish friends that it has been a fantastic experience that I will never forget. For a week, everything has revolved around Elvis and I have met people from all over the world who share my interest.

The only thing I regret is that I didn't buy Graceland as a soft toy.

Outro music: "Talk About The Good Times"

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