We met a couple of people from Memphis in New Orleans: Him chunky and grim, Her chunky and smiley. Her was full of ideas as to where we might like to visit and eat, Him said, “Memphis is a shit hole, pardon my French, my advice to you is go see Graceland then get the f*** out.”
Trouble is I don’t want to go to Graceland. I don’t want to go to Graceland because I don’t get Elvis Presley, I never did. Growing up, the youngest in a household of five who all seemed to get Elvis, means I am aware of his work. All of it. I was immersed in his music, his films and I always assumed I was missing some fundamental point because I could never convince myself of his King of Rock & Roll status. I got Johnny Cash; the voice, the storyteller, the attitude, the sadness, the defiance, the humour but Elvis? No – he looked waxy and unreal for a start like he was designed by super intelligent aliens who had all the data but had never actually met a person. Nearly every picture you see of Elvis looks doctored and false.
Apart from anything else Elvis is dragged down and swamped by the sheer weight of awful music he put out. You would have to have ears made entirely of cloth to say all his songs are crap but the good ones are horribly outgunned by shabby, commercial slop, half arsed Honolulu drivel and sanctimonious puffed up gospel. Most of the films are garbage (King Creole I’ll admit is OK with some cracking songs) and most of the films are musicals which provides a mountain of bollocks to wade through if you want to measure Presley’s definitive output. I know because I have endured nearly all of it. Including the hundredweight of Christmas cash-ins. For a King of Rock and Roll Presley didn’t spend an awful lot of time either rocking or rolling.
I’ve got no problem with Elvis himself or anybody who likes him, I’m sure if I saw him performing on the rear of a flat-back truck in the 1950s I would have been blown away (like Johnny Cash was) my problem is with his deification. Like you know how a really good performer needs to be inimitable, how can Elvis be inimitable when every 7th person on the planet is an Elvis impersonator and tribes up the Amazon, people in the Taliban and your Nan can all do a passable “Thang-yu-verymurch.” What is the word for the opposite of inimitable? Because that’s what Elvis is to the point that even genuine Elvis recordings of his best songs; “In the Ghetto”, “Always on my Mind”, Jailhouse Rock” for example, sound like bad impressions of himself and are thus rendered laughable and sound silly. You can tell they are good songs by the cover versions; Nick Cave, The Pet Shop Boys, The Blues Brothers of the above (although all pale in comparison to Cartman from South Park’s definitive “In the Ghetto”).
But that brings us to another problem; how many songs did Elvis write and did he reach the point where he was just a pre-X-Factor puppet? And what was going on with that little cape?
So no I don’t want to go to Graceland, our mate put us off for sure by saying, “imagine a rig worker from Blyth’s house in the 1970s. It’s what happens when peasants with no taste get money”. Apart from anything else Rock and Roll buildings with no rock and roll happening when you are there are just buildings; I’ve never been to Abbey Road either, I wouldn’t have been to the 100 Club if I wasn’t working there and The Riverside in Newcastle (my favourite venue) was a stinking, sticky carpeted dump without the people who made it breathe. So we didn’t go to Sun Studios either.
We went to The Civil Rights Museum (which strangely Him and Her didn’t mention) on the site where Martin Luther King Jr got shot which was so fascinating we ended staying for three hours. They had the bus Rosa Parks wouldn’t shift her black ass off, which was a story I thought I knew but didn’t; in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 Rosa was sitting in the black section of the bus with three other people when a white man demanded they all moved because the white section was full, which was policy with black and white people not even allowed to share the same row. The other three people moved but Rosa refused. She was arrested and had to leave her home town in search of work but it became a landmark moment in the Civil Rights movement. You can also buy merchandise with the quote “no well behaved woman ever made history” on.
There were old films and photos of black people suffering the most appalling degradation and injustice with a dignity that is hard to countenance.
… and then to the Duck Parade at The Peabody Hotel. The latter being a daily ritual presided over by a Duck Master in an elaborate costume where the hotel’s resident ducks (disappointingly not in elaborate costume – not even little bow-ties, never mind top hats and monocles ) are escorted along a red carpet to the elevator through an excitable, camera flashing crowd. In the morning they quack happily from roof to hotel lobby fountain and they waddle back again in the evening. The tannoy announced that the first Duck Master served for 50 years, Him told us a later one got locked up for trying to rob a bank.
Then we hit Beale Street for beer, banging rhythm and blues and food laced in bar-b-q sauce. Oh and catfish.
Right Song “Cold Hearted Woman” by John Lee Hooker – now that’s what I’m talkin’abowt.