James Walton

All the way to Memphis

The home of the Blues and Elvis Presley is finally cashing in on its status as the cradle of popular music. But in 30 years, will anybody still be interested in Elvis?

The bad news for old rock’n’rollers is that there’s not much time left to stay at Heartbreak Hotel — these days located not at the end of Lonely Street, but on Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis. In October it will close, to be replaced by the demurely named Guest House at Graceland: in reality a swanky new hotel with nearly twice as many rooms as the Dorchester.

But this is only the latest addition to Elvis’s former pad since the operating rights were bought by the Authentic Brands Group in 2013. Already Graceland has an expanded visitor centre, and the tour of the house now comes with a rather good iPad commentary that mixes the calmly factual (‘Beyond the stained-glass peacocks is the music room’) with moments of historical analysis (‘Another classic Seventies touch is the green shagpile carpet on the floor — and the ceiling’). Its closing summary that ‘every dream Elvis had was fulfilled 100 times’ is perhaps a little rosy: he might, for example, have dreamed of living beyond 42. Nonetheless, you do come out with the undeniably thrilling impression of having been in his presence.

And if you want a similarly intimate sense of how Elvis got to Graceland, you don’t have to travel far. At Sun Studio in downtown Memphis, where his career began, you can walk on the tiles laid by the studio’s owner Sam Phillips, see the cigar burn left by Jerry Lee Lewis on the low E of the studio piano, and pretend you’re revolutionising music by posing with the very microphone that Elvis used on the very spot where he used it. You’ll also get the whole Sun story, told with awed enthusiasm by a guide who emphasises that you’re standing on ‘sacred ground’.

For some cities, that might be enough commemoration of musical greatness to be going on with.

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