Presley-iad

While having a mini-vacation last weekend, Julie and I stayed in Tupelo, Mississippi. There’s not too much going on for Tupelo, but one thing it is famous for is being the birthplace of Elvis. We went to Graceland in the middle of a snowstorm a couple of years ago. It was all so incredibly surreal, like walking through a movie set which somebody called home. The garish and overwrought nature of the place ties in neatly with the chiq early ’70s decor. Austin Powers might live there, but not you or I.

While in Tupelo, we went to Elvis’s birthplace. It’s a two room shack, which reminds me of a much smaller version of the old home place where my great aunt and uncle still live. Elvis’s birthplace doesn’t have a broken down refrigerator on the porch or random chickens wandering about, and as I say, it’s much smaller, but otherwise, it was a relative ringer.

We paid our $4 and were rewarded with a tour of the two room dwelling, from a sharp elderly citizen of Tupelo, who filled us in on the history. The house was built by Elvis’s father, and by the time Elvis was three, his father went to prison for passing a forged check, and the family could not make payments, and the house was repossessed. The Presleys then moved in with Elvis’s grandparents, until they moved to Memphis when he was 13, and into public housing.

Somehow the sparse two room shack explained Elvis and Graceland and Colonel Tom and the Memphis Mafia and all of it. You could almost see the little boy, noted by friends to generally have ill-fitting clothing, the survivor of a pair of twins, a quiet Mama’s boy, about to be dispossessed of this very shack due to an eight dollar forged check. You could almost feel the organic American dream which had to sprout– that he would be bigger and richer and able to care for his parents and that the same kids who said his name to laugh at him would say it with that mixture of awe and revulsion which marks America’s attitude toward the many facets of Elvis to this day. Blue suede shoes and white suits and peanut butter and banana sandwiches and the jungle room. It was all there. And you didn’t have to linger too long to find it either.

Our tour guide told us that in 1956, when Elvis came back to town to play a concert, the house and 15 acres of land were for sale. He told the city that they could keep the money from the show if they would buy up the land and build a park. If that’s not a self-confident, self-mythologizing streak, then what is?

Still, I’d like to think that the tiny Tupelo house is the closest thing to the real Elvis we’ll ever find. I’d like to take the positives of the story as true– that our nation isn’t an aristocracy and those blessed with talent and drive and perhaps the hand of God can flourish from a two room shack in Tupelo as well as from the largest mansions. But I guess I also have to remember that little three year old boy and all of the ones who don’t make it out. And all of the pieces of the ones who do make it out that get left behind.

Joe

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2 Responses to “Presley-iad”

  1. Amy Hilliard Says:

    Wow, that’s some pretty profound thoughts to have about a two-room shack and those who emerge from them. Inspiring.

  2. Julie Says:

    I like the Tupelo Elvis better.

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