Elvis’ 75th Birthday
The modern-day Presley Traveler will want to hit the road this year. Elvis’ 75th birthday is January 8 and events around the USA are planning on bigger cakes than usual. For starters, here are a few worthy clips to review along with the top Elvis (or ‘fake Elvis’) attractions around the country.
YouTube videos worth seeing:
- Why he’s Elvis. On Ed Sullivan in 1956
- His charming ’68 comeback. Playing with his old band 12 years later.
- Good Vegas. Footage from classic Vegas concert series at the Imperial Hotel in 1969:
- His last song, ever. Recorded June 26, 1977, two months before his death, at Indianapolis’ Market Square Arena (now the Pacers’ home)
Elvis lived most of his life in the steamy Mississippi River town of Memphis. Seven miles south of downtown is Graceland, of course, a white-columned Colonial-style mansion (built to look antebellum in 1939) filled with memorabilia that draws 600,000 visitors a year. It’s as much a shrine to ‘70s tackiness as a music legend (with its pea-green shag carpet, faux waterfall, tiki-styled Jungle room, horrible wood paneling), and that only adds to the glory. Even if you don’t jump in his pool on the way out. (Elvis died in his bathroom here on August 16, 1977.)
Tours of Sun Studio take in more than just Elvis – Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis came through here too – but seeing the old studio that used to let acts record their own records for $4 is essential for rock fans.
Grab Elvis’ favorite sandwich –fried peanut-butter-and-banana – from one of his favorite dives, Arcade, complete with ‘40s-era vinyl-and-Formica décor.
If you can take the heat in your polyester suit, come to Memphis for Elvis Week in mid August – America at its weirdest.
January 8 is also the 75th birthday of Jesse (Elvis’ stillborn twin). You can see the two-room ‘shotgun shack’ where they were born in 1935 in Tupelo (90 miles southeast of Memphis) at the Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum, then drop by the Tupelo Hardware Company (114 W Main St), an old-fashioned general store where Elvis’ mom bought him his first guitar in 1946.
Fake Elvis’ are a poker chip a dozen around here. The best, many say, is Pete ‘Big Elvis’ Vallee, who plays at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, a throw-back casino on the strip. Some prefer Elvis serenades during weddings, like at the half-a-century-and-counting Graceland Chapel – where Jon Bon Jovi was married in a blaze of glory in 1989.
The Man himself married Priscilla (of Naked Gun fame) at the Aladdin (now the Planet Hollywood) on May 1, 1967. They originally met while Elvis was in the army and Priscilla was a whopping 14. (Practically a senior citizen for Jerry Lee Lewis.) The resort rooms keep some of the Aladdin touch, but it’s hard to feel the spirit of ’67 walking through.
One of Elvis’ most famous haunts in Vegas was the International Hotel (now the Hilton), where he played 57 comeback shows in 1969 (which led to the fantastic concert film That’s the Way It Is). You can stay in his old suite – the Elvis Presley Suite. There’s also an Elvis statue outside and a certain throwback ‘70s-era vibe to the place.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum has a weekend-full of Elvis events at its museum, where you’ll find a permanent Elvis exhibit that includes his ‘snowflake’ suit from 1973 and a ‘50s jacket bought in Memphis. (Fun if you can stomach the museum’s $22 entrance fee.)
Some famous guests have adjourned at the downtown chain Comfort Inn – in the ‘70s, Led Zeppelin threw food out the windows and blamed it on Elton John (my favorite rock story ever). But the first rock star sleeping here was Elvis.
The Cleveland Browns, by the way, were Elvis’ favorite NFL team – no one knows why. Perhaps the least garish, least decorated NFL helmet appealed to his over-styled sensibilities.
As far as fake Elvis’ go, no one tops Kavee Thongpreecha (aka the ‘Thai Elvis’), who distracts diners at Hollywood Boulevard’s Palms Thai from the so-so noodles with a faithful set of Elvis classics. Thankyouverymuch Mr Thongpreecha!
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The PDF for the Mississippi, Louisiana & Arkansas sections of Lonely Planet’s Trips guide to the South ($5.04) includes a ‘Going to Graceland’ itinerary