Put the cowhorns back on the cadillac

It’s that kind of place. Despite it’s economic distress, the empty streets, the half–assed Bourbon Street mess that Beale Street has become (goddamned is it bad!), and what seems to be a full on crime wave in certain parts of town, in Memphis you cannot keep the music out of your head. It may be the wash over that comes from being so close to the Delta, but I couldn’t keep, “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohen or the words to one of John Hiatt’s greatest songs, (and that my friends is truly saying something because John Hiatt has written a shitload, okay, like 25 genuinely great songs) “Memphis in the Meantime” out of my head. “If we could just get off a that beat little girl Maybe we could find the groove At least we can get a decent meal Down at the rendez–vous” Needless to say, I wasn’t in town half an hour and I was at the Rendezvous (www.hogsfly.com), down in the basement as it were, wolfing down chopped chicken, pickles, big hunks of cheddar cheese, cole slaw with vinegar and cumin, sweet tea, fries, red beans and rice (laced with sliced mushrooms?) and the best ribs I have ever tasted. The best. All covered in that secret shake mixture of spices that makes this place world famous. My God it was good. It’s so damned nice to find a “legendary” restaurant that actually lives up, or in this case exceeds its billing.

But enough about the food—although the BBQ’d spaghetti at Interstate BBQ is truly a dish to remember. Memphis is Elvis country. The man’s visage stares at ya from billboards everywhere you look. “Experience Graceland” And clearly there are many many factories in China cranking out nothing but Elvis plastic crap. I mean mountains of trinkets with his face. Funny part almost none of it, even the stuff sold at the 42 gift stores that operate at Graceland, looks like Elvis.

If you’ve never been, and you are musically–inclined, Graceland despite all the crap you’ve heard, is a MUST trip. In a word, two actually: profoundly strange. The first stop on the cheesy iPod–like thing that you wear around your neck and listen to through borderline spoog–ey earphones, plays Elvis singing “Welcome to my World,” as you roll across Elvis Presley Boulevard in the shuttle bus and through those famous musical staff gates of Graceland. You also hear daughter Lisa Marie say that Elvis “permeated” Graceland. Each brick in the walls on either side of the gates, has something—a signature, a shout out, something profane—scrawled on it. That wall, you have to cross the street from the “visitors center” to see it, is perhaps the best part of Graceland.

Right up there with the TV Room and the Jungle Room. You have to fight the ill-mannered Japanese tourists and older, fatter, redneck-y Americans, to see the rooms in Elvis’ house but it so worth it. I’ve been several times but my wife was amazed by their um…dcor. Downstairs in the rumpus room we’re talking bright blue and yellow color schemes, not to mention acres of fabric billowed on the ceiling and walls. Upstairs, in the Jungle Room, there’s a gurgly indoor fountain, carpet on the ceiling and a carved African chair that has to be seen to be believed. It’s the embodiment of Elvis famous comment about antiques which went something like, ‘I grew up with nothing but old shit, I want my furniture to be new.”

The Jungle Room is the site of Elvis last recording sessions. By then the pills had made it impossible for him to leave Graceland, unless he was on some sort of buying spree or a run to the dentist for a midnight cleaning and more pain pills. I was actually impressed that the audio to the guided tour mentioned his “years of abuse of prescription drugs” as one of the causes of his death. A new feature, at least since I’ve been there last, is the opening of the racquetball court, where he spent his final hours, and which is now filled with gold records and the collection of his most outlandish costumes from Vegas. The Aztec sundial number from 1976, white with a huge gold embroidered sundial on the front and doodads up and down the sleeves, made by the IC Costume Company, may be the topper. Next to it are framed tickets from a show at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, in Rapid City South Dakota on June 21, 1977. Approximately two months before he passed. Watching him doing a performance of “Johnny B. Goode” from the Aloha broadcast in 1973 on a TV monitor while my wife availed herself of the facilities, I found myself playing air guitar and rockin’ out. James Burton had a lot to do with it, but under the cheese, and the pills and the selling out, there was always a bit of the heart of something real still beating.

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