One expecting a rash of tacky Elvis-themed stores and outlets along Elvis Presley Boulevard on the way to Graceland from the freeway will be sorely disappointed. The strip has seen better days, symbolized by a burnt-out fast food joint. I prebooked tickets early in the day to dodge the crowds and afternoon heat.
A battery of fans kept those waiting in line cool. It was a good thing that we planned an early trip to Graceland, as the afternoon brought muggy, 100+ degrees Fahrenheit weather to Memphis.
Other buildings on the mansion grounds are filled with memorabilia and preserved elements like Vernon Presley's office. We were impressed with tasteful and well laid-out presentation and relieved to discover that for all the jokes made about the later years of Elvis Presley and the fan base/velvet paintings that grew around it, Graceland was far from being a tacky experience (except for some of our fellow tourists). It was yet another pleasant surprise to add to the trip's growing tally.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Having been a Stax nut for years, this was a site I eagerly anticipated...and wasn't disappointed by.
The museum is a recreation of the original Stax building, torn down in 1989 after a decade of neglect. The complex is closely tied into the community, with an attached auditorium and charter school. While paying for admission, another tourist overheard that we were from Canada. She proceed to walk up to us and yell "Eh?" We didn't know how to react, though I considered identifying ourselves as Detroit natives at any future attractions.
Visitors are not allowed directly into the exhibit halls upon arrival. A introductory film outlines the context Stax operated in, dotted with interviews and footage from the label's prime. Once finished, the exhibits await, starting with a century-old church moved from the Mississippi Delta. Too bad pictures aren't allowed of the exhibits, or else your eyes would feast upon Isaac Hayes' pimped-out gold-plated Cadillac. Sadly, within a week of our visit Hayes passed away.
Memphis Slim.We drove around the neighbourhood for a few minutes. Several guidebooks I had read before the trip indicated that one shouldn't linger too long in the vicinity of Stax due to safety concerns and poverty. We looked around and while nearby streets were run down, it didn't look worse than some sections of Detroit we regularly drive through. This confirmed my theory that having grown up near Motown, we're all but desensitized while roaming through depressed neighbourhoods, unless the scale of devastation or sense something bad is going to happen is extraordinary (ask anyone I've taken to Buffalo how I react while driving through its grim areas). We shrugged and continued roaming.
Full set of photos.
Next: Downtown Memphis and the melancholy death of Meriwether Lewis