Saturday, April 2, 2011

2 April 1957 “Elvis and Graceland: A Symbolic Rise”

graceland On March 26 of this year, 1957, the 22-year-old Elvis Presley buys Graceland on 3734 Bellevue Boulevard for $US100,000. Adjusted for inflation, that would be like spending $787,576.51 today. While certainly that is a large amount, one must consider a home of this size on 13 acres today would be much more than that.

This is an amazing jump in wealth for the young artist, when you consider his first ‘nice’ house purchase when he began to make money as a singer.

elvishome56 This is  1034 Audubon Drive in a nicer well-to-do suburban middle/upper middle class neighborhood east of downtown Memphis.  This was his first house he purchased in Memphis. He paid $29,100 in March of 1956, keeping his mom and dad on the title. This would be the price of $229,184.77 today. This is roughly our current U.S. median house price. Yet, in 1956, this would around three times the yearly salary of the average family.

This was quite a move up from his birthplace elvisbirthplacein the 1930’s. Elvis Aaron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935 to Vernon and Gladys Presley. His father would later lose them this home (which cost $108 dollars to build in the 1930’s or about $1500 today) when he was arrested and found guilty of check forgery.

What I find interesting about Elvis time at his first ‘nice home’ in 1956 is how fitting it is to him. Here he is in the front yard.56elvishomeAnd enjoying beer with friends on the patio.elvis56homeA happy and well off Elvis is seen here. Someone who is making a decent living at what he is doing.

Now for me, here is the turn. In one year, this year 1957, his fame and wealth shoots through the roof. His continued fame and his foray into movies, such as this year’s Jail house rock.

To me, we begin to see a sad turn of events that I am beginning to associate with the growing greed and idol worship in my country at this time. Elvis fame came quick and made millions for others who fed off Elvis, and I don’t mean hangers on but Record and Movie execs who saw a ‘product’ to exploit for gain.

Had Elvis lived in an earlier time such fame would not have been considered. Certainly the Crooner’s of the 40’s had a fame approaching this, but not to the extent. Radio and movie appearences began to lead to the type of exploitation a new ‘hottest thing’ could be, but really we are here in this pivotal year when the increased TV ownership/viewing, Growing Movie industry (The sweeping dramas of the 1930’s and even the high Technicolor Comedey extravaganza are beginning to go in lieu of more and easily made pictures ‘featuring’ the latest product: in this case Elvis).

I guess what makes me sad is if Elvis had lived in a world where one appreciated his talent and he was paid for his singing and appearances a reasonable amount, his life may have continued on into old age happily at his little suburban House. But, the money made for him was made at his own expense. His increased prescription drug use into the 1970’s to keep him on stage is the sad fact of this ‘products’ advantage to make more and more for those around him. When is enough enough? Are we to believe we must always have more and more? Is the big pink mansion really the ultimate goal for us when it comes at the cost of our lives and souls? I don’t know.

This sudden rise and even the vast movement in homes of Elvis is almost a microcosmic version of our country from 1950’s to today. The move from the ‘old ways’ of the little house with the relatives, living together to help one another out to ‘our own home in the suburbs’ isolation and increased costs to the McMansions of today. Are we happier? We all live ‘better’ we have more buying power and multiple cars and things at our fingertips, but is our health, our family, our lives better? Are we happier?


christmasgracelandThis is part of Graceland decorated for Christmas. Even this image shows the level to which Elvis was happy, a paneled rumpus room. One would not even associate this picture with the big pillared colonial structure in which it is in. Was this merely Elvis making a happy little nest in the vastness of his new wealth and fame?

I think there is a lesson here in Graceland. The rise from affordability, family, and honest work for honest pay. When we prop up one person and millions who have little happily give up their money to that idol, the money does not go to only them. It feeds a system of people who live and make wealth off the opportunity of others making no real product or music. And was this idol worship good for Elvis? Certainly his traumatic slide and dramatic end makes a great tale and has an almost God-like or Greek Tragedy quality in its telling, but at the root of it, Elvis was simply a young man who liked to sing and play his guitar. Was the result worth it? And, is the result, the need we now have to want to ‘live like a rock star’ a healthy attitude? Do young people even today associate ‘bad behavior and choice’ as a goal to work towards? Wealthy people mis-behaving, abusing themselves and those around them? Is this what we have become?

If this were not the move the world made from 1950’s to today, we might be able to buy a ticket at a good price to sit in a little honky tonk and listen to the ‘old man’ Elvis play his guitar and sing us some of our old favorites. Instead we have a shrine to the lifestyle and waste and we happily worship at it, only hoping we might be so “lucky”.elvisgrave

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