Graceland: Going Home with Elvis

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He didn't write music or lyrics and wasn't too articulate on the subject of himself, but when he created his dream house Elvis Presley spoke volumes about who he was. From the musical notes that dance across the gates to the soaring columns of the neo-Southern manse, from the glittering stairwells to the jungle rec room to the plush-lined bathroom suite where he died, the colors and textures and shapes of Graceland speak eloquently for the boy from Tupelo who became the King of Rock 'n' Roll. What the mansion ...
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Overview

He didn't write music or lyrics and wasn't too articulate on the subject of himself, but when he created his dream house Elvis Presley spoke volumes about who he was. From the musical notes that dance across the gates to the soaring columns of the neo-Southern manse, from the glittering stairwells to the jungle rec room to the plush-lined bathroom suite where he died, the colors and textures and shapes of Graceland speak eloquently for the boy from Tupelo who became the King of Rock 'n' Roll. What the mansion says of Elvis, and what it says to - and of - the millions of fans who make the journey there each year, is what Graceland: Going Home with Elvis is about. This conversation is what tourism is about, and so Graceland speaks of tourism as well of the author's forays into an alien South, its rhythms, its history, and of Elvis as the ultimate tourist, the musician on the road, ever in transit between home and the one-night stand. Reconstructing the changing interior of Graceland during its owner's lifetime, the book describes the cultural geography of Elvisness - his self-created material world - and of American mobility in the postwar era.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Elvis Presley and his parents, Vernon and Gladys, as Jesus, Joseph and Mary? Their move from Tupelo, Miss., to Memphis in 1948 as the Israelites' flight from Egypt? If you can swallow such comparisons, you're ready to accompany Marling on this herky-jerky trip along the same roads the one and only King traveled during his lifetime. Readers are thrown head-first into creaky motel rooms with only one working light bulb, the makeshift Hollywood mansion of Presley's B-movie career, Las Vegas showroom stages and, of course, Graceland itself. Readers not only experience the American landscape as Presley didthey get a sense of the other influences of the time. Reading this book means meeting William Faulkner, eating moon pies and catfish with cornmeal crust and going backstage at Elvis's awkward wedding to Priscilla. In the process, one comes to understand how the nation grew up with the King, and then grew away from him. Marling obviously poured extensive research into her book. Her riffs and rants have a fun, freewheeling bent, creating cultural linkages that make perfect sense in some moments while at other times they appear as ways to mention as many American icons as possible in a few sentences. Still, being flung across miles of American tarmac and into the shotgun shacks and juke joints of the Deep South may be best done with a guide. Take this with a soupon of skepticism, a good road map and a packet of Tums. Illustrations. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Supernatural phenomena notwithstanding, the King is alive and well in ads, music, jokes, look-alike contests, greeting cards, memorabilia, plays, the Graceland mansion, and hundreds of other ways. Why is the public still so fascinated with everything Elvis? "For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy," quips Rodman communication, Univ. of South Florida in the opening of his in-depth dissection of prevailing Elvis mythsboth rational and seemingly otherwise. He analyzes the place of these myths in relation to American culture, and he carefully reviews "Elvis space" the Tupelo birthplace and the Graceland mansion as important representations of the man, the myths, and America. With painstaking thoroughness, Rodman explores how Elvis defined new popular cultural parameters during a time when America was in rapid transitionhelping to give rise to the legend that still lives on. This is not casual reading; but, for those with the time and the inclination, it can reward one with solid information as well as unique food for thought. Graceland is a bit more easily navigable. Marling art history and American studies, Univ. of Minnesota takes us on a trip to the geographical places inhabited, visited, and created by the King during the course of his rags-to-riches odysseyTupelo, Memphis, Nashville, Hollywood, and, ultimately, Graceland. The sounds, smells, look, and feel of each of these localesthen and noware beautifully evoked, and other symbols of the South, such as Faulkner, are blended into the story. Occasional boxed gems e.g., "the custom of visiting birthplaces" are interspersed throughout. Through "place," we experience and come to terms with the atmosphere and the influences that shaped Elvis personally and professionally and gave rise to his legendary mystique. Marling is a superb writera raconteur, keen observer, poignant historian, casual analyst, and friend. Graceland belongs in circulating libraries with large entertainment collections; Rodman's book is better suited to academic collections.Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, N.J.
Kirkus Reviews
This cultural history of Elvis's interiors is intended as high-concept but reads like a hastily researched brochure from a generalized Presley museum.

In tones of not-quite-believable enthusiasm, Marling (Art History and American Studies/Univ. of Minnesota; As Seen on TV, 1994, etc.) attempts to humanize Presley by concentrating on the physical spaces he inhabited, as well as describing the larger areas he frequented (Oxford, Miss., Memphis, Las Vegas). The concept isn't altogether bad—but Marling fails to come up with a fresh take. Consistently she loses her grip and slides into the most basic biographical territory: "Sun Studios is the stuff of legends"; "He appealed to some primitive streak in the young." She's at her best when describing Graceland as nearly pure metaphor—as a vision of the old South whose precedent was Tara Mansion in the movie version of Gone With the Wind. Some of the room-by-room exegeses of Graceland are diverting, too. But the lack of effort shines through. Ever wonder why Elvis wanted a jungle motif for his living room? She points out the well-known fact that he loved Hawaiian kitsch, and the less well known fact that one of his record producers had his office done that way—but beyond that, your guess is as good as hers. "Of course," she rambles, "when everything is said that can be said to account for the den at Graceland, there is also the possibility that Elvis Presley had terrible taste, or that Elvis chic occupies an aesthetic dimension in which conventional standards of good taste are irrelevant."

Too obvious to qualify as cultural studies, too blandly written for a Wayne Koestenbaum-esque personal-interaction-with-subject book. Peter Guralnick's biography remains the standard for those who want to understand the King.

Los Angeles Times
The liveliest and most intriguing of the new books [on Elvis] is Graceland: Going Home with Elvis, a sometimes funny, often thoughtful rumination on the place of Elvis and his super-kitsch mansion in the American iconography.
Nation
Marling's [book] is like a road trip with a smart, funny friend (junk food, driving all night, collecting silly souvenirs)...A beguiling, original guide [to Graceland] complete with directions, admission prices, and detours into Southern literature and culture.
Village Voice
[Marling's] expertise in the decorative arts (plus the phrase-making knack that complements it) makes Elvis's mansion on the hill seem a creation as well as a site.
New York Times Book Review
[Marling] knows her way around the Nashville country-music scene, the celebrity mansions of Bel Air, the hipster clothing outlets of Memphis. She evokes role models of conspicuous consumption like Hank Williams and Liberace, who--like Presley--knew they were thumbing their noses at good taste, but did so with more humor...Graceland is filled with the rich madness of life...[It] is as pleasing as a new pair of blue suede shoes.
Boston Phoenix
The book is a near-masterpiece. Imaginatively thought and generously felt, Graceland isn't just an essential addition to Elvis literature; it's a shrewd, empathetic meditation on the unexpected dignity that lurks beneath the kitsch surface of middle-class taste...[I]t's Graceland...that inspires Marling's finest work. She cuts through the practiced inanities of the tour guides and their sanitization of all that was revolutionary or horrific about Elvis to imagine a real person living there. No one has ever written about Graceland with the penetrating understanding that Marling shows...She makes its smallness and tackiness, its owner's unquenchable thirst for newness, almost inexpressibly, and never condescendingly, moving.
Baltimore Sun
By broadening her scope to include so much of American culture, Marling has cleverly set Elvis up as the ultimate tourist, always on the road and longing to get back home. What makes the trip so compelling is Marling's ability to make his story our story. As readers will discover, the cultural geography of 'Elvisness'--alien as it may seem--is ours as well.
Washington Post Book World
Reading [this book] is like taking a trip with a funny, well-read friend who knows where to find the best little dinners and the kinds of roadside attractions that don't get listed in guidebooks, and who can discourse wittily on their meaning and history.
Nashville Banner
[A] revealing and almost perfect book.
The Independent [UK]
In this brilliant, if highly personal, guide to both the man and his home, Marling explains how the Presley shrine differs from other places of tourist pilgrimage: 'The house if full of things that we all have or used to have, or used to want, or hate.' Though it is easy to scoff at Graceland's decor ('a violent Christmastime-lipstick-cherry-coke-fire-engine-hellfire red') and the Polynesian-theme Jungle Den, Marling insists that Elvis was 'the last great Dixie regionalist', on par with William Faulkner.
City Pages (Minneapolis)
[A] masterful entry into Elvisology...Marling constructs a meandering biography out of the domestic theater of Elvis...Marling's scrupulously researched (and also hilarious) cultural analysis recalls that of like-minded heroes Tom Wolfe and Greil Marcus...Graceland: Going Home with Elvis is a brilliant achievement. Elvis, as the saying goes, may have left the building, but the author shows us how we are all now living in Graceland.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674358898
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/1996
  • Pages: 266
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Karal Ann Marling is Professor of Art History at the University of Minnesota.
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  • Posted January 16, 2010

    Graceland: going Home With Elvis

    This is a wonderful book covering Elvis life at Graceland. Elvis loved going home to Graceland. LOved living there. The one place Elvis could have some privacy and just be himself. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

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