A trip to Graceland offers a look at the birth of cool
I've fluctuated between average coolness and below-average coolness for most of my life. My coolness fell to an all-time low during the buck tooth/huge glasses/nasal voice years between ages 7 and 10, and it reached its peak at the end of high school when I finally got a car (a 1987 blue two-tone Toyota Celica). But now, after I've been to Graceland -- the birthplace of cool -- I know what the word really means.
Elvis created a timeless model of cool for the modern man -- particularly the single, looking-to-get-girls modern man. Long before Cribs on MTV showcased rock stars' lavish homes, Elvis had the first real bachelor pad. Long before Snoop Dogg was hated by the establishment and loved by teenagers, Elvis was an outlaw in the eyes of conservative adults. And long before imitating musicians was a standard part of adolescence, boys sported the Elvis sideburns.
First, Elvis was cool because of his unique style. He exuded such bravado that he looked cool wearing anything -- even ridiculous one-piece bejeweled tight white suits. Eventually, it didn't matter that the cape thing was sort of weird and the oversized glasses were a bit much. It was cool because it was Elvis. Second, Elvis had the larger-than-life presence needed to take his coolness to the next level. When women threw handkerchiefs on stage during concerts, Elvis picked them up, wiped his brow and tossed them back into the clamoring hands of the crowd -- all without stopping the song.
Fourth, Elvis was an oversized kid. He had tons of hobbies: Football, karate, horseback riding, shooting guns, racing golf carts and riding snowmobiles. Like the most popular male interests today-- from NASCAR to the NFL to PlayStation -- they all involved speed and violence.
And finally -- except for the years he was married to Priscilla -- Elvis created the quintessential American bachelor pad at his Graceland mansion. It would become a template of how the single man would strive to live for generations.
Like bachelor pads today, Graceland was wired. There are still stereos everywhere, including one built into his white fur bed on his private plane and an eight-track player installed in his desk. And like bachelor pads today, the TV was a crucial fixture. Elvis had three TVs in one room -- remember, this was the 1960s -- so he could watch all three network news shows at once. Graceland had a $200,000 racketball court with couches, a pinball machine and a bar. The famed "jungle room" had green shag carpeting on the walls to improve the acoustics for jam sessions, fake fur on the sofa to ensure the comfort of the ladies and a waterfall for the sake of having a waterfall. Of course, even cool kids have their problems, and Elvis ultimately died in the least cool way possible -- while sitting on the toilet.
At Graceland, though, there's no mention of Elvis being hooked on pills and overdosing at just age 42. There's no criticism of Elvis's music as more style than substance -- just black blues repackaged with a white face. But that's OK, because Elvis' role was more important than music. He had attitude before pop music, bling before hip-hop and sex symbol status before The Beatles. And for that, ya gotta love The King.
Matt Katz, Courier-Post
"Elvis Presley is the supreme socio-cultural icon in the history of pop culture"
(Dr. Gary Enders)
" Elvis is the 'glue' which holds our society together....which subconciously gives our world meaning"
"Eventually everybody has to die, except Elvis"
(humorist Dave Barry)
"He is the "Big Bang", and the universe he detonated is still expanding, the pieces are still flying"
(Greil Marcus, "Dead Elvis")
"I think Elvis Presley will never be solved"
"He was the most popular man that ever walked on this planet since Christ himself was here"
"When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew I wasn't going to work for anybody...hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail"
"When we were kids growing up in Liverpool, all we ever wanted was to be Elvis Presley"
(Sir Paul McCartney)
"You can't say enough good things about Elvis. He was one of a kind"