By Ray Stern
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By Stephen Lemons
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Nothin' but a Hound Dog
The Spike was only 4 when the King of Rock 'n' Roll died on his toilet. But that didn't stop the elementary school music teachers from making the class sing his songs in the spring chorale. The teacher said Elvis Presley was the King, so The Spike sang "Hound Dog" every year with reckless abandon. It's not every day The Spike got to sing the music of royalty.
Elvis is as American as it gets for a rock star. Other musicians who drugged themselves to death are used on "The More You Know" PSAs, but not Elvis. Morality gurus usually salivate over a shining example like Elvis -- a man at the top of his game, a legend around the world -- who died young at the end of a binge of destructive self-indulgence. Whether the drugs actually killed him, it doesn't get much better than Elvis for the "Just Say No" evangelicals.
But the King was never one of their poster children. While they splattered poor Janis Joplin all over the schools in the mid-'80s as an example of a drug-crazed hippie, Elvis songs were in the spring chorale. Elvis was special -- an inexplicable symbol of innocence and all that was good and true.
So when The Spike took a road trip across the country a few years ago, a pilgrimage to Graceland seemed appropriate. The Spike got a friend with connections to wangle a spot on the Graceland VIP guest list, and got the special deluxe tour.
After seeing the place, The Spike's expert opinion is that Graceland is a tacky, nasty little dump with all of the charm and class of a double-wide decorated by Liberace's slightly more masculine cousin. And only in Tennessee is burying your family in the backyard considered a fitting tribute. In the rest of the world, it's considered creepy as shit.
The tour had no mention of Elvis' rampant drug use or his extramarital mattress aerobics, and the toilet wasn't even on the tour. Graceland only shows happy Elvis, chaste Elvis -- sober Elvis.
Elvis lovers are obviously a fan base in denial.
In their attempt to deify Elvis, the Graceland folks have inadvertently created a mausoleum that stands as a stark reminder of the fleeting nature of beauty, and the transient nature of "cool." After Graceland, The Spike thinks of tacky shag carpet and old stereo equipment instead of a rock 'n' roll legend that inspired a generation.
Needless to say, The Spike had mixed feelings when Mobile Graceland (no, The Spike is not kidding), a touring semi truck loaded with Graceland artifacts, came through town. But the train-wreck aspect (you don't want to look, but you need to) lured The Spike all the way out to Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino to ogle the latest altar to the King.
The Ak-Chin Casino (also known as the casino at the end of the universe) isn't just far away. It's really, really far away. After what seemed like three days, The Spike pulled into the hideously vast parking lot and trudged in the hot November sun up to the semi trailer that housed Mobile Graceland. Unfortunately, this was premature. An Elvis-goggled casino worker in a Hawaiian print shirt informed The Spike that entry into the semi trailer could only be gained with a Harrah's Total Rewards Gold Card. This, of course, had to be obtained inside the casino.
The Spike knew the free admission had to have a catch.
On the way over to get the card, The Spike dropped a single quarter into a Lucky 7 slot machine, pulled the lever, and the Lucky 7 spit out $5 in quarters.
It was going to be a good day for The Spike.
The card turned out to be a thinly disguised ploy to get a name and address so that Harrah's could send mountains of advertisements. The Spike used its old driver's license so that the guy in apartment #3F on Staten Island would get all of the junk mail, and returned, card in hand, to the massive parking lot.
The line at Mobile Graceland was at least 70 people long. Trinkets like CDs, tee shirts, hats and Elvis bookends were for sale in front. Canned Elvis music was playing, and the two senior citizens in front of The Spike were dancing and singing along. Elvis was still driving lots of women crazy, even if most of them were now in the AARP.
The collection inside the trailer was pretty normal stuff, but it was Elvis' normal stuff: a surprisingly small shirt from Jailhouse Rock, the boxing gloves Muhammad Ali gave Elvis, Elvis' crayons from first grade, and his third-grade report card.
But the most interesting parts (in The Spike's opinion) were the police badges. There were several of them, along with a turquoise-handled Colt .45. Elvis had a thing for police, even asking President Nixon for a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Nixon gushingly gave it to him when Elvis gave him his Colt .45. Nixon asked him if it was loaded, to which Elvis replied, "As loaded as I am, Mr. President!" Nixon gave him the badge and accepted his offer to help with the war on drugs.
The Spike can't imagine, say, P. Diddy getting a loaded gun into the White House, or being given a badge proclaiming him assistant drug czar. But things were simpler then. Elvis got away with everything because Elvis was, well, Elvis. And almost 30 years after his death, the masses still line up next to a semi trailer at the casino at the end of the universe to catch a glimpse of 15-odd things he once touched.
Elvis, a man who changed the face of music, became the first bad-boy sex symbol of Americana, and managed to stay the working man's hero through scandals that would make Bill Clinton blush. He bedded scads of women, owned hordes of stuff, did all the drugs, lived the life most only dream of, and died on a toilet at 42.
And The Spike loves him tender for all of it.
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