Vickie Fee

Me and Elvis

In my new release, TIL DEATH DO US PARTY (the one with the pink cover), Liv and Di are in Las Vegas for Mama and Earl’s wedding and have to find the killer of an Elvis impersonator to get an aspiring Elvis impersonator, Liv’s cousin, off the hook for the murder. Meanwhile back in Dixie, Liv’s assistant is wrangling plus-size Elvis costumes for a problem-plagued Elvis-themed high school reunion.

The events in the book occur during Elvis Week in Memphis, or as the locals call it “Death Week,” when fans from around the world descend on the city. Activities culminate on Aug. 15, extending into the morning hours of Aug. 16, the anniversary of Presley’s death, with a candlelight vigil at Graceland. An estimated 60,000 people lined up for the candlelight vigil last year.

For the most part Memphians (y’all know I’m from Memphis, right?) lock themselves indoors with the air conditioning, while sunburned tourists mill about outdoors doing their Elvis thing. (Most of the uninitiated visitors survive, but EMTs stationed at Graceland for the vigil usually need to treat at least a few people for heat exhaustion.)

chris_dabaldo_saliva_w-400x198

A photo my husband took of Chris DaBaldo, an original member of the rock band Saliva. We mixed with Goth teens and Elvis impersonators on Beale Street one year during Death Week, waiting to get into a Saliva concert. Yeah, we’re cool like that. (We actually had dinner with the band. But, that’s a story for another day.)

If you enjoy people-watching, snag a window seat inside an air-conditioned eatery on Beale Street during Death Week. You’ll see people of all nationalities—there’s generally a large contingent from both Japan and Germany. Even more fun, there are always a number of Elvis tribute artists, some who come for the competitions and others just making a fashion statement. One year, hubs and I had the surreal experience of standing in line on Beale Street for a Saliva concert at The New Daisy Theater, sandwiched between Goth teens and Elvis impersonators—some of them speaking Japanese.

ElvisMuralVickie

This mural, featuring the Memphis bridge over the Mississippi River, a FedEx plane, and a giant Elvis head, illustrating how large Elvis looms in the Memphis mystique, is in the studios of radio station WYPL in Memphis, where I’ve been interviewed a couple of times. (The goof is me.)

However, I wouldn’t personally recommend visiting Memphis in August when the average temperatures are in the mid-90s and the heat index soars over 100. If you’re an Elvis fan, I’d suggest instead a pilgrimage for his birthday (Jan. 8) when the average temperatures are 50ish. There aren’t as many special activities as there are in August, but there are usually a couple of special events. And year around you can tour Sun Studios, Graceland, the Lisa Marie (his private airplane), his birthplace in Tupelo, and tour—or even spend the night in—the Lauderdale Courts apartment where Elvis lived as a teenager. By the way, there are plenty of non-Elvis attractions in Memphis, including a world-class zoo with pandas, blues music and more on Beale Street, and the best BBQ ribs on earth (I may be biased about the BBQ. But I’m not wrong).

If you still yearn for the unique spectacle that is Death Week, be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat, carry an umbrella for shade while you’re standing in line at Graceland, drink lots of water and take frequent rest periods indoors. The friendly EMTs will wave and say howdy, but they’d prefer not having to give you medical attention.

Are you an Elvis fan? Have a favorite Elvis song? Have you ever been to/plan to go to Graceland, or have made a pilgrimage to some other celebrity site? Share in comments.

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25 thoughts on “Me and Elvis

  1. Yes, I’ve been to Graceland. Moving from Texas to North Carolina, driving a huge u-haul truck towing a vehicle, I made my husband detour to Graceland so I could tour..he had to park far away and wait. It was worth it, that house is full of history of the time.
    Elvis radio is our favorite station on XM. The king does endure 😎

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  2. Great description of that week! In the early 80s, I wrote a play called “Graceland,” about two Elvis fans competing to be the first person to step inside Graceland on the first day it’s opened to the public.(I’d seen a TV magazine show where a woman’s basement was a memorial to him, and that inspired the play.) I wrote it because I didn’t understand the Elvis fan mentality. By the time I finished the play, I did. And I became a fan, albeit one way more low-key than my characters.

    The play was produced, published, and won awards. It’s been performed all over the place for over 30 years.

    To this day, I’ve yet to ever actually visit Graceland.

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    • Ellen, I’d love to see your play performed! Hope you make it to Graceland sometime. Everyone should see the Jungle Room once. (Once is probably enough!)

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  3. I’ve missed all the mystic of Elvis. I was too young to be a fan while he was alive, and I didn’t grow up listening to his music. As such, I don’t get it. But I certainly know it is a thing. Thanks for a glimpse at that part of the culture.

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    • Thanks, Mark! I think everyone from Memphis feels some connection to Elvis — he’s just so pervasive. And we feel a strange protectiveness toward Lisa Marie. On some level I think we’ll always remember her as that nine-year-old child who was in the house when her daddy died.

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  4. I’ve never been to Memphis or Graceland but I’m dying to go. Actually one of my bucket list items is to see the Flying Elvi, the skydiving team that dresses up like Elvis.
    And you had to mention the BBQ – now I’m dying for some!

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    • As I’ve said, I had fun killing an Elvis impersonator in my latest book. I think seeing some jump out of a plane would be a real kick, too! Note: The Rendezvous in the alley across the street from The Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. Ribs to die for!

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  5. I had no idea about “Death Week,” Vickie! I only got to visit Graceland because my nephew from the Pacific Northwest lived there for a time and married a Memphis girl. He flat-out refused to tour the place with me and I almost got trampled in the Jungle Room. It was a little smaller than I expected, but I got some air at the gravesite. Later I went back to Memphis for a wedding, so I got to do Beale St., the ducks marching to the fountain at The Peabody (really, my favorite thing), the Civil Rights Museum, and the very cool Sun Records and Stax Museum of Soul. Oh, and the first time I visited, there was a tornado and I watched from a parking garage. Eek. The second time I was there, my hubby called me from the bachelor party festivities to tell me “Downtown Memphis is on fire!” (Didn’t realize he meant literally.)

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    • Lisa, I think a lot of people are surprised at how small Graceland is — compared to the mega mansion homes of celebrities today. Glad you got to do non-Elvisy things on your return trip! Graceland is mostly tourist fodder, but taking the kids, or grandkids, to The Peabody for the duck march is a rite of passage for locals! (And you can get a drink from the lobby bar while you wait!)

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  6. My man Elvis! Best singer of all times.
    Love, love love this article. Thank you.
    I have a tiny shrine in the basement. 50% of my cds are Elvis, and I have a few vinyls as well. 8 movies. 2 filmed concerts. All kinds of treasured books and magazines. Topps cards. Elvis whote jumpsuited teddy bear.
    Tried to do the Graceland auction a few years ago, but kept getting outbid by deep pockets.one day I WILL go to Graceland.
    I just need to find someone to keep me company.
    Favorite Elvis song? Duh! Viva Las Vegas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, Hestia, I love that you have a “tiny shrine”! I listened to a LOT of Elvis music while I was writing the book. The man could sing — no doubt! If I’m in Memphis when you make your pilgrimage, I’ll drive you to Graceland! And I’ll even take you to lunch at the Arcade Restaurant, a place Elvis frequented.

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  7. Last summer on our road trip we drove by Graceland just to gawk, but we didn’t go in. I think we were scared off by the high admission price and the crush of tourists. It’s insane how big of a deal it all is! I’ll take an Elvis impersonator in a cheesy bar any day of the week. (Did I mention I don’t like crowds?)

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    • Marla, you know I’m always in for cheesy — and bars! But there is something surreal about the graves back behind the swimming pool.

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  8. Living in Nashville you would think we had been to Graceland a few times. The only time we went was when my German uncle and his wife came over. She was a rabid Elvis fan in the German Elvis Fan Club. So we went. I have to say I am a bit more awed that you hung out with Saliva, lol

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    • Ha, thanks, Kay! The Germans do seem stuck on Elvis. 🙂 I’ve been to Graceland twice — both times to take out-of-town visitors!

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