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Sunday, August 15, 2010

An ode to Elvis

People trivialize you, worship you, make fun of you, impersonate you, loathe you, listen to you, laugh at you, watch you, roll their eyes at you, squeal in delight at you, censor you, call you the king, call you a has been, march by the thousands in a solemn candlelit procession to your grave, laugh at those doing so, call you a pop culture icon, a Hollywood joke, a comeback specialist, a bloated druggy, an icon worshipped in death whose music, movies, image and reach seem to live on into eternity.

You are the original pop culture icon, a position many have tried to follow but few have succeeded in fulfilling.

Elvis, where would Memphis be without you?

It's easy to trivialize Graceland and the three quarters of a million visitors it attracts annually. But where would the Bluff City as a tourist draw be without Elvis? Would music lovers flock to Sun Studio to see where other music greats once recorded? Maybe so, but it's hard to argue that Sam Phillips' discovery of Elvis there is the main drawing point.

Beale Street was a hotbed for black culture. A young Elvis sometimes could be found roaming the street listening to the magnificent music echoing off the brick buildings. But the street eventually became a shell of its former self. Would there have been a movement in the 1980s to restore it to its former luster and ultimately make it the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state of Tennessee without the impact and attention Elvis had brought the city?

It's hard to argue the influence on the world's music Memphis has had. Elvis wasn't the reason for the success that came out of Stax. Sun produced a number of hits before the King. A number of studios are recording music today.

But without the Graceland visitors who flock to the city every year would there be a place for the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, Sun Studio tours, the much newer Stax Museum of American Soul Music? Who knows, but it's safe to say Elvis' reach on the Memphis tourism industry is huge.

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