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He Touched Me: Basking In The Light Of Elvis’ Decadent World-Making at Graceland

Elvis' stairway to heaven at Graceland (all images by the talented photographer Marion)

Elvis’ stairway to heaven at Graceland (all images by the talented photographer Marion)

Why hello there, dear readers! I know, I know: Long time, no post. Well, Marion and I just got back from our madcap road trip through the Deep South in our trusty vehicle, The Morrison Hotel. While we are trying and failing to return to normal life and will soon resume our regularly scheduled queer cultural programming here at Filthy Dreams, it only seems natural to begin with the King…Elvis!

Because, faithful Filthy Dreams readers, I have a big announcement: I’ve been reborn! Oh not in any traditional religious sense but I’ve seen the light–the light of the King–after making a pilgrimage to Elvis’ decadent domicile Graceland outside of Memphis.

Marion and I certainly needed saving after an ill-advised and utterly confused bathroom break in a Church of Latter Day Saints, which we mistook for a visitor’s center. Sure all those ladies in flowered dresses and a giant portrait of Jesus seemed strange at the time, but how were we supposed to know? After screeching away, watching the Mormons burn the toilet our heathen bums touched, we definitely needed a little redemption and boy, did we find it at Graceland.

The King's outfits

The King’s outfits

Visiting Graceland was, with no campy exaggeration (ok a little bit), a near religious experience from entering those musical themed gates to trying to hold back tears at Elvis’ gravesite. The King has risen! Feeling cleansed by the tacky waters of Elvis’ Meditation Garden, I knew, as Elvis crooned in his unintentionally perverse-sounding gospel tune “He Touched Me,” “And now I am no longer the same.”

Was Graceland an expensive tourist trap? Of course it was, but salvation doesn’t come cheap! After posing for photos in front of a giant illustration of Graceland, which we didn’t even bother to glance at afterwards since Marion and my photos together tend to be a traumatic combination of hilarious and hideous, we joined the other multitude of fanatics heading to Elvis’ abode.

Elvis' living room

Elvis’ living room

With an audio-guide leading us through each room of the house with naturally appropriate musical interludes, we were taken on a whirlwind tour through Elvis’ home, beginning with his living room with its giant peacock stained-glass windows.

Anyone for some pool?

Anyone for some pool?

From Elvis’ fabric-draped game room to his entirely mirrored staircase, leading down to the basement, to his long wall of gold records, Elvis emerges through the tour as a modern Decadent. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Obviously he’s a Decadent. Is there anything more decadent than growing fat and haggard on pills and peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwiches only to eventually expire on the commode? Well, yes, clearly Elvis’ role model-esque lifestyle choices naturally lend itself to a decadent comparison.

TV Room

TV Room

However, in addition to his own lifestyle and personae, Elvis’ house and decorative aesthetic puts a decidedly 20th century American spin on the aesthetics of the French Decadents. Like Huysmans’ infamous des Esseintes in Against Nature, Elvis’ gaudy Graceland was a gilded fantasy. Rather than doomed golden tortoises covered in jewels, Elvis places a gilded monkey sculpture in his TV room.

The jungle room

The jungle room

One of my favorite aspects of the Decadents has always been their adoration for artificiality. Is there anything more subversive than the artificial? And Elvis certainly continued that legacy of artificiality at Graceland, particularly in his jungle room, which was like a nightmarish acid flashback to the 1970s. With a hideous shade of green shag carpeting running from floor to ceiling to a red faux-waterfall mounted to a wall, Elvis’ taste is unabashedly lurid, lush and lavish, a decidedly self-made and fearless aesthetic.

More of the jungle room's eye-searing kitsch

More of the jungle room’s eye-searing kitsch

Like Elvis’ hip-thrusting, gyrating, lip curling leather-bound early performances or if you prefer, his white jump-suited, bloated and worn-out later appearances, his home appears as another significant aspect of his self-constructed personae. Walking through Graceland, I couldn’t help but think of the home as a space for both world-making and some sort of self-fashioned performative identity.

Elvis' shooting range

Elvis’ shooting range

Take some inspiration in Elvis’ decadent good bad taste. Even if you have a tiny apartment, create your own world within it whether by covering your ceiling with shag carpeting (can you even find that anymore?) or hanging grotesquely large chandeliers in your hallway. Or build a make-shift shooting range in a former brick smokehouse and invite all your friends over just like Elvis did. Sure, it sounds dangerous and semi-suicidal but if it’s good enough for Elvis, it’s good enough for me!

So if you can’t immediately get to Graceland (if you can, what are you waiting for?!), do the next best thing and join us in reverence for the King by listening to a collection of his gospel songs. Praise his name!


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