A few weeks ago I took my mum (and dad) to the Elvis Presley exhibition at London’s 02 Arena as a Mother’s Day present, and while I was there I was struck by the extent of the legacy that Elvis left.
My parents have always been fans of Elvis’s music, but it has only been since my teens that I really started to notice; every time there’s the prospect of seeing a tribute act, at some point during every long-haul drive the CD comes out, my dad even does a pretty neat Elvis impersonation (vocally at least, I’m not so sure about the moves!)
In the last few years my mum has often made a point of saying that she’d like to go to Graceland and take the tour of the Presley’s house and grounds, so when I heard that the 02 are currently hosting an exhibition of Elvis memorabilia direct from Graceland, it was like I had my own personal ‘lightbulb moment’. Being that I’m only just approaching my mid 20’s it’s obvious that, unlike my parents, I wasn’t around to witness the phenomenon that was The King, however, it was impossible not to be swept away by the nostalgic display.
Chronicling his life, from humble beginnings throughout his journey to Rock’n’Roll icon, each section of the display dealt with a different portion of Elvis’s life and career. From his birth certificate and school report, to a room full of his lamé stage suits – that would later become his trademark – beautifully presented in brightly lit Perspex boxes, complete with canvas prints of his record covers overhead. Also included were classic cars that Elvis owned and even some of his golf buggies – at home in a room complete with a grass floor.
Other notable pieces included handwritten music scores – including the hit ‘Love Me Tender’ – a video reel giving visitors even more of a sneak-peek behind the gates of Graceland, and Elvis’s personal custom-made diamond jewellery (and the whopping price-tag in case you had any questions as to its value.) Many of his other stage outfits and accessories were also there to see with accompanying concert footage of the outfits being worn.
There is no denying the over-arching sense of intimacy that runs through the exhibition, but it was the last section that really gave a sense of what Elvis meant to people, and still means to people today. Set in a cinema-esque auditorium, the film comprised of footage of popular numbers from concerts and films, including ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and a poignant live recording of ‘An American Trilogy.’ You could see from the footage that Elvis had a unique ability to captivate an audience – whether it was making them go crazy or wowing them with his strong vocal performance – and the vibe in the room during the film suggested that, even after all these years, that is as true now as it was then.
During the presentation you could really understand the mass hysteria surrounding Elvis, as people sang – and even danced a little bit – along to the words, and you could really tell that they felt it. Elvis’s showmanship and distinctive vocal talent, while impeccable, were something completely his own that few people (if any!) can get away with attempting to replicate. There will only ever be one Elvis Presley.
As I said, before that day, the extent of the legacy that Elvis left wasn’t really something I’d ever thought about or understood – perhaps because it was long before my time. However, after going to the exhibition and getting a small insight into his life I can appreciate the poignancy in said legacy, because as you walked around you could feel that Elvis didn’t just impact popular culture of the time, he impacted people with his music and, in turn, made an eternal mark on music its self.