Elvis: Direct from Graceland
⬤ Bendigo Art Gallery 19 Mar - 17 Jul 2022
Is Elvis a figure of history or of memory? From the position of the latter is from where I have come to understand the significance of the musician and entertainer; actor and performer; lightning rod; tiger. He is the embodiment of mid-century USA’s best and worst characteristics; he is the King. Born Elvis Aaron Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935, he is only a few years older than Bob Dylan and the Beatles. The history of his life has been re-told many times; there are nearly 600 books on my university library catalogue that appear in a search for his name. Yet by memory I mean the “Elvis Big Band” and their forty-fifth anniversary spectacular stopping at the Thornbury Theatre in July this year. It is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds singing ‘Tupelo!’ It is Baz Lurhmann’s newest production—shot at the Village studios on the Gold Coast during the pandemic lockdowns and opening on Australian screens in two weeks’ time—starring Austin Butler as Presley and Tom Hanks as his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. It is Lana Del Rey LARPing as Priscilla Presley, who married Elvis in 1967 (after meeting him in Germany when she was just fourteen). It is the Addams Family (which started in 1938 as a New Yorker cartoon, so is technically Elvis’ younger sibling). It’s Grease. It is the Elvis shrine at the Carlton Cemetery that is more like a grotto and therefore a syncretic Christian-Pop-Pagan portal to an underworld deified by formerly real people: figures from history, mythopoeic beings made memorious titans, stars. It is Elvis: Direct from Graceland, the exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery (BAG). As writer and rock critic Greil Marcus nimbly elucidated after Elvis’ death in 1977: “Elvis’ presence was so powerful… he’s always in the present tense”.