Saturday, 3 January 2015

Elvis at the O2

From Memphis to Greenwich.

This exhibition of Elvis memorabilia from the Presley family’s Graceland archive is the biggest ever staged in Europe with many of the objects leaving Graceland for the very first time. There is however one very big problem, the O2 is not in Memphis, Tennessee.

Visiting Graceland, the home that Elvis very proudly bought in 1957, is an awe-inspiring experience for any Elvis fan. The house is as it was the day Elvis died in 1978, giving it a uniquely melancholic aura. Its location on the edge of the once prosperous, hard-edged, city of Memphis with its musical history of blues, rock’n’roll and soul infuses the experience with authenticity. The O2 on the other hand is a corporate hulk of a place in southeast London, housing soulless restaurant chains and reunions of past-their-sell-by-date bands. You might think that the ‘give us your money’ aesthetic of the O2 is completely in line with the money making machine that is Elvis Presley Enterprises. Elvis is worth much more dead than he ever was alive and Graceland itself is actually encased in a shopping mall that sells every conceivable shape of Elvis merchandise. But there is a difference. The idea of ‘Elvis’ and his huge appeal to young people was fundamental to the mass commercialisation of pop in the 1950s – the story of Elvis is the story of exploitation. Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, spotted the financial rewards of merchandise very early on and issued a multitude of licences to allow the use of the Presley name and image. Some of these charm bracelets, lipsticks and bubble gum cards can be seen inside a glass case at the O2.