Today was incredibly busy, involving a national historic landmark, a factory tour, a presidential library and a national park; spanning three states.
My first stop of the day was Graceland, Elvis Presley`s Memphis home. I`m not really a fan of Elvis but I could not get the Paul Simon tune out of my head so I decided to visit. Luckily I had the foresight to go early, 9am, but even by then it was still rammed. After being driven the 100 yards from ticket booth to front door we were able to enter the house - behind 100 other people. Although I did not have to queue for long, the progress around the mansion was painfully slow - all these people filing past a room all taking snaps and oggling.
The house`s decor is suitably eccentric, including shagpile on the ceilings, a room with 3 TVs adjacent to eachother, a racquetball court and a two-staired basement.
I was disappointed not to see any freaks, anyone wailing or even sniveling, not even at the grave; I saw no ghost-hunters, no-one convinced he`s still alive, and no homemade shrines. Graceland is a must-see for any tourist in Memphis but offers one of the worst values-for-money in the whole country.
From Graceland I returned to Downtown to tour the Gibson guitar factory. This was the highlight of my day, of course. In Memphis the semis are made, with the Les Pauls and bluegrass instruments in Gibson`s range being made in the original Kalamazoo, MI, factory and in Nashville, TN.
We went around the plant and saw instruments being made just a few feet from our noses. I won`t belabour the entire process, but will just mention one unusual aspect. When the three sides of the guitar`s body are joined, a white material is put along the edge to strengthen it and to made it look pretty. Rather than trying to mask this before painting, they simply spray-paint the whole thing, and then meticulously scratch off the paint from over the edges and from over the logo on the headstock. The plant has two halves - the worker half and the musician half. "Ordinary" luthiers assemble the wooden parts and then guitarists put the strings and bridge together before playing each one. I think that would be a fun job, but I did wonder how long it would take a new guy starting the job to want to kill his colleague, the guys who test the guitars.... how long could they hold out before beating someone over the head with the freshly-finished guitar and screaming, "learn a new damn tune to play when testing!"
That reminds me, I was chatting with the salesman in the shop and asked him which tunes he hears day in, day out. My guesses were wrong. The answers were that when people play the double-SG they always play Stairway to Heaven, when playing the acoustics, Blackbird; and the regular SG model, AC/DC`s Thunderstruck. Interesting. I suspect that in the Fender shop the answers are different. I was flattered to receive a compliment on my banjo skills, especially in Tennessee. I replied that I`m not bad... for an Englishman.
I drove to Little Rock, Arkansas, home of Bill Clinton. I visited the William J Clinton Presidential Center, a futuristic-looking building on the banks of the Arkansas river in downtown LR. The museum was OK, although it did rather blow Bill`s trumpet (more so than the Carter Center in Atlanta blow`s Jimmy`s). I was looking forward to the juicy details of Zippergate but these were rather glossed-over :(
My last call was Hot Springs National Park, which spans the town of Hot Springs. This is a turn-of-the-century spa town, which had a good 10 baths along the high street. Annoyingly only one is still open, and that keeps retarded opening hours, so I could not test the waters. However the high street is lined with fountains that tap the hot spring water, and the local drink from them. See the video in which I try the water and speak to a resident.
I then drove the scenic route from Hot Springs, through the town of Y City (this wins my award for Most Stupid Name), through Fort Smith and over the river into Oklahoma (or should that be Oklahoma!). I`m now crashing at the first motel in over the state line.
[With just 2 days left we have yet to have a winner in the "Name that tune" contest. See the videos.]