Like most people I have always wanted to see Graceland. I had heard about and seen in pictures the over the top interiors, the massive white couch and the shag carpeting not only on the floor but on the ceiling. I had expected to be in awe half snickering at the out of date-ness of it all in the same way you do when you see pictures of yourself back in the 70′s with feathered bangs and blue eye shadow. But what I didn’t expect would be to really feel a more personal side to the man we call The King and that even though this has become a shrine and museum like for the masses who make a pilgrimage here it still feels like a home. Which it very much still is. Priscilla apparently visits frequently (it’s by law her residence) and what shocked me - she stays there. We did a basic tour of the house but were then given access to something very few get to see…Elvis’s stables. Elvis loved horses and his estate will have them so that his spirit is always at Graceland. The plan is to eventually open up the stables to visitors as well so that gives everyone who has been to Graceland another reason to go back.â€¨ â€¨
At Sun studio records the famous studio where Johnny Cash, Jerry lee Lewis and of course Elvis recorded music. Memphis is a city of music from the Soul, early rock and roll and Gospel taking in the city you can feel how all three have influenced each other. During the tour of the studio I noticed that a good number of people were actually visitors from England and Ireland – coming to see for themselves what would eventually become our greatest export to them — great music. While at the studios I wanted a picture of me and Elvis’s microphone so badly that I fumbled carelessly for my camera which then fell out of my hands and fell hard on the wood floor. It’s broken. I have had my new camera for all of two months. I really should keep a ledger of all the electronics I go thru while on the road and the total costs, which I am thinking is up to a year in tuition at a nice liberal arts collegeâ€¨
The only downside to my job is that there are things I don’t get to do-so close and yet so far-as I always say. Every destination has its own list but in Memphis it’s the National Civil Rights Museum at The Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Since we are working during its open hours the best I figure I can do is at least stand in its parking lot looking up at the rooms. So that’s what I do.
We are in Key West with my crew: Michael Wechsler Producer, Lesley Grossman AP, our Travel coordinator Rosalind making a rare appearance, Dave Gaffney on sound, Rory Mclees behind the camera and of course as always the lovely Ms. Burns. All of us are traveling on the day that just about 20 of the 50 states were hit by a terrible winter storm. We are all very happy to be in Key West.
First up aerobatics. Up in a bi plane doing loop de loops, flying upside down that sort of stuff I get motion sickness pretty bad, so the danger doesn’t scare me as much as the thought of being nauseous does. There are three cameras taping this: one mounted outside on the tail, a lipstick camera in front of me to capture my expressions and Rory the cameraman in a helicopter doing side by side shooting. If I get really sick at least it will be well documented.
Up in the air I am nervous because I really don’t know how my body is going to handle this. We go up and position ourselves next to the chopper and that’s when the fun began. Flying upside down was crazy and I belatedly realized I should have removed the change from my pocket. I certainly shouldn’t have brought my camera. The tricks got more and more extreme and at one point we flipped over tail over nose. That’s when I started to feel sick. The good news was we were done and heading back to the airport.
We got back to the hangar and while I nursed an ice cold coke and put a cold compress to the forehead Rory and Michael went to check the tape in the cockpit. That’s when what everyone fears in production happened. Absolutely nothing was caught on tape. The deck cut out when the plane engine was turned on. We have Rory’s shots from the helicopter which are no doubt impressive but we have nothing to cut to as the camera rigged to the back of the plane didn’t give us anything really interesting.
“I’ll go back up” (it must have been the nausea talking). I see Michael, my producer’s eyes go wide as even he — A PRODUCER! — wouldn’t have suggested such a thing. My dare devil Pilot Fred asks me if I’m sure as going up again will absolutely without a doubt make me sick. I just think we didn’t come this far for nothing. Just have another coke ready for me.
This time I hold a monitor in my lap with a running time code — this way I’ll be able to tell immediately if the camera is not rolling. The engine starts up and cuts off the camera, Rory makes a few adjustments and we are back in business.
I was told we didn’t have to go thru all the aerobatics just a few to get some of me on tape. We do a side roll and I’m feeling fine, we fly upside down and I feel great. So I tell Fred to do more because with each turn my headache, my nausea is going away to the point where I feel actual euphoria. It’s the strangest thing. Fred asks me if I want to do the doozy of aerobatics again: the forward tumble. Its name means headache in Czech so I don’t remember it. We go tail over nose again — which is just something no plane should do – but its sooo much fun.
Going barhopping with a group called the Bone Island Buccaneers. I get to dress and talk like a Pirate. I have no idea why that is so much fun but it is. We raid bars, entering them and brandishing our pistols and daggers demanding patrons buy us drinks and hand over their jewels. This is Key West so our group of marauders is not seen in any way other than a normal fun group out on a Saturday night.
Walking up to a bar a man came up to me and told me that he wrote a book and I am in it. The book is strangely about coincidences. He gives me one of the books and finds a passage where he writes how fun it would be to travel with myself and Mr. Bourdain. He goes on to write that I am “Hot in a weird way.” Okay, I’ll take that
At dinner with the crew, at a restaurant called Abbondanza. It’s a perfect place for us as it’s a cozy place and not at all crazy like the restaurants on Duval Street. We all get big bowls of pasta that could feed a family of four. I ordered the spaghetti and homemade meatballs which is my favorite comfort food dish.
One of the best days shooting ever. Road trip to Key West. (We are shooting out of sequence.) To mix things up a bit during various points, members of my crew will be joining me in the shotgun seat for some good road trip banter. What’s that saying? Nothing like a fistful of wheel and a full tank of gas?
It’s funny what you learn about somebody while driving and listening to 80′s music. I found out that Christina loves to listen to musicals like Cabaret and Sweet Charity and does her own choreography while driving and Rory likes the song Total Eclipse of the Heart which embarrasses him and his friends still make fun of him for it. I personally love that song and have it on my Ipod right now.
On a morning off I headed to a local favorite, Camille’s, for brunch. I had their supreme omelet — eggs, peppers, cheese, potatoes and turkey sausage. Didn’t have to eat the rest of the day.
Just got to get up on stage with the band Mile Marker 24 and make fresh margaritas using a blender powered by an outboard motor while singing along to their song “Blame it on the margaritas.” I get to sing the chorus and botch almost every note. I can’t believe it after 12 years of voice lessons its official: I can no longer carry a tune. I guess I could just blame it on the margaritas.
Really bummed, because we are losing light, we now don’t have time for me to learn how to kite board. It’s that crazy sport where a boarder is hooked up to a parasail which can lift them up off the water and in the air. I have always imagined that to be one of the best feelings ever. All we have time for is a quick jet ski — fun but not as thrilling.