London, like New York, has top class museums and exhibitions. Before setting out, not only do we plan and make our restaurant reservations [yes we are pretty anal/focussed] but we look at several of the museums and galleries to see if there are any interesting exhibitions. The third leg of the research is to see if there is any interesting live music or plays [not musicals]. Over the years we have seen and been to several – the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, the astounding Botown last Diwali at Jazz Café, Maceo Parker, Average White Band, The James Brown Drummers, Bad Plus, Lonnie Liston Smith, Osibisa and many others. As far as exhibitions go it was the Motown exhibition at the V&A, David Bowie, various artists like Andy Warhol etc. at the Tate Modern and so on.
This time it was a spanking new exhibition called simply `Elvis’. This was to be an exhibition with many of Elvis’s artefacts from Graceland – his home now turned museum – to be exhibited at the O2 Arena in North Greenwich London. We booked our tickets online from Mumbai and were set to go.
John Lennon said - `Before Elvis, there was nothing’.
Bruce Springsteen said - `There have been a lot of tough guys. There have been pretenders. And there have been contenders. But there is only one King.’
Bob Dylan said - `When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.’
Such is the impact of Elvis. He had a great voice, a greater stage presence, made movies, gave live performances and was deeply influential on all kinds of musicians. Elvis’ attitude had a great impact on even the punk movement which famously regarded most musicians of the time as dinosaurs.
|See what I mean.
Mind you Elvis would not be that old if he were alive today. He was born in 1935 so at the age of 80 he could well be still alive. Elvis was and continues to be an icon. His home Graceland in Memphis is the second most visited private home after the White House. The site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1991. The US Government has declared Graceland a National Historic Landmark. This Exhibition was to provide a personal insight into the life of Elvis Presley, through the largest Elvis retrospective ever mounted in Europe. The exhibition showcased hundreds of artefacts from the Presley family’s treasured Graceland Archives, some of which have never been exhibited outside of Graceland in Memphis.
The Exhibition was at the O2 centre. This is a purpose built entertainment centre in South East London very close to the Greenwich Observatory. The arena is easily reached by the London Tube and the North Greenwich station is on the Jubilee Line. This line carries on to Canary Wharf. The entire arena has a glass fibre fabric tent 365 meters diameter with 12 support pillars [365 days 12 months in a year get it?]. There are several small arenas as well as a large central arena where performances and exhibitions are held. The arena has loads of restaurants and you can spend your time there attending one of the many performances without a care in the world.
We had tickets for a bright and early 10 am start. As we queued up and waited for the gates to open a medley of Elvis songs played. Soon we were in. The exhibits start from the time the King was born, with his birth certificate to his early years to probably the mid 1970’s. After that Elvis was just too sick and too overweight so it is easy to gloss over those last years.
|The wall outside the venue.
The exhibition was truly wonderful. Beautifully and most intelligently curated. His costumes were arranged with the album covers or photographs showing him wearing them. His daughter Lisa Marie’s little dress was tagged with a photograph of her wearing that dress. Letters written by Elvis to President Nixon. Letters by Brian Epstein thanking Elvis for hospitality when the Beatles met Elvis. Elvis’s cars, motorcycles all on display.
|The MG from the film Runabout
|Elvis's Harley Davidson
What was so surprising was that so many of the visitors to the exhibition were well into their 70’s or more. Obviously they were Elvis fans. It was so touching to see these old couples happily posing and taking photos of themselves with the costumes or cars and looking just so delighted.
At the end of the exhibition there was movie, some 20 minutes of Elvis’s live performances. We sat and we watched. When it ended, no one, and I mean no one wanted to get up. Everyone was captivated. The ushers came in and said `the show is over please leave’ and someone said loudly, `Can we stay and watch it again? We don’t want to go’.
It was really wonderful. The exhibition runs for about 6 months more, so that would be till August 2015. If you are in London and like Elvis, please do go and see this. You will be really pleased.
At the end of the day, I ask myself, what was all this about? A pop singer. Someone who has achieved fame in living memory. What do we have to show for our years and years of `culture’? Has there been anything of the kind for our singers? Forget Bollywood playback singers, what about Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva and so on? Ravi Shankar? Will someone ever put together an iconic exhibition like this for one of our great musicians? Will the exhibition have an audience?