Trending: Why Elvis Has Never Left the Building

By David Schonauer   Monday August 28, 2017

Long live the King:

Earlier this month, fans gathered in Memphis, Tennessee, to pay tribute to Elvis Presley on the 40th anniversary of his death. Tribute artists lined up for the Images of the King World Championship during Elvis Week in Memphis, while tourists flocked to Graceland, Elvis's home in Memphis, as well as his birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Did you think photographers would miss another opportunity to capture Elvis’s enduring appeal? No way. The Washington Post  assigned photographer Matt McClain to cover the celebration, while National Geographic  sent Landon Nordeman to Memphis.

Both photographers looked for and found the enduring appeal of Elvis; more to the point, they explored the nature of pop idolatry.

“A fan is somebody that will come to Graceland once or twice a year, for the birthday week and the tribute week,” says Uber driver and Elvis loyalist Bud Stonebraker at the Washington Post. “And then they go back home, they go back to their jobs, or whatever you know, but a fanatic is here 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We’re always talking about Elvis, we’re always doing something about Elvis. That’s what makes us fanatics.”

From Matt McClain:

Jim Cardwall, 71, of Jeffersonville, Ind., left, and Nathan Pittorf, 11, of Buffalo, NY.

Elvis tribute artist Ron Tutor, 52, of Tinley Park, Tenn.

Jimmy Smith of Aiken, S.C., looks over a fence toward Graceland

Inside the Memphis home of Elvis fans Bud and Mary Stonebraker

“While some people make what seems like almost a religious pilgrimage to lay flowers on his grave, others see the anniversary as a commercial chance to move merch,” notes National Geographic. “Fully formed fan clubs pulled up in buses from every corner of the world—England, Qatar, Chile—and others arrived, in costume, to croon to a captive audience.”

“Everyone's wearing the Elvis merch, the music is everywhere, some people were openly weeping," says Nordeman. "You couldn't be there without being fully overwhelmed.”

From Landon Nordeman:

Elvis tribute artist Riley Jenkins, 15, applies make up in the mirror of his hotel room

Elvis's face is seen on a pink cadillac parked outside of the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel in Memphis

Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis Presley, at Graceland with her twin daughters and son

The grave of Elvis Aaron Presley, strewn with flowers from visitors

What National Geographic calls the “ecosystem of devotion” that has grown since the death of Elvis shows no signs of ebbing. Is it a kind of religion? Is it a commercial opportunity? Perhaps it is both, and in that it is a fitting representation of America, like Elvis himself.
At top: From Landon Nordeman


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