Graceland and Paisley Park. They’re as different as Memphis and Minneapolis, as rock and funk, as the 6-foot King and the 5-foot-2 Prince. Elvis had his stud-decorated jumpsuits, an endless supply of silk scarves and a big necklace with his lightning “TCB” (taking care of business) logo. Prince had his colorful custom-designed outfits, an endless collection of shoes with 4-inch heels and a big necklace with his unpronounceable glyph.
Clothes may make the man, as the saying goes, but it’s a tour of the buildings identified with these late music icons that defines their lives and careers. Now both are run by the same company, Graceland Holdings LLC. And the same person, Angie Marchese, is the chief archivist at both museums in these Mississippi River cities. She has been with Elvis for 27 years and with Prince for four-plus months, although she did see him perform when she was in eighth grade.
We took the VIP tours of Graceland ($80) in November and Paisley Park ($100) in December.
Graceland was Elvis’ place of residence for 20 years. Sure, he had recording equipment, pianos and guitars at the ready, but it was primarily his home. Paisley Park was conceived as a place of creativity. It has three recording studios, a giant soundstage, rehearsal rooms, a tailor’s shop and warehouse space. It also had two apartments on the second floor, and one of them became Prince’s Minnesota residence after he split with his second wife in 2006 and had their house razed.
At Graceland, the upstairs — Elvis’ living quarters and the bathroom in which he was found dead in 1977 — are not open to the public. Similarly, the upper level of Paisley Park is closed. And the elevator in which he was found dead in April 2016 is covered by a display in Paisley’s atrium.
Even though he didn’t build the place (he bought it from a doctor’s family in 1957), Graceland oozes Elvis. It’s garish, fun, playful, homey, lived in. By contrast, Paisley Park, which was built to Prince’s specifications in 1986, doesn’t smell like Prince. No candles or incense burn anymore. The overly bright complex suggests its creator, with clouds painted on the ceiling in the atrium, and his two doves, Divinity and Majesty, crying from their cages on the off-limits second floor.
Paisley, like Prince, reeks of privacy, a keep-your-hands-off paranoia. It feels sterile, clinical, almost staged, which it is to some extent. At Paisley, there are no photos allowed; in fact, cellphones are forbidden. At Graceland, take as many photos as you desire — as long as you don’t use flash. Like the King dispensing scarves to his faithful at the foot of the stage at his concerts, Graceland is approachable and fan-friendly.
At Graceland, you are given an iPad featuring a guided tour narrated by actor John Stamos. You’re free to spend as much time as you want in each and every room. You can revisit, linger, replay the iPad.
At Paisley, a guide leads you on a tour. There is an allotted time for each room so as not to bump into other tour groups. The guide recites information memorized from a script. For instance, when standing in the atrium in front of the urn that contains Prince’s ashes, guide Mitch Maguire said, “Take a few moments to pay your respects,” and he pointed to boxes of Kleenex if necessary. He used the same line in December, even though the urn — which had seemed jarring and overly emotional in the middle of the room — has been moved into a case made of frosted plastic mounted on the mezzanine of the atrium, a more neutral spot. (The urn was relocated at the request of Prince’s family, archivist Marchese said.)
Graceland was opened to the public for tours in 1982, five years after Elvis died. Believe it or not, Marchese said she’s still archiving the King’s stuff. They have discovered 1.5 million documents — contracts, receipts, canceled checks, etc. — but cataloged only 200,000 so far.
Paisley opened for tours in October, less than six months after Prince died. However, he had been planning for two years to convert Paisley into a part-time museum. His staff had put together photo murals, award cases and displays related to specific albums and tours.
Thus far at Paisley, Marchese has cataloged 121 guitars, eight pianos, 12 cars, 1,000 pairs of shoes and 6,400 outfits. She figures she’s encountered only 20 percent of Prince’s stuff, much of which is stored in off-site warehouses.
What did Prince do for fun? You see a pingpong table but not his basketball hoop, bicycles or pool table. He was a funny guy. Where’s the humor? How ’bout some childhood pictures and yearbooks from junior and senior high school? There are no interactive displays of the sort that are commonplace at modern music museums.
By contrast, at Graceland you see horses, a handball court and even home movies of Elvis’ trips to Hawaii. You also can interact with all kinds of archival footage and artifacts of the King.
You get the feeling that Graceland has been put together with TLC — and a sense of fun. You get the feeling that Paisley Park is presented more like Prince’s personal life than his music — it’s guarded, protective and airbrushed.
On the VIP tour, you get to visit both of Elvis’ private jets; an exhibit in which photographers talk about shooting the King; a behind-the-scenes look at archiving Elvis (with a video featuring Marchese in a storage warehouse); a mini-museum dedicated to Elvis in Hawaii, and a massive auditorium of vehicles including his Cadillacs (one purple, one pink). It’s exhilarating and exhausting.
At Paisley Park, VIPs get to visit Studio B, in which they can play Ping-Pong on Prince’s table (fun); pose for a tour guide-shot photo in front of Prince’s purple piano used on the Piano and a Microphone Tour (nice souvenir on a thumb drive), and, on Thursdays only, record one of four Prince songs with him playing the instruments (so cool). On Sundays, a brunch is included with the VIP tour.
In a strip mall across from Graceland, Elvis fans can browse at 11 souvenir shops, selling everything imaginable from Elvis panties to reproductions of his jumpsuits. Most expensive item: an ornately carved acoustic guitar, for $11,499.
At the end of the Paisley Park tour, a merchandise tent with space heaters sits in a parking lot. The choices are relatively limited, with T-shirts, posters, tote bags, keychains, tambourines, pingpong balls and the like. Most expensive item: a “cloud” guitar like Prince’s, for $1,750.
Elvis was known for indulging in deep-fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. For $3.99, you can have one at Rockabilly’s Burger Shop, found among the unending Graceland souvenir complex. The overly dry sandwich seemed toasted, not deep-fried.
At Paisley, Prince’s former personal chef will make you a $9 grilled cheese sandwich featuring three kinds of cheese, apples and honey. It’s as outrageously good as the Elvis sandwich was unappetizing.