Graceland Randers – the materiality of mythology

It is strange with Graceland – at one hand it stands so much as a monument of Elvis image and mythology that it seems made for history, at the other hand it is obviously created very spontaneously from the man’s immediate wants and desires for immedate pleasure and presence rather than any wider perspective.

Not having been to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee I could not resist going the Danish replica, Graceland Randers, created by Elvis fan and collector Henrik Knudsen as the only permanent Elvis museum outside the USA housed in a copy of the original Southern mansion at a roadside location south of Randers that would indeed be easy to reach for Elvis the truck driver. Graceland Randers is dedicated to the life, memory and music of Elvis Presley (1935-1977) and is as such very much an institution of the memory culture of Elvis.

 

This memory culture shows to be one extremely based on things. It is hard to think of an artist creating a bigger material culture than Elvis from the costumes he wore, the products that is his work, the unashamed souvenir industry around him, the gifts he gave to people around him to, on a more symbolic level, the whole 1950’s and 1960’s Western culture, the groundbreaking consumer and popular culture age. Such a story is not explicitly told in Randers, but can indeed be felt, letting the gaze pass through the truly unique collection of everything Elvis.

The official communication is indeed a bit propaganda like, bringing thoughts of the rethoric surrounding recently dead Far-east dictators about his abilities.

Another unavoidable feeling is the combination of total simulacra, from the whole bulding to the inept kitsch of the objects (the collection is especially strong on the “Aloha from Hawaii” Seventies era..) and the focus on authenticity of cultic dimensions when a piece of wood from a stage he stood on in 1955 is framed and certificates of authenticity are all around. But .. for me at least there is also a feeling of some kind of authenticity – it works either because of or in spite of the gross surroundings.

A visit at Graceland Randers will provoke a strange reaction of irony, nostalgia, exitement and headshaking. And in the diner you can of course get El’s favourite food: Fried sandwich with peanut butter, banana and bacon (it actually tastes quite good!) giving Heartbreak Hotel a new meaning. Viva Las Vegas! 

Northern Soul – a very special revival culture

We are witnessing something of a revival of the subculture that Dick Hebdige and the Birmingham School oversaw in their studies of the 1970s English subcultures: Northern Soul. In Northern English cities like Stoke, Manchester, Wigan and Blackpool a dedicated culture emerged through the 1970s around rare soul and athletic dancing to it. In our retro context it is remarkable that the subculture was formed around the interest for 1960s soul in opposition to the contemporary music scene of the 1970s, be it rock in general or even the contemporary black funk-tinged soul music and its afro and bell bottom look. So the current Northern Soul revival is interestingly enough, in some way a revival of a revival.

 

The term “Northern Soul” was coined in 1970 by the music journalist Dave Godin after a visit a soul event in Blackpool. It does not refer to the origins of the music but to its role in Northern England. “Rare soul” also figured as a term, contrary to funk, contemporary soul or the usual ‘oldies’ or classic soul. The interest in up-tempo American black music in British youth culture has its roots in the mod movement of the 1960s and Northern Soul can indeed be seen as a development of this, moving from Carnaby Street and Swinging London to less colorful Wigan and the North and the bleak Manchester of “Life on Mars” (where even Manchester United did not win the championship through the entire decade!). The first venue was probably Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club starting to play up-tempo soul in the late 1960s, followed by other arenas like The Golden Torch in Stoke, the Blackpool Mecca and the most famous venue The Wigan Casino.

At these places (often reached in one weekend or night!) two activites characterized the movement. One was the music and the rarity cult of the records. As Simon Reynolds suggest, there must have been an overproduction of soul music in America in the 1960s, leaving lots of more or less decent recordings that did not make it to fame and fortune. These failures allmost miraculously resurrected as anthems for a huge and dedicated crowd far away! This lead to a collector mania where singles were traded for a week’s pay and dj’s covered the labels of their discoveries to keep the exclusivity of them.

The other was of course the dancing. It is my feeling that the common experience of going to dancing school as a youth and the more formal role of dancing back then has something to say here. (Another clue is the role of dancing in/as youth culture displayed in the film “Looking for Eric” by Ken Loach (2009) where the protagonist memorize dancing in the 1960s Manchester). The Northern Soul dancing was energic, ecstatic and athletic, mainly performed by males. For a closer account on the dancing, look at the article “Out on the floor: The politics of dancing on the Northern Soul scene” by Tim Wall (http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=470648&jid=PMU&volumeId=25&issueId=03&aid=470647)
This was followed by a visual culture of emblems, clothes, gloves, and “soul bags” for records.

After this wonderful combination of black America and pale Northern England faded away in the end of the 1970s, it has gained a revival in recent years with many events every month in England, happening in a meeting between a young crowd and original “survivors”. I had the pleasure to experience one such, not in the North but in London this October. Apart from the events, a whole memory culture is developing around memorials from “the people who were there”, reissues and merchandise. Two recent movie productions are also dedicated to Northern Soul: “Soul Boy” of 2010 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_6NS_lLgis) and the forthcoming and more cult-heading “Northern Soul – the Film” by Elaine Constantine (http://www.northernsoulthefilm.com/).

  

Northern Soul is also kept alive by the dj behind the Wigan Casino, Russ Winstansley that since 2008 has been running a weekly radio show at BBC Lancashire, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p001d7br)

Russ Winstansley, dj of the Wigan Casino.

This dj legend and the Northern Soul experience reached Copenhagen recently at a special event at Stengade, arranged by Backstreet Soul Club of Copenhagen. It was indeed a buzz of reenacted history to dance to “Time Will Pass You By” (by Tobi Legend) put on the turntable by Winstansley with talc on the floor. A combination of presence and historicism that is the goal and attraction of dedicated revival culture.

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