- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday rocked the House That Elvis Built, crooning a few bars of some classic Presley hits and leaving his tour guide, President Bush, looking a bit like a whipped Hound Dog.

It didn’t take much to get Asia’s biggest Elvis fan to break into song as he made a long-sought pilgrimage to the Memphis mansion. “You’re a pretty good Elvis singer,” the president said to the long-haired leader, worshipped like a rock star in his home country.

“Let’s hear some,” yelled a reporter from the edge of the Jungle Room, a time capsule of 1974 with its avocado green shag carpet on the floor and ceiling, a feature that made for such pure acoustics that Elvis and his buddies recorded several hits there.

“Love me tender … ” Mr. Koizumi sang in a low register, breaking off as laughter from first lady Laura Bush, along with Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ widow, and the couple’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, drowned him out.

The Japanese leader took a breath and then launched into a medley. “Wise men say, only fools rush in … ” he crooned, before being interrupted by Mr. Bush, who said: “I thought you were going to sing ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’”

But Mr. Koizumi, who was born on the same date as the King, followed in his idol’s footsteps, making a quick costume change by donning a pair of gold-rimmed sunglasses that Elvis wore in the 1972 concert film, “Elvis on Tour.”

Striking the emotive stage pose seen in the later days of Elvis’ career — stretched out in a near crouch, one arm windmilling, the prime minister let go with one last burst. “Glory, glory hallelujah,” he sang, drawing a surprised smile from the president, who stepped back to take in the full performance.

Although a Graceland “archivist” wearing white cotton gloves had carefully laid out two pairs of glasses, Mr. Bush steered clear of the spectacles.

Mr. Koizumi called the day touring what many consider America’s mecca of rock ‘n’ roll “a dream.”

“I never expected president come with me to visit Graceland,” he said in broken English.

Mr. Bush struck a more sober tone by stating: “The visit here is an indication of how well-known Elvis was around the world. A lot of people are still singing Elvis Presley songs here in the states, and there’s a lot of people who love Elvis Presley in Japan, including the prime minister.”

White House staffers leaned more toward the exuberant Koizumi: Press secretary Tony Snow briefed reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Graceland wearing a pair of the huge trademark Elvis tinted glasses; a dozen other staffers also donned them. Many became tourists themselves, taking pictures of the spangled and sparkly jumpsuits in glass cases and the 100 gold and platinum records lining the walls in what was once the King’s racquetball court.

The crew of the presidential aircraft also got in on the action. They prepared a special Elvis treat, gleaned from the Graceland Web site: A fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, with a whopping 36 grams of fat. Both svelte leaders skipped the treat; Mr. Bush drank coffee, and Mr. Koizumi drank green tea.

Elvis songs, including “Don’t Be Cruel,” were playing over the public-address system aboard Air Force One, and Elvis movies, including “Viva Las Vegas,” were available upon request.

While the president is known for his disdain of tourist stops — he skipped India’s Taj Mahal on a trip this year and last month raced through Vienna, Austria, and Budapest in 36 hours — he offered to take the prime minister to Graceland a year ago.

The two leaders were no doubt paying homage to the young Elvis, the dirty-dancing heartthrob who changed the music world with a newfangled thing called rock ‘n’ roll, not the old Elvis, the drug-addled and bloated pill-popping junkie who paid young girls to wrestle for his entertainment.

While Mr. Bush and Mr. Koizumi were not allowed in private quarters upstairs where Elvis died, they toured the rest of the 14-acre estate, stopping off to see the black baby-grand piano by a 15-foot white sofa in the living room, Elvis’ burial shrine — even one of the King’s prized possessions, a pink Cadillac.

As the first sitting president to visit Graceland, Mr. Bush was given an original Elvis belt buckle from the estate. Mr. Koizumi was given a vintage movie poster.

The leaders also made a stop at a different King memorial: The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. The two leaders stood on the spot on the motel balcony where King was slain.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Koizumi then stopped for lunch at Rendezvous, a 58-year-old barbecue restaurant. Seated at red-checked tablecloths, the leaders dug into a meal of Memphis-style ribs, cole slaw, sausage, beans and sweet tea.


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