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Sounding as excited as someone stuck in traffic, Lisa Marie Presley settles in for yet another goddamn media probe. Immortalized by enough tabloid clippings to sink a garbage barge, the Princess of Graceland knows the drill of being drilled all too well. After all, she's lived in a publicity bubble since birth.
"No, I don't collect what's written about me," says Presley, 35, via cell phone from her rehearsal space in Los Angeles. "I just wait for the Wednesday call from the publicist, and it's like, 'Here we go again. Blah, blah, blah, blah.'"
Answering each question curtly but graciously, the much-badgered heiress of the twentieth century's most fabled entertainer and ex-wife of Michael Jackson is used to life under the microscope -- on Wednesday or any other day of the week. Our fifteen-minute "phoner" (rescheduled five agonizing times) happens to fall on a Friday afternoon -- just as news of Johnny Cash's passing is rolling across America like a blackout. It also marks the national premiere of Matchstick Men, the latest flick starring ex-husband Nicolas Cage. But after being briefed by Presley's publicist, who will monitor the line for the entirety of the call ("You're not gonna ask any questions about anything bad, about her marriages and all that stuff, right? They're about her music, right?"), I've had to rearrange my batting order somewhat. Armed with softballs or not, though, the prospect of meeting Presley is still a bit daunting and surreal: It's not every day a commoner gets to jack the jaw with royalty.
After acknowledging the death of her dad's longtime chum from the legendary days at Sun Studio ("Yeah, I'm really upset about that, actually. Not good," she says haltingly), the subject of the Man in Black turns to Presley's own poor health. She's been asthmatic and hypoglycemic; she's endured a gall bladder removal, had a physical breakdown and has had the mercury fillings in her teeth removed, convinced they were poisoning her body. Now it's a bout with gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach that has hounded Presley like the paparazzi since mid-summer.
"It's been a problem, because singing aggravates it," she says. "And I can't really move much on stage."
With the help of antibiotics and a sound diet devoid of jelly doughnuts, Elvis's famed progeny is gearing up for her second national tour -- this time as a headliner. Following last summer's stint opening for Chris Isaak on several cross-country dates, Presley has gradually been finding her sea legs as a live performer. But unlike the majority of working musicians, she's never had to slug it out in empty bars to get where she is. Then again, that was never an option.
"I can't do it like anybody else, because I'm constantly being scrutinized, you know? I'm constantly paying my dues. I'm still paying them. I'm not gonna ever stop," Presley says. "The only thing easy about being who I am is that I don't have to make that big of an effort to get in [the music business].
"However, going on the first tour ever, and having never done it before, there were more critics there every night than any opening act should ever have. They're all over me, you know? That kind of stuff is like constantly being in a frying pan and under a lot of pressure. So I don't know what's worse, you know?
"I mean, I don't want to complain, but it's a double-edged sword either way. And when you're up in the spotlight and you're trying to be subtle, and you're on national TV and it's like your second or third performance? I just want to go out and sing quietly on the road, and that's not gonna happen."
Denied an identity other than that of the King's only daughter, Presley has a right to be defensive, if not depressed. On public display since her birth in Memphis, she accompanied her mother to Los Angeles at age four when her parents split. Her father's death, in 1977 -- Lisa Marie was nine at the time -- launched a never-ending, international parade of blurred open-casket photos, grotesque headlines and ridiculous conspiracy theories. Five years later, when Graceland opened its doors to tourists -- becoming the most heavily visited home in America after the White House -- the reclusive teen escaped the world's prying eyes by disconnecting from her senses with drugs and alcohol. At eighteen she joined the Church of Scientology, an outfit she credits not only for getting her sober, but also for showing her how to be a better person. At 21, Presley dived into music and wrote her first song, "Give Me Strength," which addressed the fear of dying she had developed since becoming a mother. She considered signing a record deal with Sony, then got pregnant for the second time.
"There was a window of time there where I thought I'd try it," Presley says. "But I wasn't ready."
On August 16, 1997, to mark the twentieth anniversary of her father's death, Presley hired David Foster (the studio wizard behind Natalie Cole's posthumous tribute to her late father, "Unforgettable") to produce a duet of Elvis's '70s-era hit "Don't Cry Daddy." Premiered in Memphis during the encore of Virtual Elvis -- the multimedia extravaganza uniting thirty of the King's old bandmates, backup singers and a 55-piece orchestra -- the song accompanied giant split-screen footage of Lisa Marie and her father reunited in matching white from beyond the grave. It was the first time in American musical history that a dead entertainer (accompanied by his virtual daughter) sold out an 8,500-seat arena.
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