Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Best Elvis books
Number two
Mystery Train by Greil Marcus

It’s old — written while Elvis was alive. It’s not just about Elvis — there are three other major essays in it, on The Band, Sly Stone and Randy Newman (well before his Toy Story days, naturally). It’s too often pretentious — even such an original brain and fine writer as Greil Marcus should restrain from sharing his dreams and daydreams with the reader. Yet it is still one of the best things ever published about Elvis. The selective discography was ground-breakingly intelligent and informative when it was first published and it’s still the best beginner’s guide both to the highlights of Elvis’ career and to the blues and country music that stood behind his innovations. 

The long essay on Elvis — which came out at a time when his career was at an all-time nadir — offered the first detailed chronicle of the Sun recordings, the first reconsideration of his later work and a string of bright, sharp comments. An example: ‘To Elvis, Watergate would have been something like a cosmic paternity suit.’ As with a lot of Marcus’ stuff, it’s not even a case of not being sure if I agree with it so much as not even having a clue what he’s on about. But it sounds like it means something. And it made me laugh.


And here is a picture of Elvis just down the road from the nearest train stop to his parents' house in Memphis. (I know it looks like a fake. Or one of Paul Graham's slow-jolting pictures of America on foot. But it's not. It's real and genuine and 1956, taken by Alfred Wertheimer, of whom there will be more soon.)

Next At home with the King

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