Friday, 31 January 2014

Best Elvis books ever: numbers five & six

Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

The definitive biography in two volumes, as warm and loving as Goldman is bitter and twisted. Goldman’s Elvis is a half-wit who lucked out. Guralnick’s Elvis is a singer who knew what he was trying to do and worked hard at it, in the studio at least, effectively becoming the first self-produced pop performer. 

So much serious (and ironic) Elvis commentary is based on duality. On one hand, the drug addict, on the other, the honorary narcotics agent. Lover of heavy-bodied Mama Gladys and also of pornos featuring heavy-bodied Gladys-like Mama figures fighting like hell-cats. The vibrant young iconoclast versus the ageing, bloated everyman. And, above all, the original duality, Elvis and his stillborn twin, Jesse. Whatever the merits of Guralnick’s biography — and they are overwhelming — it can also be read as the good twin to the bad twin of Goldman’s Elvis. The two portraits of the subject are different enough to make hardened doubters believe in parallel universes — the Sun King versus the Scum King. 

Erudite, sweet-hearted and exhaustive — not to say occasionally exhausting — Guralnick’s first volume takes the story up to Elvis’ departure for Germany in September 1958. ‘This book cancels out all others,’ was Bob Dylan’s judgment.

The second volume finishes the story. Which is a telling fact — four years of Elvis’ artistic career stretched across the first book, the remaining nineteen years squashed into the second. Aesthetically justified or not, it highlights Guralnick’s uneasiness at dealing with pop. The evil twin barely gets a look-in. Sometimes you can’t help but feel he overvalues sincerity, honesty and authenticity at the expense of pop’s other life-affirming demons: lust, avarice, exhibitionism. To put it another way, he wouldn’t know a great jacket if you bought it for him. 

Next The question that calms us all at moments of great stress: what would Elvis' hairdresser do?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Elvis top books: number four

Elvis In His Own Words by Mick Farren and Pearce Marchbank, Omnibus, 1977

A quickie post-death book of real quality. Lots and lots of black and white photographs, arranged and displayed by one of Britain’s best graphic designers and annotated by one of Britain’s best music journalists. The rest is just what it says in the title — Elvis’ very few interviews arranged in chronological order to produce something like a mini-autobiography.

And now today's picture of Elvis  . . . in a Crouch End window display. The King lives in Nappy Valley!

RIP Mick Farren who died earlier this year, just off Charing Cross Road, having collapsing onstage while playing with his final bunch of Deviants.

Next A train to Memphis. Not the night one but the last one.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The best of Elvis books, number three

Graceland: The Living Legacy Of Elvis Presley, by Chet Flippo

The Homes & Gardens version of the King’s life. Lavishly lifeless photographs of Graceland’s decor and the contents of the Elvis collections on the other side of Elvis Presley Boulevard. An excellent reminder of the truly fabulous vulgarity of Graceland, with scalpel-sharp text by Flippo. Just one little detail is missing. A picture of the toilet where he died. 

There are cod and funny pictures of Elvis' toilet all over but you won't find a real one. In fact, there has never been a posthumous picture published of not just Elvis' toilet but of the whole upstairs, private section of Graceland. It remains sacrosant and unseen, not just by the 600,000 annual visitors but by non-civilians ones, too. Their requests for tours of Elvis' home quarters are always rebuffed. Even President Clinton was turned down.

There are, though, pictures that were taken before his death — and, apparently, it has been left just as it was. Perfectly. Here is an old shot of the bathrooom. Still no toilet, though.

And here is a different kind of private Elvis picture instead . . .

It was taken by Jane Rule Burdine, an artist from the Mississippi hill country where Elvis was born.

Now . . . buy the essential Elvis book, mine. 'An absolute must for any fan of the King.'
Next Elvis talks (posthumously)