Until Peter Guralnick came out with Last Train to Memphis
in 1994, most biographies of Elvis Presley--especially those written by people with varying degrees of access to his "inner circle"--were filled with starstruck adulation, and those that weren't in awe of their subject invariably went out of their way to take potshots at the rock & roll pioneer (with Albert Goldman's 1981 Elvis
reaching now-legendary levels of bile and condescension). Guralnick's exploration of Elvis's childhood and rise to fame was notable for its factual rigorousness and its intimate appreciation of Presley's musical agenda.
Picking up where the first volume left off, Guralnick sees Elvis through his tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Germany, where he first met--and was captivated by--a 14-year-old girl named Priscilla Beaulieu. We may think we know the story from this point: the return to America, the near-decade of B-movies, eventual marriage to Priscilla, a brief flash of glory with the '68 comeback, and the surrealism of "fat Elvis" decked out in bejeweled white jumpsuits, culminating in a bathroom death scene. And while that summary isn't exactly false, Guralnick's account shows how little perspective we've had on Elvis's life until now, how a gross caricature of the final years has come to stand for the life itself. He treats every aspect of Presley's life--including forays into spiritual mysticism and the growing dependency on prescription drugs--with dignity and critical distance. More importantly, Careless Love continues to show that Guralnick "gets" what Presley was trying to do as an artist: "I see him in the same way that I think he saw himself from the start," the introduction states, "as someone whose ambition it was to encompass every strand of the American musical tradition." From rock to blues to country to gospel, Guralnick discusses how, at his finest moments, Elvis was able to fulfill that dream. --Ron Hogan
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From Publishers Weekly
Opening with the 25-year-old Presley's nervous return to the United States in March 1960, this second volume of Guralnick's definitive and scrupulous biography then circles back to describe the singer's military service in Germany, where he encountered two elements destined to define his post-Army life: prescription drugs and 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was by now a major factor in Elvis's career, and Guralnick is the first to explain successfully how the Colonel, a one-time carnival huckster, maintained an enduring hold on a man whose genius was beyond his grasp. Presley believed that they were "an unbeatable team," and the Colonel's success in keeping Elvis's popularity alive during the Army stint seemed to prove it. The subsequent results of the Colonel's go-for-the-quick-buck mentality?crummy movies made on the cheap, mediocre soundtracks rather than studio albums?shook Elvis's faith in his manager, but he remained loyal through the inevitable artistic and commercial decline. Guralnick's meticulously documented narrative (which draws on interviews with virtually everyone significant) shows the insecure, fatally undisciplined Elvis to be his own worst enemy, closely seconded by the Colonel and the entourage of hangers-on who feared change and disparaged Presley's tentative efforts to grow, especially his spiritual apprenticeships to his hairstylist, Larry, and to Sri Daya Mata. When Elvis roused himself?for his 1968 television comeback, for the legendary Chips Moman-produced sessions of 1969, for the early Las Vegas shows?he was still the most charismatic performer in popular music, with a voice that easily encompassed his rock-and-roll roots and his desire to reach beyond them. But as the '70s wore on, Guralnick shows, he became imprisoned by laziness and passivity, numbing his contempt for himself and those around him with the drugs that finally killed him in 1977. As in volume one, Last Train to Memphis, Guralnick makes his points here through the selection and accretion of detail, arguing in an author's note that "retrospective moral judgments [have] no place in describing a life." While some readers may wish he had occasionally stepped back to tell us what it all means, the integrity of this approach is admirable. Many writers have made Presley the vehicle for their own ideas; Guralnick gives us a fallible human being destroyed by forces within as well as without. It's an epic American tragedy, captured here in all its complexity. Major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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