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Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley Hardcover – October 3, 1994

4.6 out of 5 stars 177 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Elvis Series

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Hardcover, October 3, 1994
$64.63 $0.06
Mass Market Paperback
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There's no mention of sequins, drugs, or peanut butter in this understated biography of the teenaged Elvis, a serious and worthy attempt to answer the question, "Who was this guy before he was an icon, the voice of a generation, the King?" The essential clarity and honesty of Guralnick's prose clearly limns the eager, malleable boy whose immense talent changed the course of American music. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Given the passion evident in most books about Elvis Presley (1935-1977), the scrupulously dispassionate tone of this new biography, the first of a projected two volumes, is admirable and startling. Guralnick (Lost Highway) lets the facts speak for themselves, more or less, by providing solid background and quoting at length from people who knew Elvis as well as the contemporary press. In retelling the familiar story of a poor Southern boy's meteoric rise to unprecedented fame, Guralnick eschews the conventional wisdom-Elvis was an instinctive artist whose career was trashed by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and by movie and record company executives-to present a more complex picture. He shows those associated with Elvis struggling to get a handle on a new music form, rock 'n' roll, that they barely understood. At times, one wishes the author were more open about his own opinions. But this welcome relief from the hysterical tone of most Elvis books closes somberly with the performer's induction into the Army and the death of his beloved mother in 1958. Photos. Author tour.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (October 3, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316332200
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316332200
  • ASIN: 0316332208
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (177 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"Peter Guralnick is widely regarded as the nation's preeminent writer on twentieth-century American popular music. His books include Feel Like Going Home, Lost Highway, Sweet Soul Music, Searching for Robert Johnson, the novel Nighthawk Blues, and a highly acclaimed two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
But it's not true...Elvis DOES live...in the pages of Guralnick's outstanding biography of Elvis Presley, a biography that will stand the test of time as the definitive study of the King of Rock n Roll.
In Volume One, Guralnick takes us from Elvis' humble beginnings in Tupelo, Mississippi to his departure for Army duty in Germany twenty-three years later. In between, readers will be fascinated with what they THOUGHT they knew about Elvis. LAST TRAIN differs from other books about Elvis in two very distinct ways: First, the author gives us first hand accounts from the people who were actually there. There's no tabloid journalism or second-hand anecdotes. Guralnick has done his research and it shows. Second, Elvis is never presented as an icon or an idol. Guralnick has the unique ability to step back away from the action as an impartial observer and give us an extraordinarily clear image of what Elvis was really like - a really nice, clean, religious kid who was consumed with music and making people happy.
You can almost feel the electricity of the recording sessions at Sun Studios. You can watch Sam Phillips as he realizes that this boy could change the course of popular music forever. Elvis' girls, friends, musicians...they're all here and they all have a piece of the story to tell. And what about the "Colonel" Tom Parker? Genius or huckster?
Of course, the hysteria is recorded as well. After all, it's part of the story. Crazed fans were nothing new. After all, girls had been going nuts over singers like Frank Sinatra and many others for years. But the world had never seen anything like this? How can you explain it? Guralnick never really comes right out with an explanation, but you'll be able to pick it up between the lines.
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Format: Paperback
"Last Train to Memphis" and its sequel, "Careless Love", make a deeply engrossing, carefully researched, finely written biography of Elvis Presley.
Author Peter Guralnick took eleven years to exhaustively research sources and interview people who knew Elvis personally and would tell their firsthand experiences. Guralnick's scholarly approach automatically eschews any hint of the fan adoration that can taint celebrity biographies. Guralnick might even have erred on the dry side rather than the juicy or dishy side of the story. This is all to the good, because Elvis' life story, a fantastic, zany, epic arc through American pop culture, is one that needs no embellishment and is served well by a measure of journalistic restraint.
Guralnick made a wise choice with the two-book format, because in Elvis' life there was a distinct "Rise and Fall." "Last Train to Memphis" is the rise: "Careless Love" is the fall. In each volume, Guralnick reveals much not just about Elvis, but about the people who were his family and closest friends and how their actions and relationships to him and to each other shaped Elvis into the man he became.
Accounts of his school days, his early days as a musician, his early girlfriends, and his family life all flesh him out as a human being and penetrate the shell of celebrity to offer a three-dimesional glimpse of the individual and his own ideas and aspirations and insecurities. The first volume ends with the death of Elvis' mother, a loss that sent him into the first tailspin of many, from which he never seemed to recover.
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Format: Hardcover
Peter Guralnick demonstrated in his definitive history of Soul music, Sweet Soul Music : Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, that he has a nearly unique grasp of the singular way in which popular music and the political culture intersect in American society. Along with Robert Palmer (Deep Blues) and Greil Marcus (Mystery Train), he has helped to craft a still pretty slender body of literature which takes pop music and its impact seriously, but also places it within a larger societal context. Now, in his two part biography of Elvis Presley, he has set out to strip away both the mythology (Volume One) and the demonology (Volume Two) that obscure Elvis and to restore some reasonable sense of perspective on the man and his music. In so doing, he offers us a new and useful opportunity to understand the personal and societal forces that converged to make him into The King, one of the genuine cultural icons of the 20th Century, and to trigger the Rock & Roll Era.
There are several main factors that Guralnick cites, which appear to have had a particular influence on how events transpired. First is the city of Memphis itself, which served as a nearly perfect crucible for forging the blend of Gospel, Country, Blues and Rhythm & Blues that made up Elvis's sound. A southern city, but not Deep South, there was at least limited interaction between the white and black worlds. But most importantly for this story, the city was saturated with music.
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