- Paperback: 576 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books (September 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316332259
- ISBN-13: 978-0316332255
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 244 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley Paperback – September 1, 1995
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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.
From Publishers Weekly
Vol. one of Guralnick's exhaustive, two-volume biography details the King's first 24 years, leaving off when his rise is interrupted by his being drafted into the army.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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After reading this followed by Careless Love, I came to the conclusion that no one could have saved Elvis from himself. This is much more than a "price of fame" story though I had to wonder what kind of life Elvis would have led if his gift had never been discovered. Michael Jackson said he never had a childhood. Elvis never had an adulthood. But despite everything that did and did not happen in his life, he seemed like such a simple, decent guy. And no one yet has begun to analyze or attempt to explain the magic and singularity of his appeal. I was 12 or 13 when I saw Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show. I remember that moment as vividly at the day that JF Kennedy was murdered. There was something about Elvis that no other performer has ever matched.
Most of Presley’s past is well documented. He was born in Tupelo, MS to poor parents in a two room shack with no running water or indoor plumbing. His twin brother was stillborn. Presley’s rise to fame is just an incredible story of hard work, perseverance and some being in the right place at the right time. Guralnick so expertly shows the contradictions between the “real” Elvis and the “celebrity” Elvis. For instance, Elvis was a loner during his childhood, yet had to always be surrounded by his Memphis Mafia as an adult. He was considered the King of Rock and Roll, but crossed almost all genres from blues to R & B to country. And yet, probably his favorite music to sing was gospel. His was considered a sex icon, yet had some strange sexual hang-ups. Many considered Elvis to be an ignorant country bumpkin, yet he had a genius for remembering songs, writers, performers, and lyrics. Born poor, he became one of the richest performers in the U.S. Yet, he had way more money than sense or good taste. He also squandered much of his money through his generosity to his friends and family. And while he was identified as a bad influence on teens and young adults, he was humble, well-mannered, and loved his mama.
One thing I really enjoyed reading about was the Memphis of Presley’s youth. So much about Memphis contributed to his success. Growing up, there were venues to showcase your talent, singing contests, recording studios, the musicians from Beale Street, and even disk jockeys who would play a song by a local artist 20 times in a row. It was almost like the perfect storm for Presley’s success. My one minor complaint is that there is an awful lot of information about Presley’s recording sessions, the musicians who played with him, his tours, etc. But for someone who is a die-hard Elvis-fan, they will eat up every word. Also, Guralnick is a music critic, so he is writing what he knows. I can’t knock him for that.
I happened to buy the Kindle version, and was pleasantly surprised at the special features at the end, including three videos and three audio interviews. I have the second book, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley to complete this 2-part biography.
This first volume goes from Elvis' childhood to September 1958, when his mother Gladys dies. He had been drafted into the Army seven months earlier.
Elvis grew up being different, lonely and with no real friends. He was shy, quiet, sensitive and easily embarrassed. Kids often made fun of him. Elvis walked into Sam Phillips' Sun Records recording studio in the summer of 1953, a couple months after graduating from high school. Elvis knew he wanted to make records, but he was unsure how to go about doing it. His unabashed originality came through on his recording of "That's All Right Mama."
Phillips said, "Elvis had the most intuitive ability to hear songs without having to classify them or himself. " He added, "Elvis was one of the most introspective human beings I ever met. It seemed like he had a photographic memory for every song he ever heard."
Elvis Presley came along at the right time. At the end of World War II, younger people had grown up with the sounds of the big bands of the 1940s, but they didn't have any music to identify with; they were looking for something--and Elvis gave it to them.
No one had ever seen anyone like Elvis. According to a Memphis newspaper, "He was a white man singing negro rhythms with a rural flavor." He knew how to connect with audiences and he knew how to entertain. He was musically talented and unclassifiable.
Guralnick writes, "Elvis was the change that was coming to America." He electrified American teenagers and offended adults and the status quo. Adults charged that Elvis was obscene, vulgar and bad for America. That criticism, however, didn't slow down his unprecedented rise to the top.
Sam Phillips sold Elvis' contract to RCA for $25,000 in 1955. Phillips said Elvis "knew where he wanted to go and he was very single-minded about it." Soon, Col. Tom Parker, a carny at heart, started to run Elvis' career with an iron hand.
Despite all of his success with hit records, Elvis' main ambition was to be a serious actor like James Dean or Marlon Brando. He didn't want to just sing in the movies. Sadly, Col. Parker was more than happy to just let him sing in the movies.
In March 1957, at age 23 and at the height of his popularity, Elvis was drafted into the Army. Although he was unsure and worried about how a two-year stint in the military would affect this career, he asked no special favors, and sought to be a role model for others.
Seven months after he was inducted, his mother Gladys died. Elvis was devastated. "Everything I had is gone," he cried. At this point, he was willing to abandon his career and try to live a normal life. But, he said, "It's too late for that, there are too many people who depend on me. I'm too obligated."
It's easy to think of Elvis Presley as a simple-minded, good-looking, fairly talented entertainer who happened to be in the right place at the right time. But Guralnick proves how that is far from true. He captures the excitement and uniqueness that was Elvis Presley. In a month-by-month account, Guralnick details Presley's rise to fame. Readers will gain a deeper appreciation of Elvis Presley by reading this book.