Little, Brown. Aren't we always told that women seek some version of their fathers in the husbands they choose?
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Lisa Marie's father had done most of his best work by the time he was He was precociously assured onstage and unnervingly childish off. He didn't wear clothing; he wore costumes set off by lacquered hair and makeup. He studied the tricks and manners sreking other stars, played with every racial style he could find first artfully, then compulsivelyand when he had done that, he went one step beyond into something that approached the extraterrestrial.
But we are getting ahead of the story. What Gokdson. Guralnick gives us is a passionate, detailed chronicle of Presley's early years and fame.
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The book ends in when he s the Army. His mother has died, his career has been put on hold and, as he boards a ship bound for Germany, he goodsonn a last message to his fans: "I'd like to say that in spite of the fact that I'm going away and will be out of their eyes for some time, I hope I'm not out of their minds.
He never was and never will be. Guralnick's intention was "to rescue Elvis Presley from the dreary bondage of myth and from the oppressive aftershock of cultural ificance. He refuses to rifle the gossip bank and fast-forward to the later years, but the reader does and the reader can't help it. Still, as you read, then put the book down to play a tape or video Mr.
Guralnick writes vividly enough so that you can do without them, but why should you?
It was keen instincts, hard work and boundless ambition that turned a poor Southern boy into a show-business king. When he was born inthe Goodsson was still on, and between sharecropping, waitressing vun factory work, his parents stayed poor. His twin brother, Jesse, had been stillborn, and Mrs. Presley always said that when one twin died, the other got the strength of both.
Young Elvis was watched over by a well-meaning, hapless father and fussed over by an adoring, high-strung mother.
The early lives of most stars follow certain patterns. They often spend their youth daydreaming, unnoticed by their peers until, little by little, they make their presence felt. Gladys Presley made sure her son had guitar lessons, and soon he was performing at parties and high school picnics.
He grew his hair long he used three kinds of pomade to get the right shapeand he began dressing tango-pirate style, in a black bolero jacket and black peg-legged pants. Sometimes they had a pink stripe.
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He listened to every kind of music the radio had to offer, and on Sundays he sneaked out of the family church and over to the Rev. Herbert Brewster's, where he could hear some of the best black gospel music in the seekint. When he was 18 he walked into the Sun Records studio in Memphis.
In the meantime, here was a shy, self-effacing boy who said he just wanted to record a birthday song for his mother. The Sun people said he was a promising ballad singer. But the breakthrough didn't come until the next goodson when, after countless takes of a country goodson had flopped, Elvis launched into a blues called "That's All Right. And that brings us to the heart of what they called hillbilly be-bop, "nig-grah music" and, finally, rock-and-roll.
The elements weren't new, and they had been put together before. The proportions were new, though: the tempos were sdeking fast and the tone was flat-out insolent.
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To some, rock-and-roll was as threatening as Communism and desegregation. Guralnick's book does everything that ardent, earnest research can do. What a pleasure it is not to keep crashing into standard rock hyperbole.
But ardor and earnestness have their limits. Must Elvis, for instance, find that music gives him "a soft, dreamy feeling, a sense of almost cushiony serking that is also "as hard and concrete as desire"?
And why are Memphis, New York and Hollywood rendered in such soft focus? It is a relief to find that Mr. Guralnick seems free of the anxieties that haunt so much writing about Presley, turning it into a musical version of a race and I.
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But he didn't have to be taken in by the debate to record it more clearly. It is when he shows how Elvis made his way through this cultural briar patch seeeking we get what we need.
So did Elvis. He got voluptuous phrasing and ecstatic self-confidence from gospel.
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He got wit and menace from ad and homespun sincerity from country, and from what we can now call gay theatrics Liberace, Little Richard, Jackie Wilsonhe got glamour fum self-parody. He played the outlaw and the good son. What fun it is to watch him "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir" critics and television-show hosts into cheap escort london admiration.
How he flirts with his audiences, being casual, then fervent; sneering, then inviting us to laugh at or with him. As you desire me, he is saying, so shall I be.
Is he a great singer? To these ears, no. Is he a great performer? Yes and yes again.
He made you feel the fun and the risk and all the contradictions. That's self-invention, and that's entertainment. Return to the Books Home .