My brother bought me this for Christmas, remembering the shared passion we had for EC in the late 70's / early 80's. At that time, we'd both read Krista Reese's book
, which was one of the first attempts at a biography. Written during a period when EC's air of mystery and antagonism didn't allow him to talk to journalists, she did a pretty good job considering how little cooperation she got from her subject. For example, his manager wrote trying to persuade her not to write anything at all; characteristically, the letter ended, "Thank you for including your address. If this matter goes any further I shall pop in for a visit the next time I am in New York." Nothing daunted, she published the book and included the letter as a frontispiece.
Although EC has mellowed somewhat with age, cooperation is just as sparse this time round, but that hasn't stopped Thomson from writing an excellent biography. This is partly due to the fact that his subject remains fascinating: the fearsome work ethic, the struggle to break through, the way in which fame was handled, his relationships with women, the wide-ranging musical interests and the variety of collaborations. But, of course, the main thing is always the music. Here, I'd rate at least three of his albums as totally essential, but the fact that they have widely different styles (they're "This Year's Model", "Imperial Bedroom" and "Painted From Memory") indicates the breadth of his application.
Also, Thomson is a good writer, well above the usual hack standard that seems prevalent for this sort of book. He even manages to incorporate a couple of Jamesian turns of phrase: "By the time they returned, [...] relations between Elvis and the band were on the contemptuous side of familiar.", "For Elvis, comfort probably couldn't have come any colder." Finally, he unearths some fascinating details - for example, the idea of a young EC playing a show-stopping version of CSN's "Wooden Ships" is irresistable, especially when you consider what he said to Stephen Stills during that fateful encounter in a bar in Columbus, Ohio in 1979. And while I knew that he'd been having an affair with Bebe Buell while married to his first wife, the revelation that the latter found out the former was pregnant via a misdirected letter which Bebe sent to EC's London house while he was in Japan makes you wonder how long it'll be before they turn this book into a movie.