The King said it: "You've got to have rain in order to have a rainbow," (p. 99).
This book is really two books in one, and where they meet is literally in the mind of the reader. The first is the highly refined, imminently informed Taoist meditation, with some truly stunning quotations and through them, editorial injection on the part of author David Rosen. I'm no Taoist scholar, but you can sure tell that Rosen is, a highly accomplished and traveled one at that, and his take on this book is not that of a snarky intellectual art-flack winking at you as he cleverly links the pure and sublime with its apparent earthly incarnation in the form of Elvis. Rosen is serious here, and it comes through immediately.
The preface and introduction are quite good--my kudos to the editor and Rosen--providing a great view of author Rosen, where he's coming from with this book, and his qualifications to write it. These two pieces up front really set the tone of the book, and do it very well.
The structure of the rest of the book is very straightforward, a series of short chapters with thematic titles such as "Opposites," Giving and Generosity," "Alone and Loneliness," and "Spirit, Soul, and Religion." Each chapter begins with a single quote on the theme of the chapter, from someone, anyone, who spoke well upon it, such as Kahlil Gibran saying, "You [Elvis] have walked among us as a spirit," on the theme of "Sprit, Soul, and Religion." There then follows a few choice Taoist quotes on the theme, from those so qualified to do it, such as Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Ho-Shang Kung, etc. Mirroring these Taoist quotes are quotes and observations from The King himself, as well as those who knew him, including James Brown, Larry Geller, Ann-Margret, Bono, Linda Thompson, K. D. Lang, Natalie Wood, Bruce Springsteen, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Carter, etc. The chapter then concludes with a short Rosen narrative elaborating upon and contextualizing the theme and quotes.
I found this structure to read very well and quickly, which made it quite enjoyable. The themes change quickly, and you can move through the book quickly if you choose, or you may choose to pause and contemplate. It took me a couple of chapters to see it, and then it hit: the book's narrative structure is Taoist in itself. Outstanding.
The book concludes with two truly wonderful additions. First, there are detailed endnotes, more than enough for you to pursue your curiosity in any of the issues, themes, and respondents in this book. Immediately following is a comprehensive bibliography providing full information to support the notes.
Given the depth of the scholarly attention to detail here, I'm surprised Rosen and his editorial crew did not provide an index. This would have been a simple and very helpful addition to the book, especially given the depth and number of individual names offered throughout the book.
For me, the most enjoyable part of this book was reading the thematically-grouped quotes and observations from Elvis and those close to him. Of course, there was some over-deification, the glorification of Elvis, making the somewhat predictable hyperbolic comparisons and delivering spot-on hindsight views of how he lived his life and how it would all turn out, but thankfully these were few and far between. I loved the snippets from The Gospel of Elvis, the views on his love of music, his voice, his innate rhythm, and his ability to influence others.
In conclusion, this is not a deep, thick scholarly tome crammed tight with big words on dry subjects, not even close. Rosen is definitely in his element with this subject matter, but he keeps the flow fast and positive, and does not bog down the reader with philosophical jargon or analysis, rather letting the reader draw their own meaning(s) from the quotes and ideas offered. If you're a die-hard philosophy addict looking for deep examination of Taoist concepts in the context of Elvis, rock and roll, destructive stardom, and the nature of cultural icon creation and downfall, this isn't what you're after. This book also is not another low-budget Elvis exploitation rag. Its treatment of him is respectful and positive throughout, even while admitting The King's flaws and human failings. If you're an Elvis fan, you'll enjoy this.