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Kings are human too
on 16 February 1999
Peter Guralnick paints a picture of Elvis unlike any other literature I've read on the entertainer. For the first time when reading of Presley I don't feel as if the subject is 'The King'. Instead, I am turning pages which describe Elvis Presley: citizen; tax payer; friend; husband; father; lover; and most importantly, singer.
Guralnick is able to scrape away the seemingly endless layers of myth surrounding his subject. He doesn't take the easy route by dwelling on events which are now 'folklore', such as the meeting with the Beatles. There is no dramatic telling of how the drug habit began. Rather, information on it is presented as any vice presents itself. Something which is part of the day-to-day life of the person and over time grows to control them. There is no judgement made here by the author, simply an account of events. When presented as a myth Elvis comes across as kitsch, a joke. Yet when presented as a homosapien by Guralnick he is absolutely fascinating. Pages float by regardless of the fact that we know the tragic ending. We are reading of a life like any other, filled with joy, sorrow, betrayal, dissappointment, triumph and death.
It is the passages recalling recording sessions and performances, however, where Guralnick's book truly comes to life. It is obvious the author not only loves, but believes in the music he is describing. Here we discover the true professional at peace with the artist. No 'good' song was complete unless Elvis was happy with the performance he gave. Recording sessions would go into the wee small hours with no guarantee of a successful result. The mood of the studio was of utmost importance and we learn of various producer's attempts to create an atmosphere where the singer could 'get into' a session and then hopefully 'lose himself' in the song. A common theme coming from these sections is that this is the only time the subject truly offered himself up for public consumption/scrutiny. Otherwise he kept a closed circle.
The detail, though necessary, can be overwhelming and one must have a determined thirst for Elvis and/or his music to see their way through. Guralnick delves into detail on subjects that, for people who play Presely's Greatest Hits while doing the housework, may seem like a waste of paper. People such as Colonel Parker, who has long appeared as nothing more than a greedy and manipulative manager, is given a fair hearing courtesy of the author's remarkably extensive research. The 'Memphis Mafia'(Presley's entourage), its members and their relationships with each other are examined and give another demension to a group which has previously been written off as simply a bunch of 'Yes Men' scavengers. These tangents however are the key to the book as by learning more about the people Preseley surrounded himself with we learn a tremendous amount about the man himself. Insecure, lonely, temperamental, dangerous, egotistical, unreasonable, hypocritical, immature, gifted, respectful, quiet, generous, loyal, loving, professional, inspirational - human.