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Feel dirty after reading this
on 30 August 2015
This review is turning out to be a long one because it worried me that some people have said they didn’t know Elvis “before they read this book”. Unfortunately, if this is the only book you read, – you still won’t KNOW him. If you have a diamond you shouldn’t just view one facet or you don’t see the full beauty of the gem. And, while fascinating in parts, this book is magnifying his weak points without the balance of being able to hear the genius of the recordings and the greatness of the voice.
This is the 4th Elvis book that I’ve just read in a row and, to be honest, I feel dirty after reading this one. I really, really didn’t need to know so much detail about his bowel problems towards the end of his life. Can the man not have some privacy? Would any of us like to have our most intimate medical problems written about like this? I wasn’t comfortable reading those parts.
First of all, though, a generalisation about Elvis books in general. When you regurgitate information (as this book, and others, do…as in : ”….in his book Jerry Hopkins says….”) there is a danger that myths and legend become facts as one write accepts as gospel the research of someone who has gone before. The more books that get written about Elvis – the more there is the risk that we drift further and further from the truth, as memories dim, some people push their own agenda and he’s not here to defend himself.
And you do get the feeling that Elvis needs someone to defend him. The Memphis Mafia and various hangers on are not always 100% honest as to what their motives are for telling stories of the more salacious side of his life. How many were doing it for money, how many for the prestige of being able to say “I was there” and (the smaller %age I suspect) how many were trying to set the record straight, based on something someone else has said?
What bugs me about these books in general is that most of these people were takers/enablers – whether it was taking his money, living off his hospitality, trying to pick up the girls that surrounded him, telling him Yes all the time – or helping him gain vast quantities of pills. And yet rarely do these people seem to come at the topic from the standpoint of “we were having a hell of a time and, with hindsight, we should’ve taken better care of him”. They are completely judgemental of HIM and yet don’t see their own contribution – or they say “I thought xxxxx should have intervened for him”.
Everyone was turning a blind eye and the men around him in particular were jealous of each other (competing for his attention in life and for the honour of “knowing him the best” in death). And that’s something that jumps out when you read books by different authors – if there was an event that had Elvis and 2 people in a room you can bet your life that 4 will have claimed to have been there.
But back to this book….then you read the many pages of notes on research material there was clearly a massive amount of time has gone into its 605 pages. Along with extensive advice from, among others, a clinical psychologist. And it’s some of the cod psychology that concerned me the most.
On page 27, for example, is a story recounted by Billy Smith that, at aged 4 or 5, Elvis saw 2 of his aunts dancing with wild abandon on top of a trunk, waving their skirts around and showing their legs. When the little boy got an erection and drew his mother’s attention to it she flew off the handle (Look what you’re doing to him). The book then says “that formative memory would lead to one of Elvis’ strongest sexual charges of an adult, that of 2 women together”.
I’m not qualified in psychology in any way – but you cannot say with ANY certainty that those two events were linked. I know plenty of men that fantasise about watching two women and none of them got a flash of some bare dancing legs as small boys. Based on my own experience of childhood embarrassments I would have said that the reaction of Gladys and having the whole room turn to look at him and his “little Elvis” would have burned a deeper scar.
But, apart from feeling that every last bit of his privacy was stripped away by this book, the thing that niggled at me the most was the repeated suggestion that he only ever wanted 14 year old girls and that this was because of his arrested adolescence.
What it doesn’t make clear to the casual reader is that in the rural south at that time older men marrying teen girls was not exactly a rare occurrence (think Jerry Lee Lewis and his 13 year old cousin). I’ve studied the photos of these girls in the book and most of them look very much older than 14 – with their kitten heels and fitted suits – and no one’s father seems to have been prowling round with a shotgun when they stayed out until 5am. In fact there’s more than one example of parents pushing their daughters at him – much like, many years later, parents would encourage their sons to hang out with MJ.
The oft repeated phrase of “he hugged….. and invited her to…..and she was only 14” is almost like tabloid fodder journalism about a paedophile. It doesn’t acknowledge that these were girls at the stage door and that he certainly didn’t ask their age and then filter out the 14 year olds. He was living the dream and whether the fans were 19 or 90 he always took time for them and gave them a hug and a kiss.
What I would have liked the book to highlight is that once he started making movies and mixing with actresses the average age of his girlfriends immediately went up into the 20s. My interpretation was that this was a man that had been a bit of a misfit at school and then was suddenly, wherever he went, surrounded by the prettiest of girls/women – throwing themselves at him. And so he indulged….but apart from a certain underage girl who manipulated him more skilfully, he was well aware of the dangers of jailbait and kept things legal. Usually just wanting extended kissing sessions and company to keep the loneliness at bay. And, with one or two exceptions where witnesses overheard girls confirming their age, we can’t KNOW that he KNEW how old each one was. How many of us pursued older boys when we were 14 and told porkies about our age?
To wrap this up – I’m probably doing the author a dis-service as, especially compared to some other Elvis books I’ve read, it’s well written (and I’m probably shooting the messenger). It just saddens me to think that with each telling of stories of shooting at TVs or being hooked on prescription drugs and so on – we chip away at the greatest singer there ever has been. As Elvis himself never talked about these topics with a therapist we can only GUESS at why he did x,y or z.
The only thing I think we can safely say is that the demands, loneliness, paranoia and boredom of such a lifestyle (of a global superstar) has only been experienced by a small number of people. And a fairly high %age of them have not coped with it at all.
This book has left a mark on me though. I’ve decided – that’s it. I’m not reading any more books about Elvis. I’m going to put his music on or watch the ’68 TV Special and remember him the right way.