Based on hundreds of interviews and nearly a decade of research, it traces the evolution not just of the man but of the music and of the culture he left utterly transformed, creating a completely fresh portrait of Elvis and his world. These were the years of his improbable self-invention and unprecedented triumphs, when it seemed that everything that Elvis tried succeeded wildly. There was scarcely a cloud in sight through this period until, in , he was drafted into the army and his mother died shortly thereafter.
The book closes on that somber and poignant note. Last Train to Memphis takes us deep inside Elvis' life, exploring his lifelong passion for music of every sort from blues and gospel to Bing Crosby and Mario Lanza , his compelling affection for his family, and his intimate relationships with girlfriends, mentors, band members, professional associates, and friends. It shows us the loneliness, the trustfulness, the voracious appetite for experience, and above all the unshakable, almost mystical faith that Elvis had in himself and his music.
Drawing frequently on Elvis' own words and on the recollections of those closest to him, the book offers an emotional, complex portrait of young Elvis Presley with a depth and dimension that for the first time allow his extraordinary accomplishments to ring true. Peter Guralnick has given us a previously unseen world, a rich panoply of people and events that illuminate an achievement, a place, and a time as never revealed before.
Written with grace, humor, and affection, Last Train to Memphis has been hailed as the definitive biography of Elvis Presley. It is the first to set aside the myths and focus on Elvis' humanity in a way that has yet to be duplicated. Help Centre. My Wishlist Sign In Join. Be the first to write a review. Add to Wishlist.
Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley
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The first of two volumes of what is clearly intended to be a definitive biography, it stops on 22 September , with the year-old Presley - as yet unspoilt by Hollywood and Las Vegas - waving to thousands of weeping fans from the deck of the USS General Randall before setting sail for Germany and service with the Second Armored Division. In other words, having dealt with Presley's childhood and adolescence in 88 pages, Peter Guralnick spends the next taking us from 'That's All Right, Mama' to King Creole, a matter of a mere four years.
In some quarters, this may be thought excessively diligent. But for the author of several highly regarded books of essays on the blues and country musicians of the Southern states, it is an attempt to tell the biggest story of all. Only Elvis Presley incarnates the perfect union of blues and country, of the black experience and the white, which is at the heart of Southern music and which, it must be said, lit the fuse of the entire pop culture phenomenon. Beyond its singular qualities, his career can be seen as the mechanism through which black culture began to colonise the world's sub-conscious, a complex and still emerging process of payback for slavery.
In which case, it is probably worth a closer look. The problem for Guralnick is that any reasonably committed Presley fan already has a shelf of books devoted to the subject, ranging in scope and quality from Elvis and Gladys, Elaine Dundy's portrait of the singer's close relationship with his mother, to something called The Death of Elvis: What Really Happened. Jerry Hopkins had the first serious bite at the story, with Elvis in , six years before the subject's death; a decade later, under the same title, Albert Goldman produced a notorious page effusion of bile and prejudice.
For a visual record, there are Alfred Wertheimer's fine photographs in the essential Elvis '56, reissued this month Pimlico, pounds 9. There are books devoted to studies of his house, his military service, his movie career, his marriage, his manager, his first record label, his medical history, even his posthumous role in American myth Greil Marcus's Dead Elvis. Do we really need another book capable of telling us as Guralnick does that Elvis wore pink trousers with a blue stripe on the day he recorded 'Heartbreak Hotel'?
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What's left? Using - as 50 pages of footnotes dutifully attest - a range of newly acquired testimony as well as all the available material, Guralnick has chosen to narrow the focus. A decent, scrupulous man, he seems to have decided to tell the story from a standpoint as intimate as possible without resorting to prurient inquiry or speculation.
We are in the room with Presley for most of these odd pages, seeing and hearing things as he experienced them, aware of the world's gathering interest only as something beyond the footlights or outside the mansion gates. Nevertheless, a single glimpse of Elvis caught by a girlfriend watching porn movies with his Memphis pals is virtually the only explicit indication of seriously unbuttoned behaviour.
The sheer mass of evidence seems to have suffocated the narrative, leaving the reader to supply the dynamic. Guralnick's purpose seems to have been to rescue Presley's corpse from the poisoned embrace of Goldman, who left little doubt that he viewed his subject as a retarded, perverted, racist slob responsible for popularising an art form no more elevated than greetings-card verse. Only one of these descriptions will coincide with the mature recollection of those who, in , heard in the bleak, shivering 'Heartbreak Hotel' an irresistible message from a new world.
Guralnick never loses his grip on the priorities. He didn't care if there were little mistakes, he was interested in anything that would make magic out of a record. The sessions were fun, there was great energy, he was always doing something that was innovative.
Paradoxically, though, a shorter book - one less intent on compiling information - might have given Guralnick greater scope to get to grips with the really big issues. At this stage, for instance, it is probably less useful to be told about the pink trousers than to be given an informed view of the relationship - by no means straightforward - between the races in the Mississippi of Presley's boyhood.
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Still, Guralnick effectively dismisses Goldman's charges of racism, demonstrating both that Presley admired black singers and that they recognised not just his ability but the good deed he was doing. The author identifies the key decisions made by Presley's manager, the idiosyncratic 'Colonel' Tom Parker, to reduce the status of Presley's two fellow musicians, the guitarist Scotty Moore and the bassist Bill Black, by putting them on salary, and, by concentrating on breaking into TV and movies, to build 'a career that would last, a career that could survive musical trends, which inevitably come and go, while permitting an incandescent talent to shine'.
As a heretic who listens as happily to 'Surrender' as to 'Mystery Train' and actually prefers 'His Latest Flame' to 'My Baby Left Me', I await the arrival of the final volume - scheduled for - with even more interest, and only slightly lowered expectations.
Last Train To Memphis by Guralnick, Peter
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