Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Pub. Crawl

By Leonard Gill

AUGUST 11, 1997:  You already know Elvisis everywhere, and you might say the same of the 300-odd booksthat have been written on the King by courtiers, cult followers,and iconoclasts -- by anyone, in short, convinced they're castingfrom some fresh angle and by publishers convinced they shouldcash in on it. Here's a partial run-down, then, of 1997's bumpercrop of August titles to go with upcoming author sightings andsignings in Memphis bookstores.

You have to admire aman who contributed as much as anyone to Elvis Presley's earlysound and then insists that his autobiography be written in thethird person "so that people would not think he was tryingto be something he was not." That man is lead guitaristScotty Moore, and That's Alright, Elvis ("as toldto" James Dickerson) is his story, pre-, amid-, andpost-Elvis. Moore has, justifiably, some bones to pick here, butanti-Elvis this book is not -- except when it comes to Moore'spath-breaking playing. The "idea of using [the] guitar toprovide counterpoint to the vocalist was a radical concept inpopular recording at that time," and even Moore recognizesthat "his sparse, but often breathless solos, ... cried outwith a voice of their own." Keith Richards said,"Everyone else wanted to be Elvis -- I wanted to be ScottyMoore." That's Alright, Elvis shows you why, and it'salright, Scotty, to sometimes toot your own horn.

In Elvis: In the Twilight of Memory,June Juanico isn't out to credit herself either, but creditherself she does by keeping this memoir of her romance with Elvisas up-front as possible without being an utter embarrassment toher husband and children. The year was 1955. June was 17 andself-possessed. Elvis was 20 and on the verge of mega-stardom.And, to go by the book's jacket, theirs was "a summer idyllof romance and playful fun ... a last stop of innocence on thepath to self-destruction." A last stop of innocence it musthave been if we can believe that Juanico shared Elvis' bed butkept a pillow between her legs out of habit, or kept herunderpants on during a nighttime swim out of modesty. As for thepath to self-destruction, Juanico saw things clearly enough tocall it quits the following year: Elvis' roving eye and already"strange world" were one thing. But a man who insistson a breakfast of rock-solid fried eggs and bacon burned to acrisp cannot be long for this world.

Since there's no accounting for taste,there can't be any accounting for the growing taste for ElvisPresley as fit subject for philosophical speculation. One doescome across titles even in this area, however, that are lessinsane, less unreadable than others. Gilbert Rodman's Elvisafter Elvis may trade in fancy jargon (Elvis as a "pointof articulation" for what seems like everything but thekitchen sink), but he writes clearly (!) and persuasively (!!) ofmatters dear to any post-structuralist's, but no one else's,heart.

In Search of Elvis,edited by Vernon Chadwick, collects the papers presented at1995's first annual International Conference on Elvis Presley,and, as Chadwick can't help reminding us, "one of the mostpublicized and controversial academic conferences onrecord." That may be so (and so what?), and it may be thatthis is a fine and useful book. After making it all the way topage four of Chadwick's Introduction -- in which "Elvis, thepersonification of contemporary media culture and the newsocieties and organizing principles arising from mass media andtechnology, solicits a new critical media literacy thatrecognizes the powerful cultural pedagogy constituted byinformation and entertainment" -- I do know that I'm toostupid to get it but smart enough to know I'm licked. Case, andbook, closed.

On the inexhaustible topic of Elvisimpersonation, however, professor of English William McCranorHenderson wisely drops the theorizing and goes native. His I,Elvis is a firsthand account of what it took and took out ofhim to fail miserably as a "counterfeit King," toldthroughout with self-mocking humor and a renewed respect for hisbetters. Journalist Leslie Rubinkowski covers much the sameterritory in Impersonating Elvis, without herself going sofar as donning the jumpsuit or fright wig. What she does succeedin getting at in this landscape of dreams are the hopes,frustrations, and victories of the dreamers. A good report fromthe field -- and equally good report on human nature.

If your idea of a good time is areligious pilgrimage, your guide to any and all things Elvis andMemphis must be Memphis Elvis-Style. This obvious labor oflove (or is it obsession?) comes to us from the writing team ofCindy Hazen and Mike Freeman, who have left no corner unturned orvacant lot unvisited in their quest for addresses once set footor laid eyes on by Elvis, family, or associates.

Hazen and Freeman give us Elvis'hometown; The Complete Idiot's Guide to Elvis by FrankCoffey, Elvis and the world. But don't let the title put you off.You can admit either to being an idiot and enjoy leafing throughCoffey's breezy but informative primer, or turn to yet anotherfull-length biography, Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske's Downat the End of Lonely Street, which, drawing on"documents only recently made public" and interviewswith friends "who have now broken their silence,"weighed in too heavily for this reviewer. Call me a completeidiot.


Weekly Wire Suggested Links

Page Back Current Issue Page Forward

Books: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Weekly Wire    © 1995-99 DesertNet, LLC . Memphis Flyer . Info Booth . Powered by Dispatch