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Elvis book review

Jim Colyer

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I made a study of Elvis Presley around the tenth anniversary of his death. I read 20 books, watched his movies and bought his records. I took a certain knowledge of the Elvis story into this book. It is always good to read about Elvis. It is almost supernatural, the way he comes to life in his biographies.

Pamela Clarke Keogh speaks of Elvis in mythological tones. We feel her wonder as she documents the lure of Beale Street in Memphis. Young Elvis was like everyone, and yet different. He wanted to be different. He wore flashy clothes and long hair to be noticed.

Keogh came up with 100 photos from the Graceland archives. She is conscious of clothes and fashion. It is obvious that a woman wrote this book.

It was Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis who discovered Elvis. Phillips was a southern gentleman with a high opinion of himself. He was a little crazy. His death in 2003 went virtually unreported. I learned of it through a small piece in a magazine I was thumbing through at the V.A. hospital.

The Sun Record label is curious. It is round and yellow, a likeness of the sun. There are rays and a rooster crowing in the morning. Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Phillps put Elvis with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black in the summer of 1954. Elvis was trying ballads, obviously the wrong material. Things happened when he stumbled into an old blues song. It was fast and rhythmic and presented Elvis' voice in such a way that it came across.

Elvis and his combo began touring the south. Drummer D.J. Fontana had played strip joints and applied stripper drum licks to what Elvis was doing. Girls ate it up. Keogh calls it the "dawn of the modern era."

She conveys a feeling of destiny about Elvis. He was larger than life, this shy Memphis kid who became the biggest star of all-time.

There are no surprises in her book. Reading it is like listening to a favorite song we have not heard in a long time.

Elvis is contagious. I do a lot of his songs karaoke. It is like his spirit comes into me. I start talking like him and cannot stop. We are all Elvises now.

Keogh's book reads like a romance novel. She is sentimental. Elvis becomes a fictional character. Keogh dwells on his wardrobe. She tells us what he was wearing for this or that show.

Elvis played Las Vegas, in May, 1956, promoted as "The Atomic Powered Singer. Our fascination with the atomic bomb was at its pinnacle. Elvis bombed. His audience at the New Frontier was old and stuffy.

Elvis appealed to teenagers and kids, those with no memory of World War II, Nazis or Hiroshima. He created the generation gap.

Elvis recorded Hound Dog in New York. That song changed everything. 31 takes were done. Elvis crouched on the floor listening to number 31. "That's the one," he said.

I recall hearing Hound Dog on the radio while on the truck with my father. Chills ran down my spine. I asked my father who Elvis Presley was. He said, "Some guy in a leather jacket."

Keogh portrays Elvis as a Greek god. She decries the Steve Allen farce. Allen was a jerk anyway. Elvis was naive and candid. He only wanted to sing.

Elvis was drafted into the Army at the peak of his popularity and ended up in Bad Nauheim, Germany. Keogh writes that he was "strac." It is an army term for a man who looks good in uniform. I was called "strac" by the guys in my platoon in Bamberg. It was in jest. I was sloppy, my fatigues wrinkled, my boots never polished. Elvis and his future wife Priscilla met in Germany. Keogh calls Elvis and Priscilla "opposite-sex versions of each other."

She peppers her narrative with anecdotes, like the time Elvis took Priscilla shopping and had her stage a fashion show for his grandmother. Priscilla was Elvis' doll, and he dressed her as he pleased.

Viva Las Vegas was the last movie which can be justified. Keogh calls Elvis and Ann-Margret soul mates and suggests that she was the love of his life.

Keogh creates dialogue for her scenarios. It may be real or made-up. She dramatizes the meeting between Elvis and The Beatles. She takes us there. No one recorded the 30 minute jam session, and no pictures were taken.

We sense Keogh's own Elvis fantasies. She is aware of the King's southern charm and sexuality. He was a magnet for women.

In 1969, Elvis again recorded in Memphis. The sessions produced Suspicious Minds. Elvis had changed. So had America, and Las Vegas was ready for him. He became a fixture at the International Hotel in the era of high collars and jumpsuits. Keogh calls him a lone gladiator. She cannot resist telling what the band wore, the back-up singers, even women in the audience. They looked like stewardesses, flight attendants, as we call them now. Elvis was back on the road, city to city, for the remainder of his life. Every concert ended with Can't Help Falling In Love, and he never did encores.

42 is young unless you are an athlete or a rock star. Elvis Presley was not meant for middle-age. He died at 42, overweight and hooked on prescription drugs. His girl friend was 20. There is a lesson to be learned. It is that each stage of life demands a transition, an adjustment to a new level of maturity. That is the only way to keep going. Suddenly, we are senior citizens, and our roles are deeper. If Elvis had fired his manager and taken a supporting role in the Barbara Streisand movie, he may have become the serious actor he always wanted to be and found that much more to live for.

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