Kirkus Reviews QR Code
CARELESS LOVE by Peter Guralnick

CARELESS LOVE

The Unmaking of Elvis Presley

By Peter Guralnick

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 1999
ISBN: 0-316-33222-4
Publisher: Little, Brown

Guralnick concludes his majestic two-volume biography of Elvis Presley with copious evidence of Elvis’s creative and personal plunge. Last Train to Memphis (1994) brilliantly illuminated the mystery of Elvis’s genius—what it consisted of and where it came from. The unanswered mystery here is how someone who reshaped American culture between 1954 and 1958 could have so completely insulated himself from that culture for most of the rest of his life. After Elvis came out of the army in 1960, he increasingly became a clock-puncher. The times left him behind as he gamely acted in inanely trashy movies and sang inanely trashy songs in order to fulfill contractual commitments. Guralnick meticulously documents manager Colonel Tom Parker’s cutthroat dealings with RCA Records and the movie studios, which resulted in staggering paychecks for both Presley and Parker (by the mid-’70s, Parker was splitting his sole client’s earnings 50—50). While his celebrated 1968 TV special rejuvenated Elvis professionally, the overstuffed-jumpsuit years that followed had few aesthetic or personal high points. Hangers-on tirelessly served the King’s whims, including multiple simultaneous affairs and the incredibly debilitating pharmaceutical habits that eventually did him in. Unconditionally loved by his audiences no matter how bloated, doped up, and incompetent he became, Elvis indulged obsessions with guns and karate and even took a stoned trip to the Oval Office, where he persuaded a bemused President Nixon to make him a federal narcotics agent. As his sometime spiritual advisor and hairdresser Larry Geller puts it, “The outside world was a distant place he ventured out into but never really lived in.” Careless Love is about claustrophobia, insularity, and disintegration: exactly the opposite of the previous volume’s subjects. We miss the cultural context of the 1960s and ’70s, but then, so did Elvis. The diffuseness of this life is reflected in Guralnick’s narrative. Nevertheless, this sequel to his exhilarating first volume is the most meticulously researched and sympathetic, honest portrait of Elvis we are likely to see.