LAST TRAIN TO MEMPHIS by Peter Guralnick


The Rise of Elvis Presley
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 The first volume of two in what is bound to be the definitive biography of the King. Whereas Albert Goldman, in his infamous trash biography (Elvis, 1981), served up an overstuffed, doped-up Elvis in a one- sided portrait of an American nightmare, Guralnick (Sweet Soul Music, 1986, etc.) takes a more sensible and sensitive approach, tracing the roots of an American dream. The son of a ne'er-do-well father and an unnaturally devoted mother, an only child whose twin brother died at birth, Elvis grew up sheltered and alone. The fact that his father made little attempt to lift his family out of poverty turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because they remained just one tiny rung up the social ladder from their black neighbors--and their music. From an early age, Elvis heard and admired gospel and rhythm and blues. Amazingly, his own style seems to have emerged full-grown; he took only a few guitar lessons, performed little in high school, and to all outward appearances was ``beyond shy,'' in the words of his first producer, Sam Phillips. Thanks to Phillips, who patiently oversaw his first sessions, the real Elvis quickly emerged: a dynamic performer who knew instinctively how to bring his audience to a frenzy and rapidly became a star. Guralnick perfectly captures Elvis's mixture of naãvetÇ and shrewdness: He carried a joy buzzer to his first meeting with RCA executives but also carefully practiced every stage movement for maximum effect. Still, Elvis repeatedly expressed his fears that he would ``go out like a light, just like I came on.'' This volume ends in 1958, when Elvis was inducted into the Army and his beloved mother died. The year marked the end of a youthful innocence and the beginning of a long and sorry decline. A serious, musically literate, and historically attuned biography. An American epic that belongs on every bookshelf. (20 b&w photos) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1994
ISBN: 0-316-33220-8
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1994


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