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|BEING ELVIS...A LONELY LIFE
March 20, 2017 - USA Today / Elvis Express Radio
Being Elvis meant being a bundle of contradictions.
The singer could reduce a crowd of teenage girls to a weepy, screaming mess with his instinctive, provocative performances, then be confused by their strong reaction.
He revered his parents and would share a home with them throughout his life, but proved to be a reluctant and unfaithful husband.
He carried on a fantasy career in law enforcement, unironically flashing the badge of a federal narcotics agent bestowed upon him by Richard Nixon, while simultaneously gorging
on prescription painkillers.
He rarely had a moment of solitude, surrounded around the clock by a “Memphis Mafia” of pals on his payroll, yet led a profoundly isolated and often unremarkable life, as detailed
in the latest Elvis Presley biography, Being Elvis: A Lonely Life (Liveright, 326 pp., *** out of four stars).
British rock journalist Ray Connolly’s retelling of the Elvis mythology is a largely sympathetic and exceptionally well-written account that covers mostly familiar territory (his humble
birth in a two-room shack in Tupelo, Miss., his explosive rise to fame, his polyester jumpsuit-clad Vegas comeback) while casually dropping in nuggets about the webbed toes Elvis
had on one foot or his decision to skip his father’s second wedding to go water-skiing.
Aimed more at the casual fan than the Elvis enthusiast — it's less than a third the length of Peter Guralnick’s definitive two-part Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love biography
— Being Elvis is a breezy read that gives some aspects of his story short shrift. For example, the evening Elvis met The Beatles at his Bel Air home in 1965 is the subject of an
entire chapter, while his intense relationship with co-star Ann-Margret, which nearly derailed his commitment to future bride Priscilla Beaulieu, is mentioned glancingly.
The regrets and failures are laid out baldly: Elvis longed to be a movie star well before his success as a singer made it inevitable, yet he remained embarrassed throughout his life
by his trifling film career. His music publishing deal, which rewarded him for recording songs by writers who would sign away a hefty share of their royalties, saddled him with subpar
and even disastrously bad material for most of the ‘60s.
Connolly makes it clear that Presley recognized he was trapped by his own life as early as 1957 and repeatedly takes the icon to task for meekly allowing his controlling manager
Colonel Tom Parker to destroy his rock ‘n’ roll credibility even as he fattened both their bank accounts. But when the story takes a free fall into Elvis’ despair and disturbing drug
dependency, the joy is sucked out altogether.
“I’m just so tired of being Elvis Presley,” he would say in the final months of his life, while simultaneously fretting that fans might soon forget him when he’s gone.
Forty years hence, the absurdity of his insecurities is apparent, of course: It’s difficult to imagine Paul McCartney or Bob Dylan approaching their last days with lingering doubts
But like every other aspect of his extraordinary career, this was a trail Elvis blazed alone.