Divine _ In 5 p Ira tron
On 8 January 1995, the King would have hit 60. It’s a date marked by the publication of several new books and Channel 4 devoting a whole day to Presley programmes. For our own tribute, Alastair Mabbot booked a ticket on The Last Train to Memphis with leading scholar of Elvisology, Peter Guralnick, while four of Scotland’s biggest fans told The List why they still love him tender. Interviews by Kathleen Morgan, Lila Rawlings and Andrew Bumet.
o detached has Elvis the phenomenon become from Elvis the man that in l991 Greil Marcus was able to publish a history of Elvis since his death. Marcus dealt with the myth and how it was free to grow and mutate now that the singer had gone to meet his maker.
But that’s not Peter Guralnick's way. The Massachusetts-based author of Sweet Soul Music, Lost Highway and Searching For Robert Johnson tried to banish all cultural baggage from his mind while he was writing the recent biography Last Train To Memphis. The image Guralnick fixed in his mind was a truck-driving Memphis teenager drumming his fingers on the counter of a drugstore. not a Man of Destiny.
‘lt’s the same as writing about Muddy Waters.’ he claims. ‘He’s seen. as I think he saw himself. as part of this continuum. not better than. certainly not the King. which is a designation he himself never accepted . . . He was very much a part of the spectrum of American music. black and white.’
A blues fan since he was a child. Guralnick was particularly struck by the ‘indefinable thing‘ in this white singer’s voice that connected and bonded him with his audience.
‘lt wasn’t until I was about fifteen that I became really passionate about Elvis’s music. After I got into the blues. I went back and listened to the Sun sides and at that point. 1959. my friend and l conceived of Elvis as a blues singer. That was our fantasy. And I maintained that fantasy for many years. probably at some detriment to Elvis’s own personal ambitions! l have to give him credit; he didn’t want to be a blues singer. he wanted to be many things. What we did. every time we heard a record that wasn’t a blues one. we’d say. “They made him do it." But it transported me in the same way that other music has. I think. if you listen to the Sun sides. nobody could listen to them and say they’re imitative or they’re not unique. They have a purity and a beauty which transcends time and transcends fashion.’
Guralnick is still passionate about Elvis. He
dedicated the last ‘two or three years‘ to Last Train To Memphis. and intends to write a second volume covering the later years of Presley’s life. though he expects it will be a challenge to present the less savoury episodes in the same spirit and context ofthe ‘young. vibrant hopeful’. But there’s a world of difference between a dedicated. responsible biographer and the extreme souls who devote their lives to Elvis. set up shrines and scan The National Enquirer for sightings.
‘lf l was going to start thinking about that too much.’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t have written the book. I think that someone like Sam Cooke. who was almost equal [with Presley] in the culture he grew up in. was an'incredibly inﬂuential figure. died in tragic circumstances and there was enormous griefin the black community. But after he died. they let him go. and to me that seems the appropriate response. Hold on to your memories, but I think beyond that. it‘s unhealthy.‘
So why haven‘t I'ilvis fans all over the world been able to let go'.’ ls it something to do with the American Dream?
‘There’s a world of difference between a dedicated, responsible biographer and the extreme souls who devote their lives to Elvis, set up shrines and scan The National Enquirer for sightings’
‘No. I think it might have something to do with the death of the American Dream. In other words. people should have their own dreams. It’s like when John Lennon died. I was with Joe Tex in Texas the day he died. and we were watching television. and Joe said he was a nice fella and talked about a meeting they'd had. and then turned over to celebrity bowling. The point is. that seemed a more appropriate response than people running around saying. “The dream is dead." No. Your dream is your dream. my dream is my dream. You shouldn't attach yourself to other people‘s identities.’
In any case. I'ilvis isn‘t dead at all. Not that he’s ﬂipping burgers in Reno or even living on an island with Jim Morrison. No. lilvis can only be pronounced dead on the day that cool teenagers stop drumming their lingers on drugstore counters.
‘You can see that kind of kid on the street corner today.‘ concludes (iuralnick. ‘lt’s the same as the kid who’s into hip hop or rap and knows the lyrics to every song. knows the labels they were on. who is totally consumed by music. That’s Elvis. really. no more and no less. Fame doesn‘t confer any special properties.‘ J Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick is published by Little Brown priced £17.99.
BBC] is screening a special tribute concert on Friday 30 December (See TV listings for details). [z'li'is 4-lz't'er starts on (‘hannel 4 on Sunday / January with a series of Elvis ﬁlms (see TV Films for details). The other programmes in the season include: the 1973 concert recording, lz'li'is — Alohafrom Hawaii (Mon 2, 5pm); (1 documentary about the singer in Tinseltown, Elvis in Hollywood (Mon 2, 6.05pm); (1 Without Walls special about Elvis" "lost weekend' when he ended up at the White House meeting Richard Nixon; and Jonathan Ross’ search in America for unusual
lz‘li'is impersonators, Viva lz‘li'is.’ (Mon 2, 1.30am). Illustratitms by lz'ric White from The Two Kings Jesus :9: Elvis, published by Pavilion priced £4. 9‘). lg.
The List 16 December 1994—12 January 1995 7