The King may be dead, but the books keep coming. In the 21 years since Elvis Presley's death, on August 16, 1977, a veritable cottage publishing industry has emerged. A year ago, when I was adding to the bulging shelves as co-author (with Peter Harry Brown) of Down at the End of Lonely Street: The Life and Death of Elvis Presley I counted more than 300 titles. And those were just the English-language entries! Why?
Chalk up the interest, in part, to Presley's status in popular culture: he was the pulsating force of a revolution that got a generation all shook up. Then there's the man himself and the enigma. And of course, there is the music. Music is the heart of one of the latest Elvis entries, Elvis Presley: A Life in Music: The Complete Recording Sessions, which is lavishly detailed and illustrated. Written by the authoritative Ernst Jorgensen, the book's revelations range from the obscure (the first Elvis song to boast percussion was I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone ) to the heart-breaking (during his last concert, a slurry and sadly bloated Elvis introduced Are You Lonesome Tonight? and then, as if to answer, said, and I am. . . ).
Jorgensen, an Elvis fan turned director of RCA's Elvis catalogue, also underscores an overlooked Elvis talent as a savvy music producer. As a promoter, no one was more savvy than former carnival huckster Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis's longtime manager, and subject of My Boy Elvis: The Colonel Tom Parker Story (Barricade, $22, 1569801274).
This is the first of a spate of upcoming titles about the colorful Parker, who passed away in 1997, and though some anecdotes related by Sean O'Neal (Elvis Inc: The Fall and Rise of the Presley Empire) are familiar to Presleyphiles, there are new details about the Colonel's early years. O'Neal also adroitly analyzes the Colonel's motives for wanting Elvis to do Army time and details how he masterminded the post-Army career comeback. Elvis's movie career, pre- and post-Army, is the subject of Eric Braun's The Elvis Film Encyclopedia: An Impartial Guide to the Films of Elvis (Overlook Press, $23.95, 0879518146). Actually, it's not all that impartial. In grading the songs from Elvis's films, Braun gives three stars (out of a possible five) to the embarrassing Confidence, from the movie Clambake. And he gives just two stars to Can't Help Falling in Love, the great Presley ballad from Blue Hawaii.
Quibbles with ratings aside, the text is informative, as well as lively. The same can be said for most Elvis movies. Early Elvis is remembered in Elvis, Hank, and Me: Making Musical History on the Louisiana Hayride (St. Martin's, $23.95, 0312185731), in which Horace Logan (with co-author Bill Sloan), recounts his days as producer and emcee of the show, which was broadcast over CBS radio. After bombing at the Grand Ole Opry, a young Elvis found a home away from home at the Shreveport program, which introduced him to much of the country and also featured music legends including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Slim Whitman. Elvis's early career is also recalled in That's Alright, Elvis: The Untold Story of Elvis's First Guitarist and Manager, Scotty Moore (Schirmer, $25, 0028645995), as told to James Dickerson. Way back when, Moore, bass player Bill Black, and Elvis were known as the Blue Moon Boys. From those early days on the road, to his latter-day revival, Moore (a Gibson man) has been a pivotal musical force.
Moving from music to marriage: Child Bride: The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley (Berkley Boulevard Books, $7.50, 0425165442), contradicts the official story delivered by Priscilla in her autobiography. Elvis's famed ex has long maintained that she was a virgin when she finally married The King. Not so per this account, by Suzanne Finstad which relies heavily on the allegations of a former Presley buddy named Currie Grant (who has since been hit with a lawsuit, over his claims, by Priscilla). It was Grant who introduced the 14-year-old schoolgirl to the world's most famous G.I., then 25, and stationed in Germany. But first, says Grant, he coerced the virginal Priscilla into sleeping with him as a kind of payment. As Finstad put it, She had entered into a Faustian pact to meet Elvis. It should be noted that Grant, at the time of the alleged tryst with the teenager, was 28, married, and the father of two.
Along with sex and drugs, this page-turner includes a good cat fight between Priscilla and an Elvis fan complete with screaming and hair-pulling and a National Enquirer-ish ploy, with the use of a voice stress test to determine who's telling the truth, in a tape-recorded encounter between Priscilla and Grant. I still don't know who to believe . . .
On the novelty side, Elvis gets the pop-up treatment in Elvis Remembered: A Three-Dimensional Celebration (Pop-Up Press, $29.95, 1888443456). See Elvis pop-up at the 1956 Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, which marked his landmark return to his hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi. He also cuts quite a 3-D figure in his famous gold lame suit, during his 1968 comeback concert, and during the so-called Jumpsuit Tours. In The Quotable King (Cumberland House, $8.95, 188895244X) Elvis's words pop-out as categorized by Elizabeth McKeon and Linda Everett in chapters such as Early Elvis, Meet the Press, and Elvis on Elvis. There are Elvis's observations on movies ( The only thing that's worse than watching a bad movie is being in one ); his taste in burgers ( I like it done well. I ain't ordering a pet ); and more.
Speaking of more: Due in November is Elvis Presley 1956 (Abrams, $17.95, 0810908999), featuring photos by Marvin Israel. January will see the publication of Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley (Little, Brown, $27.95, 0316332224). This is Peter Guralnick's follow-up to his acclaimed 1994 early Elvis biography, Last Train to Memphis. Also due in January is Colonel Tom Parker: The Carny Who Managed the King, by James Dickerson (Watson-Guptill, $24.95, 0823084213).
Who said Elvis was dead?
Biographer Pat H. Broeske is also a Hollywood reporter who regularly contributes to Entertainment Weekly.