A Southern LifeBook - 2015
It is hard to believe that there would be any fresh takes on a figure as written about as Elvis Presley. Joel Williamson, an eminent Southern historian, has been working on Elvis for over twenty years and in this biography examines Presley as a product of his time and place in Southernculture, as well as the culture of the Southern girls and women who became his first fans.Rather than interpreting him through the lens of the rise of rock 'n roll and its impact on performers, Williamson looks seriously at the roots of Elvis' life, particularly his "country come to city" family, Tupelo and Memphis in the Depression and wartime years, and the ways in which this shapedhis generation of first fans. He discusses how Presley became the subject of unprecedented interest as a figure of sexual desire for people who, by the standards of their time and place, were not supposed to express sexual ecstasy, especially in public.While Elvis could not understand why he and his music were seen as a threat to good morals, he nonetheless took advantage of female sexual desire for him but lived in fear that the public would see him as a lecherous man who got away with a lifestyle of sexual indulgence. While he drew on blackmusic, especially gospel, and popularized it for white audiences, and worked with black musicians, he never took a public stand in the Civil Rights Movement bubbling around him in Memphis and the places around the South where he performed. Williamson notes how the early years of performing set thepattern of Elvis' career, leading to long periods after age 23 when he was not making music of much consequence or performing live, but his fans from the early years remained obsessed with him. In the later part of his career, when he performed regular gigs in Las Vegas and toured second-tiercities, he moved beyond the South to a national audience who had bought his albums and watched his movies, but the makeup of his fan base did not substantially change. Nor did Elvis himself ever move up the Southern class ladder despite his wealth. And, as Williamson notes, many residents of Memphisignored or were ambivalent about the resident of Graceland during his lifetime.Williamson's work does not attempt to displace Peter Guralnick's Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love but offers a highly readable account of the Presley family, especially Gladys and Vernon, their class, their finances, their religion, and the opportunities for men and women of Elvis'generation and region. It is not a tell-all account by someone who was associated with Elvis, but a historically informed biography by a scholar who moved to Memphis to teach in 1964. Through his emotionally powerful biography emerge the good Elvis, the bad Elvis, and the psychopathic Elvis.
Publisher: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 
Branch Call Number: PRESLEY B
Characteristics: xxiii, 368 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm