The world of rock and roll can be divided into two parts – before and after Elvis and Up Close: Elvis Presley tackles the ‘after’ part very well. Written by award-winning author Wilborn Hampton, it features the rise and fall of Elvis Presley who came, who sang, and who dominated the music scene in the 1950s and the 1960s, before losing it all in the 1970s.
At a time when an Elvis biopic is about to be released, featuring Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as his manager Colonel Tom Parker, reading about the King of Rock and Roll would be the best way to know about him. The highlights are known to all who grew up listening to him – that he belonged to the middle-class, drove a truck before becoming famous, and married Priscilla Presley, whom he met when she was just 14 years old. But there is more to Elvis than meets the eye, and this book brings forth all those moments to the readers.
Some might not agree with the author’s thoughtful account of the beloved and controversial Elvis Presley, but the truth is that the music industry in America owes a lot to Elvis. Before he entered the music scene, Frank Sinatra was a big thing both as a singer and an actor, while comedy-duo Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were a rage. However, with the split of Lewis–Martin in the mid-1950s, the American entertainment industry had a vacuum that needed to be filled. Entered Elvis Presley who captured the youth’s hearts and minds with his soulful songs, and hip-shaking that no one had seen before.
Besides making teenagers scream, parents fret and his managers sweat, this biography tells us that Elvis was a youngster who wanted to be famous like James Dean. Since his parents weren’t well to do, they kept moving around in search of work, taking the young Elvis with them. He was always a loner, especially after learning that his twin brother died at birth, and kept to himself even in school. However, after he was bullied around in the black neighborhood they resided in, his parents had enough and moved to Memphis, and stayed in a private housing scheme so that they could bring stability to their only child’s life, which they did.
Two incidents according to this biography changed Elvis’ life – one was going to church with his family on Sundays and the second was being gifted a guitar on his eleventh birthday. Both these events were instrumental in transforming him from a shy kid from Memphis to the King of Rock and Roll in a few years’ time. He not only began taking interest in music but also absorbed all kinds of music that played in the surroundings (beginning from the church) or on the radio. Music gave him wings and he even went on to challenge his music teacher who gave him a C in the subject, labeling him as the one who couldn’t sing. Elvis told the teacher that he could sing, but she didn’t appreciate his kind of singing, and a few years later proved her as well as the whole world wrong.
How Elvis met Sam Phillips, his first mentor, how he formed a band that went on to launch Elvis as a singer, and how Colonel Tom Parker took him under his wings, that’s a story worth a film! The way the author describes the story keeps the readers busy in finding out more as they get to learn a lot from this underdog story. How a trucker from Memphis became a rage all over the world is stuff dreams are made of, and Elvis Presley achieved his dream due to his passion, his work ethic, and above all, by being humble to all.
The writer explains the reasons behind Elvis’s success in these pages as well. He tells the readers that as soon as his ‘hippy’ dance movements, his songs, and his aura became a rage, Elvis’ demand increased all over America. He not only became the most-loved singer but also acted in a handful of films, becoming a Hollywood celebrity as well. It was during the height of his popularity that he was inducted into the Army in the late 1950s, and served in the Army and as Private Presley. During his stint as a soldier, he lost his mother and met Priscilla Presley in Germany and both these events made him a changed man.
According to this book, Elvis was very close to his mother who never left him even when his father was jailed for a forgery when he was young, while meeting Priscilla made him realize that she was the one, and he needed to settle down with her. The writer doesn’t stop here and talks about all the other girls in his life including his first girlfriend and last, alongside the many others who came and went.
Had it been someone else’s career, two years in the army would have derailed it but according to the author, Elvis was not anyone else. When he did return to showbiz after spending two years in the Army, he was a changed man – older, wiser, and mature but by then, The Beatles had taken over the music scene, and Elvis had to introduce new things to his act to attract the audience, such as karate, an act that he picked up from the Army.
Although his career came back on track after multiple hits in the mid-1960s, he started spending more money than he was earning, began to take his friends along as crew, and even fired his manager Colonel Tom Parker after one spat. Although they did patch up a week later, Elvis’ career was going nowhere and this book tackles that aspect in detail.
It also brings forth the story behind Graceland, the dream house that he promised his parents when he was young. Due to the constant moving around, he pledged to buy a house where his parents could live without the fear of being kicked out, and Graceland was that promise fulfilled. It was at this very house where he passed away in August 1977, but that had more to do with his off-stage activities than his music.
The book’s final few pages do tackle the ‘What killed Elvis Presley’ phenomenon as the author blames his affairs, his dependence on drugs, and his growing physique as reasons for his downfall. That’s why his wife Priscilla left him when she saw him unable to control his actions, while his father fired the rest of his team but not after Elvis disapproved of his dad’s remarriage and relocation to Graceland. Whatever killed Elvis, he will be remembered for bringing ‘music’ into the lives of his fans and will be remembered for making a sound that was all his own.