Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley
By Peter Guralnick
Aside from the subject of advertising, the largest category in my book collection is biographies.
I’ve read hundreds of them. My favourite genre by far.
So when I say the Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (1994) is one of the best biographies I have ever read – maybe the best – that’s saying something.
Until I read this book, I was a casual Elvis fan. There’s a lot of his music I like and a lot I dislike.
It’s love/hate for me. But this volume turned me into an intensely curious fan. The phenomenon of Presley is irresistible to me.
So much has been written about Elvis you would think there is nothing left to be said or uncovered. But Guralnick is a gifted writer. His take on Elvis is fresh, it sweeps you along with the propulsion of great fiction. As Guralnick says, he wanted to “…keep the story in ‘real’ time, to allow the characters to freely breathe with their own air, to avoid imposing the judgment of another age… with all the homeliness and beauty that everyday life entails.”
It truly feels like you are experiencing the Elvis explosion as it unfolds in real time.
This volume chronicles Elvis from his birth to his induction into the army in 1958. It’s the period many believe to be the most important in Elvis’s short life. We are shown the societal and cultural forces that shape Presley. Why the poverty he was born into was so critical to his story. Guralnick’s research is breathtaking and his eye for detail extraordinary. He interviews hundreds of first-hand participants. There is no gossip. Just startling facts.
Most importantly, Guralnick separates the man from the myth. And I have to tell you something:
The man is so much more interesting than the myth.
You don’t have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy this book. As a matter of fact, it’s a better book if you aren’t a fan. Let the glorious writing and discovery wash over you.
By the way, this is a two-volume book. The second is titled Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley which shadows Elvis coming out of the army until his untimely death at the age of 42. Also a great read.
Top 3 Reasons To Read This Book:
1. It is fascinating to grasp how tragically shy Elvis was as a young man. Sun recording studio owner Sam Phillips said Elvis felt “so inferior.” Yet, from all that insecurity rose a powerful cultural icon.
2. You get an insider’s look at the moment Phillips realizes he can’t take Elvis any further and the circumstances that allowed Colonel Tom Parker to swoop in for the kill.
3. Most of all, Guralnick masterfully tracks the furious success – from that first hit record to Ed Sullivan to Hollywood to the army. The rebel is forced to conform, his beloved mother dies, he is introduced to amphetamines.