Not a Pulitzer price winner (but I would buy it again)
For months now, picture previews, special launched websites and cheering news updates made sure that we wouldn’t forget to pick up a copy of “Elvis By The Presleys – the Book”. Last Friday, I had mine at home.
Although I’m in the news paper business myself, and therefore somewhat immune for over-enthusiastic news bulletins, I have to confess that I counted the days to finally get my hand on The Much Talked About Book, the first joint venture as it were, of Lisa and Priscilla. After all, wasn’t this what the official website said: “Elvis By the Presleys is a unique fascinating treasure and serves as the essential companion to a major tv special…” Unique. Fascinating. Treasure. Essential…. I mean: what more does a fan need to be persuaded? And there’s more where this came from: “In all, the book is the compelling result of a historic gathering of voices of those who not only witnessed from the wings Elvis Presley’s public life, but also knew the superstar out of the spotlight.” What this actually means is: if you don’t buy this book, it’s your loss. So, there were my 19,50 euros (I know where to buy them cheap ;-)) and here was my book.
Let me first start by giving my personal view on the cover… I’m sure that somebody has a scientific explanation as to why the general public will buy a dull cover with a piano keyboard, three small familiar pictures and an old man’s reading glasses – but I can’t find one. To put it mildly: the cover is not a Pulitzer price winner, far from. But it’s the content that counts, right?
With the words “unique” and “historic” still in the back of my mind, I ran thru the book looking (hoping) to find the ultimate treasure. Knowing that Ed Bonja once told me that Graceland has at least 3,000 unreleased pictures of Elvis – I wanted to know what I had missed all those years. Sorry to disappoint you, but if you’re looking for great seventies pix, you just came to the wrong place. I found… two. One on page 203: black and white, Elvis pictured from the back and to blurry to call it a quality shot. And another on page 200: admitted, that’s a great shot of Our Man on stage in 1969. But that’s all, there’s no more. My mistake probably: it’s supposed to be a book about the “man” Elvis, not the legend. But strange as it may seem, I didn’t find too many pictures of that either. Of course we all know the family pictures of Elvis in the green chair, little Lisa on his lap and Priscilla next to him, but I wouldn’t exactly call those “unique”. Then the strangest thing happened: what I did see, were pictures that I really didn’t want to see. Lisa’s baby plate with Disney pictures, an (empty) cigarette case, a clock radio (11:02 am) top view of a case of Mountain Valley spring water, 3 cigars, a bullet from Elvis’s Colt .45, diving glasses, a pair of baby shoes, a child’s bicycle, and a matchbook from the Sahara hotel (1962). All full page pictures, in color. A bit disappointing for the ultimate “historic gathering”, remember the synopsis? But fair is fair: I did see a few interesting pictures as well. Dodger’s glasses in close-up (they look funky, man!), the last record Elvis played (“a Stamps acetate”) and a scarf, signed: “To Yisa, Long Beach Arena. I Love my Yisa. Daddy, Wednesday Nov 15, 1972”.
Private pictures of Elvis and Priscilla: don’t be too excited about those either. There are a few, five or so, but that’s about it. I know for a fact that there are many more private pictures of Elvis – the father and husband – out there, but Priscilla apparently didn’t want them to be released yet. There just may be a sequel to the book, you never know… If they do put out a sequel, let’s hope that at least they correct some of the mistakes in the book. Have a look at the bottom picture on page 85: never knew that Vernon and Priscilla’s father were identical twins.
But, let’s skip the picture part – although that’s half of the book – and go to the interviews. It’s clear that the editor, David Ritz, used the DVD-interviews as only source for the book. The advantage is that the written part is easy to understand for non-English speaking fans. People interviewed on film, for some reason always use an easy-to-understand vocabulary. The effect of knowing that all the producers are looking for are SoundBits, probably. On the other side, the book never gets any depth. If Lisa Marie decides not to talk about the subject – that’s exactly what she does: not talk about it. For instance; she was barely 9 when Elvis passed away. That traumatic night must have left a big imprint on her youth – so I turned to the last chapter… only to find two quotes: one of Priscilla (“the last year of his life was rough, and we underestimated his emotional pain”) and one of Patsy Presley (“People will continue to listen to him, no matter what”). Not a word on how little Lisa remembers the first hours of her life after Elvis, and how she must have felt in the eye of the storm.
Most quotes in the book are not really revealing. It’s as if Lisa, Priscilla and Patsy only seem to confirm what has been written over and over. Although I did laugh out loud when I read about Dodger. Lisa is quoted as follows: “The woman was hysterically funny. She’d insult anyone who’d come within a five mile radius of her. People feared her. Among the fans, she even got a little famous. One fan asked her: “Aren’t you Aunt Delta?” “Hell no”, she snapped back, “Aunt Delta is dead. The old hag died last night.” Don’t know about you – but I find it incredibly funny! I can almost hear her say it. I just wish there were more of those memories that we, the die hard fans, haven’t heard before.
Going thru the book backwards, my eye fell on the very first sentence of the very first quote (page 3): “Who can think of Elvis without thinking of Graceland? Walk through the front door and you feel him. To understand Elvis – the real Elvis – is to see him, in his truest element. That’s Graceland.” It could have been the opening line of the Graceland Guide Book. But maybe that’s what this book actually is: a well packed invitation to come to Graceland, an encouragement to keep the business going. No harm in that. I just wish they’d simply say so, and stop calling the book the compelling result of a historic gathering…
Final conclusion: If I sound disappointed, that’s because my expectations were too high. It would’ve been a different ball game had they not announced this book as a must-have, a document you can’t live without. Sometimes, honesty works miracles.
For those on the doubting side: no collection can really do without “the” book by Lisa and Priscilla – only because of the names of the co-writers. But once read “Elvis By the Presleys” probably never leaves the shelf again. And 20 euros is not really a bad deal for a hard cover Elvis book with 240 pages, is it?