Chronicling the King

Rather than destroying myths or projecting his opinion onto historical events, Guralnick wants readers to look at Elvis's life and accomplishments with fresh eyes, taking for granted none of the acknowledged earmarks of his career. "I wanted to set aside other people's preconceptions, and most of all I wanted to set aside my own preconceptions. Let's say you assume that Elvis's primary influence is blues and rhythm-and-blues. It's a question of not taking that on faith. You may eventually come out with the same view, but you want to look at it as if nobody had ever written that before -- as if you'd never thought of it before. And a big thing I wanted to do was to avoid any sort of retrospective judgments. I didn't want to come up with these kind of I-told-you-so's."

Guralnick says he will apply those same principles to his next book, which will trace the remainder of Presley's life: his 1959 stint in the army, his 1960s film work, his triumphant television comeback of 1968, his marriage and divorce, the endless concert tours, and his 1977 death. He'll begin writing in January and expects to have the volume finished in two years.

For many critics and rock fans, these are Presley's worst years. They include the string of abysmal film roles in such dead-on-arrival frivolities as Clambake and Kissin' Cousins; the music which, according to naysayers, contained little of the hell-bent rebellion and blues-singed firepower of Elvis' early work; and the spectacle of a paunchy, muttonchopped showman, draped in sequined capes and gaudy jump suits. It is an era through which many claim the singer sleepwalked, wasted on a litany of prescribed pharmaceuticals, ambivalent to his artistic decline. Guralnick hopes to prove otherwise.

"The greatest challenge in the second volume will be keeping Elvis at the center," Guralnick explains. "I'll have to maintain Elvis's perspective and try to see it as he saw it, whether it was with blurred vision or not. I'm going to try and focus on his aspirations. The idea of aspirations is central to me, and the idea that, if you don't fully succeed in your aspirations, you have failed. Well, nobody fully succeeds in their aspirations, and failure is not a condemnation in my mind. But I think it's important to focus on what anybody is trying to do to get a sense of who they really are. And in that light the end is just terribly, terribly sad, when you see this guy so alone, so unhappy, so abandoned. It's a sad, deeply tragic tale, but it can't be any of those things if there were no aspirations.

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