For no particular reason outside of needing more books to read, I've recently been reading two biographies about fat guys. Elvis: The Final Years by Jerry Hopkins is rather self-explanatory, yet incredibly interesting to me, since I have no real knowledge of Elvis' material.
Well, actually, I shouldn't say that I'm completely ignorant of the King. My mind works like a sponge when it comes to pop culture trivia, so of course I've sucked up some bits about Elvis. Before reading this (somewhat) authorized biography, I knew he had a couple songs – “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog” that either created movies or arose out of them. I knew that when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, he had to be filmed from the waist up because his dance moves were too scandalous for the audience at home. I knew that he had Colonel Parker, a flashy, entertaining promoter, who was kind of like the white Don King.
Whenever I'm reading a biography, I always look for a balanced account of a person, and Hopkins' fares pretty well in this regard. While he is very detailed about Elvis' generosity, it doesn't seem over-the-top, and it is balanced with all the pill binges and temper tantrums from his final years. Hopkins does his best to break up the cyclical nature of a music biography – go to town, perform, go to next town, perform, rest, etc. – with stories about Elvis' early days and his excess.
For example, instead of starting out with mundane details about Elvis' life growing up and military service, Hopkins gives the background and sets the scene for the King's famous meeting with the nastiest U.S. President of all-time, Richard Nixon. (For more on Nixon, read anything by Hunter S. Thompson from the 1970s. Nixon will always be my famous president because of all the sleazy things he did; there is sort of a sad humor to it all.) Elvis arranged the meeting with Nixon to offer his services as a sort of double-agent, able to infiltrate the music industry to help curb rampant illegal drug usage and anti-Americanism. The irony is that Elvis was almost surely on quite the drug cocktail himself at the time, albeit a vaguely-legal one, since his many uppers and downers were all prescribed.
The Elvis book really shines when it tells these sorts of stories, and I also enjoyed how it sprinkled in little tidbits and anecdotes in the context of the times. Whenever Elvis performed, janitors would have to deal with hundreds of pairs of soiled underwear left behind by the female audience members, which is hilarious to the seven-year-old part of my humor. Also interesting was the description of an Elvis “record” production. On any given record in the 1970s, only a few songs would be true originals, and almost none would feature just Elvis singing. Almost every record was comprised primarily of material first recorded by other artists, or featured songs that Elvis had already recorded decades ago. The money-making schemes by artists of today are nothing compared to Elvis and Colonel Parker.
The other biography is a bit more by the numbers and traditional, but since the topic is Alfred Hitchcock, it is still an engrossing read. It is more than 600 pages though, densely packed with information in standard type, so it is slow going through it. I've finished about 200 pages in two days, a slow pace for me, and Hitch still hasn't made it to America, so there has been no reference to the films I actually know of – The Birds, Psycho and North by Northwest. Reading about his British films is interesting – I now want to check out The Man Who Knew Too Much, for example – but I still do have a sense of “When do I get to the good stuff?” hanging over my reading. I'm willing to stick with it for now, primarily because the remaining library books I have out are kind of fluffy books about some of the worst films of all-time.