Picks and Pans Review: Elvis

updated 12/07/1981 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/07/1981 01:00AM

by Albert Goldman

He was a mama's boy, soft, spoiled; an untrained musician who could play only a few simple chords he had taught himself on a cheap guitar. He was a loner who craved acceptance, and he lifted much of his music from black entertainers. Still, by the time his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, found him, Elvis Presley was on the way. But because he was not very bright, he was putty in the Colonel's manipulative hands. This big biography by Goldman—author of Ladies and Gentlemen—Lenny Bruce!!—is based on interviews with many Presley intimates, though Parker himself did not cooperate. It is lively despite its bulk (598 pages) and certainly the best of the books about Presley that have been published since his death. The entertainer's dark side is revealed—his odd sexual preferences, the bizarre formal courtship of Priscilla, unsavory hangers-on, profligate spending of millions, violence and his terrible last years as a drug-ridden, bloated hulk. The most interesting scene is an encounter between Elvis and the Beatles in Hollywood, where they had a private jam session. The Beatles admired him; Elvis seemed peevish and jealous of their success and met them only reluctantly. Goldman proceeds full throttle after every one of the ugly details, and their accumulation is acutely depressing—especially for anyone who was ever a fan of the crude, rocking young Tennessean in blue suede shoes. (McGraw-Hill, $14.95)

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