Saturday, September 15, 2012

Careless Love Progress Report

I am in the midst of reading the second volume in Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography of Elvis. The first volume, Last Train to Memphis, ends with Elvis shipping off to Germany and Careless Love picks up with Elvis's arrival there. I've read the first 171 pages, which brings me to April 1964. A lot has already happened in the 5.5 years chronicled thus far. Guralnick addresses Elvis's deeply-rooted insecurity, from his concern that he would be forgotten while in the Army, to his suspicions about various girlfriends' loyalty to him should they dare to speak to one of his friends. His drug use is brought up repeatedly, starting with his amphetamine abuse in the Army and continuing with the addition of sleeping and diet pills in the early '60s. The author is also sure to establish that Elvis was not alone in his use of pills and quotes Elvis's friends and co-stars who confirm that "everyone" took pills. I don't think these quotes are meant to justify Elvis's use, but I suspect that the cooperative nature of the drug abusing will be addressed later, perhaps to explain why Elvis's friends couldn't prevent him from getting more heavily involved with prescription drugs.

Guralnick is also upfront about Elvis's many dates and love affairs with women/girls who were often much younger than he. His relationship with Priscilla comes to be seen as the norm, rather than an anomaly. His relationships with younger women also tie into the vulnerability that was omnipresent within him: it seems like he was more comfortable opening himself up to people who were not a perceived threat to him. He could never open up to the guys because they would just laugh off his concerns and he would lose his advantage over them as the leader of the pack. He couldn't really date women his own age (mid-twenties) because it might get serious fast and then he'd be expected to commit, which clearly he was not ready to do.

Although the reader does see a lot of Elvis's eccentric behavior early on in the book, Guralnick also continues the thread he started in Last Train to Memphis that shows Elvis's commitment to good work and good music and his intellectual curiosity. He writes of the artistic success of Elvis is Back! (even though it wasn't as commercially successful) and the command Elvis has over his recording sessions. I was intrigued to learn that Charlie Hodge had an influence on Elvis's singing style, providing him with informal voice lessons while they were stationed in Germany. I didn't know about Charlie's formal training until I read about it here. His involvement in Elvis's recordings and concert performances makes way more sense within this context.

In every Elvis biography you read about Elvis's disgust with his movies. What Guralnick adds to the discussion is a critique of Elvis's performances and behind-the-scenes business details that reveal how formulaic the films really were and the fact that they were that way on purpose. Hal Wallis and Colonel Parker wanted to make money. Period. They did not expect Academy Award-worthy pictures. While they were making deals, Elvis was listlessly going through the motions to get the movies done. He did the best he could with the material he was given, but the sense of entrapment and defeat is evident in Guralnick's retelling. His dreams of becoming a serious actor seem to have started slipping away. On p. 171, Guralnick quotes an article published in the Las Vegas Desert News and Telegram on April 20, 1964 that "confirmed all of Elvis' worst fears."

Would you believe that Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole owe part of their current success to Elvis Presley? These two brilliant Shakespearean-trained actors, winning worldwide acclaim for their performances in Becket, might not have had the opportunity to star in the picture, were it not for Sir Swivel Hips. ... Producer Hal Wallis, who has made Presley's biggest hits, also produced Becket. And were it not for the revenue from Elvis' movies, there might not have been the wherewithal to film Becket. Says Wallis, "In order to do the artistic pictures, it is necessary to make the commercially successful Presley pictures. But that doesn't mean a Presley picture can't have quality, too."

After reading the article, Elvis "was unhappy and disillusioned, profoundly dissatisfied with the way his life was going." Leading up to this point, the reader gets the impression that the Colonel's and Elvis's priorities have been diverging and, sadly, it seems that the Colonel's priorities are taking precedence. From this point forward, Elvis will be filming "quickie" movies aimed at making money for himself, the Colonel, and the studio. As the reader, you want this to be a turning point where Elvis puts his foot down and starts to determine his own creative path, but because you already know how the story ends, you just feel frustrated and sad for Elvis that he couldn't take charge and make changes in his own life and you understand why his life turned out like it did.

To be continued...


Blofeld's Cat said...

No one will ever change my mind about Charlie Hodge, a talentless yes-man and lackey...Elvis' attachment to this guy was always a mystery to me...their on-stage schtick was always painful, whether it was Elvis saying something vaguely condescending (all in good humor until the shows where Elvis is whacked out of his mind and then you know Elvis really means the jibes he is directing to Charlie) to their ugly gay pantomime during late period shows whenever Elvis sang "Are You Lonesome Tonight" (which was always meant as a distraction if Elvis forgot the words to the song but still....)

Maile Duval said...

Yes, Charlie was a lackey, but now it makes a little more sense (to me) why he was there in the first place. He added something to Elvis's knowledge and repertoire, therefore he was useful to Elvis. At this point of the book, it seems like Red and Charlie are the only ones who actually care about Elvis's music and artistry. Everyone else is there to party and to mooch off of Elvis.

Re: "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" I'm not familiar with what you're talking about, but I do want to clarify that there is nothing wrong with being gay. If Elvis and Charlie were acting inappropriately for a live performance, that is one thing, but being gay is not "ugly."

Blofeld's Cat said...

no no, you misunderstand me. Being gay is not ugly. I meant the schtick that Charlie and Elvis engaged in whenever Elvis sang "Are You Lonesome Tonight".

From what I can tell, this bit of "entertainment" started during 1976, I think in earnest during the last Las Vegas engagement in December (where Elvis was in and out of coherence from show to show), and then during the New Years Eve show (I might have an extra copy of this show available on DVD if you are interested) and then a lot throughout the 1977 shows (it may even be part of the infamous "Elvis in Concert" TV Special). Here is what usually happens: Elvis would start to sing "Are You Lonesome Tonight" and it was always a crap shoot as to whether, at this late, drug-addled stage would remember the words. So Charlie would always start mincing around like an ill-informed person's view of a homosexual, and this would cause Elvis to feign laughter (really, its not funny the first time, but these guys did this night after night, so their laughter is forced and not really fooling anybody) and while Elvis really couldnt remember the words to the song (the long spoken monologue in the middle of the song always caused Elvis trouble especially when Elvis was whacked out of gourd on pharmaceuticals), this schtick of theirs served to allow them to get through the song without really singing it.

Here is a link to a non-professionally recorded video from 1977 - decide for yourself if you dont think this schtick is "ugly" (Elvis is sporting my one of my favorite jumpsuits though):

Maile Duval said...

The video was kind of blurry, but it seemed like they were just goofing around to me. Elvis did look rather bloated, but he sounded better than I expected.

To me it seems more funny than offensive, but maybe that's because I expected much worse.