The World According To Elvis

Author: Clare Flowers

Publisher: Michael O'Mara Books Limited

ISBN: 1-84317-031-0 (hardback, 162 pp.)

 

"The World According To Elvis" is a small, slim volume with a good-looking cover and dust-jacket, both sporting the same Jailhouse Rock era publicity portrait of the book's subject. The end-papers are a pleasant gold colour, matching Elvis's status, but the binding itself is more reflective of the books's price (RRP: 9.99; US$12.95; Can$17.95), being simple glue with no stitching. First impressions, then, are good.

The book is divided into six broad sections: an introduction, a biography, a closer look at some of the women in Elvis's life, quotes by Elvis, quotes about Elvis, and a combined discography and filmography.

Generally, the biography is a fast run through Elvis's life, with the provision of only the most basic facts and the omission of a great many, an evil made necessary by the extremely limited allotment of just 87 pages of fairly large print.

Not all the "facts" are presented as they should be and the book certainly seems to suffer from a lack of research. The story of Vernon's forgery tells that he changed a $3 to $8, though there seems to be no concrete evidence of the amounts involved and most sources indicate different figures, but no source of this information is provided (as far as I know, only Stanley suggests these amounts). The old chestnut of Elvis winning second prize for his rendition of "Old Shep" at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair is reiterated -- surely we all now know that it was more likely a fifth prize, as Burk, among others have shown through careful and well-documented research? The proposition made by author Clare Flowers that Elvis listened to the music of "blues masters like B B King" in 1946, is a romantic idea and perhaps he did have early access to Blues. However, King only moved to Memphis in May 1946 and did not make his first recordings until 1949, so it is highly unlikely that Elvis was listening to him three years earlier. Elvis's gene background is correctly described as "mixed," but why the author chose to indicate his Jewish background as only a possibility is strange, as there is no doubt that he had Jewish blood through his maternal side, as has been amply documented. There are contradictions in the book itself -- the introduction relates that the Presleys moved from Tupelo to Memphis in November 1948, yet the first chapter indicates that the move was made in September of that year; we are also told that "Elvis signed with the Colonel in March 1956," but just a few pages later read that Parker wooed "Elvis away from Bob Neal and on to a contract with himself, which was finally signed in August [of 1955]."

The previous list is taken from just the first few pages of the biography, which does not become more accurate as it progresses. Even facts that can be so easily checked are erroneously reproduced: Jesse Garon, Elvis's twin, is not buried in the Meditation Garden at Graceland, for example, and not even Elvis's army serial number is incorrectly given as 55310761, when it was in fact 53310761! Far too many errors mar what is otherwise a reasonable if superficial look at Elvis's life and career, but before moving on, I can't resist mentioning an error that made me laugh out loud when I read it: according to Clare Flowers, the country singer Eddie Arnold, who was once managed by Tom Parker, went on to star in the TV series "Green Acres" -- actually, that was Eddie Albert, a completely different person!

Following the biography, a chapter is reserved for a closer examination of four of the women with whom Elvis was associated (Anita Wood, Priscilla Beaulieu, Linda Thompson and Ginger Alden). These are good little character sketches and seem to asses their roles and position in Elvis's life well. This is perhaps the best part of the book.

Two sections of quotes by Elvis and quotes about him by others are next in line. The quotes are certainly interesting (the biography section also contains such quotes, largely appropriate to their place within the biography), but the reader generally has to do without any information about the time or place of the quotes -- only in a few instances are the year of a quote indicated and in even fewer the occasion. Still, a nice little collection.

The final forty pages of the book are little more than fillers, and are listed as a "Discography/Filmography." This section begins with a list of singles, EPs and LPs released during Elvis's lifetime, though the country concerned is not indicated, nor are serial numbers provided. Again, sadly, there are too many errors for this section to be really useful. For example, the budget LP "Flaming Star" is indicated as having been released in 1960 -- heck, most of the songs weren't even recorded then! And what about "Harem Heaven" for a title! Even the track listings are not accurate -- "I'm A Fool," for example, is listed as one of the tracks on the budget LP "Let's Be Friends" (it was "If I'm A Fool (For Loving You)") and a similar error occurs in the track-listing for "Elvis Sings The Wonderful World of Christmas," where "If I Get Home On Christmas Day" becomes "I'll Get Home On Christmas Day" -- and these are only errors noticed in a quick browse through the listing. The list of records is followed by a brief list of Elvis's films, videos and DVDs, but with no more information than the year of original release and title, although a list of songs is included for post-1970 releases. However, the list is far from complete and goes no further than 1992, so is again of little real use.

Who is such a book aimed at? Surely not the Elvis fans who already know more than is included in it, and hopefully not the newer ALLC-era fans, searching for useful material. If it is aimed at the latter, then the material offered is sadly inaccurate and often based on supposition (gained, I sense, largely from other poorly researched biographies, even though reference is made to Garulnick's two-volume masterpiece). Claims that Elvis slept with Elisabeth Stefaniak and that Joe Esposito had genuine Mafia connections, for example, are not backed up with any evidence or additional supporting information, but are simply produced as if they are undoubtedly true, which is hardly fair to those concerned, let alone the reader.

Perhaps the lack of space is to blame for many of the limitations of the biography section. That excuse, however, cannot be used to account for the numerous errors throughout the book, which is such a pity, for I did get the impression when reading it that author Clare Flowers has a certain sympathy for Elvis. Certainly, some parts of the book indicate this: her handling of Tom Parker, her understanding of the role of the women mentioned, and indeed the overall "feel" of the book; the biography is honest and straightforward. Had just a little more care been taken to check the accuracy of the information and to provide at least some supporting evidence in certain cases, "The World According To Elvis" would have been a decent little book.

 

David Neale

copyright May 2003

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