Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happy Birthday, Elvis

(January 8, 1935 - August 16, 1977)
Elvis Presley seemed to have sprung on the world without a history. His emergence in the mid-fifties was so sudden, his music so fresh, his personality so evocative that he could not be labeled. People went crazy. There has never been a mania quite like it. Teenagers went wild with excitement; their parents went wild with anxiety over Elvis's overt sexuality. Girls ripped his car apart; they stripped his clothes off; they were ready to rock and roll. Elvis's celebrity was an amazing American phenomenon, and the entire nation was gripped by it.

Thus begins the slight biography of Elvis Aaron Presley by Bobbie Ann Mason. Simply titled Elvis Presley: a life (2003), Ms. Mason, known for novels such as In Country, Feather Crowns, and The Girl in the Blue Beret, has captured The King and his larger than life life in fewer than 200 pages. 

I bought this book in November at the Kentucky Book Fair and had it autographed (by Ms. Mason, not Elvis). What better day to begin reading it than this, Elvis's 78th birthday. He has been dead for 36 years - almost longer than he was alive - and still the man makes headlines. There is also a party going on today at Graceland in Memphis.

Ms. Mason's book is one in a series of Penguin Lives. The series was a great idea: pair one famous author with one famous subject. So Jane Smiley wrote about Charles Dickens; Carol Shields wrote on Jane Austen; and Nigel Nicolson wrote on Virginia Woolf. Unfortunately the series ended after 33 lives were covered. 

But on this day, Elvis's is the only 'life' that matters.

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