I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Elvis: A Southern Life by Joel Williamson
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In Elvis Presley: A Southern Life, one of the most admired Southern historians of our time takes on one of the greatest cultural icons of all time. The result is a masterpiece: a vivid, gripping biography, set against the rich backdrop of Southern society--indeed, American society--in the second half of the twentieth century.
Author of The Crucible of Race and William Faulkner and Southern History, Joel Williamson is a renowned historian known for his inimitable and compelling narrative style. In this tour de force biography, he captures the drama of Presley's career set against the popular culture of the post-World War II South. Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley was a contradiction, flamboyant in pegged black pants with pink stripes, yet soft-spoken, respectfully courting a decent girl from church. Then he wandered into Sun Records, and everything changed. "I was scared stiff," Elvis recalled about his first time performing on stage. "Everyone was hollering and I didn't know what they were hollering at." Girls did the hollering--at his snarl and swagger. Williamson calls it "the revolution of the Elvis girls." His fans lived in an intense moment, this generation raised by their mothers while their fathers were away at war, whose lives were transformed by an exodus from the countryside to Southern cities, a postwar culture of consumption, and a striving for upward mobility. They came of age in the era of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, which turned high schools into battlegrounds of race. Explosively, white girls went wild for a white man inspired by and singing black music while "wiggling" erotically. Elvis, Williamson argues, gave his female fans an opportunity to break free from straitlaced Southern society and express themselves sexually, if only for a few hours at a time.
Rather than focusing on Elvis's music and the music industry, Elvis Presley: A Southern Life illuminates the zenith of his career, his period of deepest creativity, which captured a legion of fans and kept them fervently loyal for decades. Williamson shows how Elvis himself changed--and didn't. In the latter part of his career, when he performed regular gigs in Las Vegas and toured second-tier cities, he moved beyond the South to a national audience who had bought his albums and watched his movies. Yet the makeup of his fan base did not substantially change, nor did Elvis himself ever move up the Southern class ladder despite his wealth. Even as he aged and his life was cut short, he maintained his iconic status, becoming arguably larger in death than in life as droves of fans continue to pay homage to him at Graceland.
At first glance, Elvis Presley: A Southern Life is not my thing. I’m not the type of person who wants to know another person’s life because I live by the golden rule. I don’t want people mingling in my business. Therefore, I shall not mingle in theirs. It started out a little boring for me, but I was absorbed in reading it. The first parts were more about Elvis Presley the superstar, what was behind the scenes.
Though, it started with his death. Ain’t that fun? It talked about how Elvis became famous because of his female fans rather than because of his music. It sounded pretty ridiculous to me but if that was the way it happened then so be it. The book talked more about his sex life than I ever want to know. Not just of Elvis’s but of anyone’s. It made me ask Is there more to his life than girls? But then, of course, there’s his childhood. There’s his mother, his father, his school life. I liked those bits where it was about his childhood and those parts about his mother, but then the other parts bored the hell out of me.
As for the biography sense, well, there were parts that were extremely informative – down to exact prices of debt, bills, those kinds of things. But then there also parts where it skipped. I guess you’d only know what happened in those years he disappeared if you were really there with him. It was fair enough of a biography I should say. I have never read one, so I’m not the one to judge, but I didn’t like how the timeline jumps. One page were in the glorious peak of his career, the next we’re back to his sad, dark, hard childhood. I liked the little background for people he met, worked with. Though I can’t say everybody interested me.
Overall, this is a fair one. The writing was good. Three stars.
Reviewed by: Reneth