Review - Careless Love Book

By: David Neale
Source: Books In Print
January 6, 2000

Careless Love
Careless Love
Have you ever picked up a book and, just by the feel of it, known that you are holding something special? Well, that's how I felt when I picked Peter Guralnick's latest Elvis tome, Careless Love, out of its package after it had been delivered by the postman.

Careless Love is, of course, the follow-up to Last Train To Memphis. Together they form perhaps the most significant general review of Elvis' career. Certainly there are similarities between the two volumes: the dust-jacket of Careless Love maintains the black and white moody photo theme of Last Train and the quality is immediately apparent. For me, however, Careless is streets ahead as far as descriptive narrative is concerned.

I disliked the artificial conversations used a lot in Last Train, which seemed to diminish the authenticity of the story. Guralnick has avoided the same pitfall in Careless Love, where he, much more believably, relies on quotes from other publications about Elvis and tracts from his own interviews to back up the ongoing developments. Of these, I especially liked the excerpt from an interview the author had with Billy Goldenberg, when he spoke about working with Elvis on the music for the TV Special in 1968.

The Elvis story has so often seemed to me to be almost Shakespearean in its tragical aspects. Careless Love merely confirms these feelings, with Elvis paralleling Hamlet's manic depression, surrounded by wheelers and dealers. Much in the book has been written before, but this, at last, is a lucid, complete and chronological account. As one progresses through the book, it becomes ever more clear to what extent Elvis was manipulated by all around him, how his talent was largely squandered by a manager whose sole interest was self-glorification and how Elvis, himself, so rarely reacted, but remained quietly professional and did the best with whatever was offered; at the same time he was, equally clearly, seething inside. The book pulls no punches, however, and honestly relates the decline, both personally and professionally, which occurred in the seventies, without resorting to smut or innuendo.

In Careless Love, Guralnick follows Elvis' life from his arrival in Germany in late 1958 to his death in August 1977. I write 'life' rather than simply 'career' because Guralnick offers as much insight into the private side of Elvis as into his public side: he examines his relationships with family and friends honestly and objectively, whilst still being able to follow the career aspects closely and with a great deal of insight. In this latter respect, the recording sessions are dealt with to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the author's appreciation of them (the 'Elvis Is Back' and 'How Great Thou Art Sessions' in some detail, for example, but 'Something For Everybody' and film soundtracks are skipped over or ignored); similarly the space and descriptive effort allocated to the making of the sixties films diminishes noticeably as the book progresses; on the other hand, the almost analytical nature of the chapter devoted to the TV Special is about as good a description as you'll get of the event -- it's exciting to read and makes you reach yet again for the video.

Equally engrossing is the account of the the American Studio recordings, followed by the build-up to Elvis' return to Las Vegas, the triumph that this turned out to be and then on to the Houston Astrodome. The steadily diminishing state of Elvis, both professionally and physically (and mentally?) after the Aloha performance makes for often painful reading, raising again the question of why nobody did anything about it. Guralnick does not attempt to provide answers, however, though he intimates that there really was nothing anyone could have done to prevent what was basically a self-destructive course.

Throughout the book a number of issues keep resurfacing. I might have seemed rather disparaging above, writing about Tom Parker's self-glorification; I still feel that this was largely why Parker acted as he did, but although much of what that man did was, I believe, detrimental to Elvis' career, it becomes apparent in Careless Love just how hard Parker worked toward whatever he considered his own goal was. Another issue is the effect that Elvis had on people who initially had a low opinion of him: examples include the American Studio session players, the Sweet Inspirations, and, perhaps most eloquently described, Joe Guercio, but there are countless others.

Careless Love is propped full of information and anecdotes, much of which was new and extremely interesting to me. And if not new, then in any case all this information is assembled together as an excellent synopsis of everything that we know about the last twenty years of Elvis' life. Copious notes reveal the sources used by Guralnick and these include numerous interviews with individuals who have first-hand knowledge of the information put forward. Of particular interest are the details of the karate film planned by Elvis, based on a recent interview with Linda Thompson, for example.

My only reserve about Careless Love is the unnecessary use of profanity. But other than that, the book is a real must.

Buy Careless love

Careless Love
Author: Peter Guralnick

David Neale
Copyright February 1999

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