January 8th is Elvis Presley’s birthday. Born in a two-room house in Tupelo Mississippi, Elvis changed the face of American music with his distinctive voice and style, an electrifying mash-up of blues, rock, country and gospel, only to succumbed to the ravages of fame and years of prescription drug abuse. The world mourned his early death at age 42.
Being a cultural icon, a tremendous number of books have been written about “The King.” Here are some noteworthy titles:
Peter Guralnick’s masterful two-part biography of Elvis Presley has been called the “finest rock-and-roll biography ever written.” Part one Last Train to Memphis chronicles the first 24 years of his life, from early childhood to rising stardom. Part two Careless Love starts with his stint in the Army and continues to the tragic end. This definitive biography pierces through the layers of super-stardom and finds the essence of Elvis, a man full of ambition and humility, whose love of music became sidelined by the growing demands of celebrity-hood.
If a two-part biography that clocks in at over 1,200 pages sounds too daunting, a good alternative is the 178-page Elvis Presley: A Life by Bobbie Ann Mason, a Southern novelist (In Country is a personal favorite) who grew up listening to Elvis on the Memphis radio stations. This brief book is an engaging read for those who just want the highlights of Elvis’s life.
Watching clips of Elvis’s frenzied performance on the Ed Sullivan Show is just as captivating now as it was in 1956. Elvis: The Great Performances is a two-disc DVD of Elvis performing his best-known hits. This set also includes documentary footage, home movie clips, interviews and additional “bonus” commentaries with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
All Shook Up:Collected Poems about Elvis edited by Will Clemens and published by The University of Arkansas Press is a true delight. Even readers who aren't poetry fans will find much to enjoy in this collection. For the most part the poems are imaginative, emotional, thought-provoking, and witty. Contributors include Charles Bukowski, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Fulton and Thomas Gunn. Reading a poem is a great way to commemorate Elvis's birthday.