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Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis…
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Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley (original 1994; edition 1995)

by Peter Guralnick

Series: Guralnick's Elvis Presley (Volume 1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9211117,112 (4.24)18
When Guralnick calls Elvis a "myth" is he referring to the unfolding of events that created rock and roll, or is he implying Elvis had an unverifiable existence? Was Elvis a false notion? I'm not really sure. What I am sure about is Guralnick's ability to tease apart the smaller pieces of Elvis Aron Presley's early life; the moments that led up to his stardom. There is certainly enough emphasis on Elvis's shy and polite and humble beginnings as a sheltered country & western wannabe who couldn't play the guitar worth beans. There is also emphasis on the key people surrounding Elvis during his rise to fame. It is obvious as Elvis' stardom rose, the less he was able to discern who was trustworthy. He needed an entourage and he struggled with identity, but a growing confidence led him to expect adoration and special treatment, especially when it came to cars and women. I appreciated the historical context of the songs Elvis made famous, especially since someone else wrote them and almost always sang them first. Everyone knows Elvis made 'Blue Suede Shoes' famous, but few recognize the true origins of the song. I also appreciated the emphasis placed on Elvis' connection to family. Elvis may have had a taste of reality when he had to enter the military, but he had to swallow it whole when his mother died. The event changed his life. This is where Last Train to Memphis ends. The sequel, Careless Love picks up the biography.
Last Train to Memphis includes photographs (as it should), but that's not the cool part. The cool part is that the photos are not clumped together in the middle of the book like most biographies, but rather they begin each chapter like a little surprise. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jan 28, 2014 |
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Showing 9 of 9
On sale on Thriftbooks.com site, I bought it because recently I watched a documentary regarding Elvis. He was my first love. As a young child, the local movie was only .25 cents on Saturday, and I think I saw every one of his not so good movies, but it was his dark hair and handsomeness that kept me coming back to watch them.

The is an exhaustive story of the King of Rock and Roll. It is a good book, but the author went way beyond keeping the story on track. Elvis came from a poor family. He was a twin, but his other brother died at birth. His father really had no gumption.

It was his mother that held everything together, including her only child. She was the queen of his heart. Her death co-incited with his military obligation.

A very polite person, he loved his mommy, fast, beautiful cars, and a plethora of young woman.

When he danced and sang, he girated his hips and legs. This led to many scandalous reviews. It also led to quite a large audience of women who screamed and at times, tore off his clothes.
  Whisper1 | Feb 26, 2021 |
A very detailed biography told as if close to each of the events. A good book ... but I'm not sure why it is listed as a 100 New Classics. ( )
  deldevries | Aug 17, 2017 |
Peter Guralnick certainly did his research for this book! He details the first half of Elvis's life, from early childhood growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi to his mother's death and his deployment to Germany during his stint in the army. Guralnick offers a fairly complete portrait of Elvis Presley as a polite, eager-to-please Southern kid with a penchant for loud clothes, nice cars, and pretty girls. Elvis's rise to fame happened pretty quickly (or, at least faster than I had originally thought), and the descriptions of the pandemonium that followed him wherever he went were wild. The only downside to this book is, ironically, the extreme attention to detail - at times I got confused trying to keep all the people straight. I look forward to reading the second volume of this biography, detailing "the fall of Elvis Presley". ( )
  kaylaraeintheway | Jan 14, 2017 |
Elvis Presley is so over-rated ( )
  clarkland | Jan 19, 2015 |
When Guralnick calls Elvis a "myth" is he referring to the unfolding of events that created rock and roll, or is he implying Elvis had an unverifiable existence? Was Elvis a false notion? I'm not really sure. What I am sure about is Guralnick's ability to tease apart the smaller pieces of Elvis Aron Presley's early life; the moments that led up to his stardom. There is certainly enough emphasis on Elvis's shy and polite and humble beginnings as a sheltered country & western wannabe who couldn't play the guitar worth beans. There is also emphasis on the key people surrounding Elvis during his rise to fame. It is obvious as Elvis' stardom rose, the less he was able to discern who was trustworthy. He needed an entourage and he struggled with identity, but a growing confidence led him to expect adoration and special treatment, especially when it came to cars and women. I appreciated the historical context of the songs Elvis made famous, especially since someone else wrote them and almost always sang them first. Everyone knows Elvis made 'Blue Suede Shoes' famous, but few recognize the true origins of the song. I also appreciated the emphasis placed on Elvis' connection to family. Elvis may have had a taste of reality when he had to enter the military, but he had to swallow it whole when his mother died. The event changed his life. This is where Last Train to Memphis ends. The sequel, Careless Love picks up the biography.
Last Train to Memphis includes photographs (as it should), but that's not the cool part. The cool part is that the photos are not clumped together in the middle of the book like most biographies, but rather they begin each chapter like a little surprise. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jan 28, 2014 |
The Moby Dick on Elvis - if you want to know what Elvis had for dinner on March 14, 1955, along with what color socks he was wearing, you'll find out in this book. An exhaustive investigation of the young man, soon to be King. I read this as part of my research into the American Road Novel (nonfiction book I'm writing) to see the impact traveling on the road had on Elvis, but not much was presented other than his love of Cadillacs and Lincoln Continentals. Nonetheless, this is a must-read for any Elvis fan. ( )
  NateJordon | Aug 28, 2009 |
Last Train to Memphis (first of two volumes) is probably one of the best biographies about Elvis. It covers the early years from Elvis' birth in 1935 to his mothers death in 1958. The first couple chapters are about his childhood, but the majority of the volumes length are about the first five years of his professional career from July 1953 to September 1958. It's a very readable and often gripping account by a self-avowed Elvis fan - Peter Guralnick - who wanted to present Elvis as a normal person and not a mythological characture. Guralnick says up front he does not analyze or interpret Elvis but leaves it to the reader to find their own interpretation; so, right away we know this is not a scholarly book or serious attempt at understanding and interpreting Elvis, but a well-told narrative of the events of his life, akin perhaps to a well done History Channel or PBS show.

Probably the most compelling question the reader will have about Elvis' early life is how and why he became so successful. Elvis once explained his success in response to a question asking if he was lucky, "I've been very lucky. I happened to come along at a time in the music business when there was no trend. The people were looking for something different, and I was lucky. I came along just in time." Of course Elvis also had a genius for giving people what they wanted, as the above answer reveals, Elvis was a mirror who could mold himself to be whatever people wanted. True to his word, Guralnick never really discusses why Elvis became successful, but my own interpretation is that he was the right person at the right time at the right place, a combination of luck, talent and hard work. It was a matter of contingencies. Elvis was known as the cross-over artist, but cross-over was in the air, if it hadn't been him it would have been someone else - although probably combinations of many artists over time, instead of so much talent in one person at one time and place.

I'll be honest, I'm not an Elvis fan. I don't dislike him, just neutral, although after reading this I'm more sympathetic, he just wasn't part of my generation or my parents. There is no doubt he was a major talent, not to mention key figure of 20th century world history, which is why I wanted to learn more about him. I had many questions about his early life and rise to fame which were mostly answered in the first 150 pages or so. After that it became a little tedious reading about concert performances, snakelike handlers and the recording industry, and so I stopped reading around page 220, or in 1955. By then Elvis was on the express train his success was assured, there were too many people invested in seeing it happen, the machine was in motion. What I missed, however, was the interpretation and analysis by Guralnick to better reveal who Elvis was, he still felt remote to me.

Note: there is a wealth of material on YouTube about Elvis including early recordings and rare video before he became famous making it a richer documentary experience when combined with reading the book. Search YouTube for "Elvis 1954".

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2008 cc-by-nd ( )
  Stbalbach | Oct 1, 2008 |
Part one of a great Elvis bio.
If you like Elvis, you'll love this! ( )
  jmatson | Aug 7, 2006 |
Elvis' life 1935-1959, in great detail, but quite readable, if you're interested in Elvis Presley. ( )
  corgidog2 | Mar 26, 2006 |
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Hachette Book Group

2 editions of this book were published by Hachette Book Group.

Editions: 0316332259, 0316332208

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