Book Review: Elvis Presley: A Southern Life

Last night I read a new biography I’ve had in my queue for far too long- Elvis Presley: A Southern Life, by Joel Williamson. It was one of those obnoxiously temporary ebooks I downloaded from Netgalley, and it was only a few days from expiring. I was born in the late 1970’s, so by the time I was old enough to know about music, Elvis was long dead. My folks were both Seventh Day Adventists and didn’t listen to much music besides Christian stuff, so I did not grow up hearing much of Elvis besides the 2 aging gospel records in my parents’ collection. I loved his rendtition of “In the Garden”, but even as a younger kid I was not really sold on being a fundamentalist Christian. Since my introduction to Elvis’ music was through churchy stuff, I wasn’t alll that interested in hearing more.

Obviously as a music blogger, I have had to come to terms with the various crucial artists in modern music history, whether I list them as favorites or not, so I figured I ought to read a book about Elvis, seeing as it was available, new, and free for me to read.

Actually this biography is a bit more than just a story about Elvis. In this book the author talks about the sad state of gender relations in the 1950’s and why teenage girls would be ripe for a spectacle like what Elvis became for them. He also talks about race issues and how the fact of Elvis performing ‘Black’ music was such a big deal. These are interesting perspectives, for someone like myself who has always lived where race relations were pretty decent (at least for Black people) and for readers who grew up in a world where women have always been at least somewhat permitted to be active, independent, even sexual creatures, rather than passive doormats.

I had some issues with this book- at times it seemed pointlessly gossipy, and I wanted a more nuanced discussion of Elvis’ teenage and older female fans, that took into account the interpretation Elvis is quoted as having, that they were ‘innocent’. There is certainly a lot more that human bodies can do besides sexual penetration, and it seemed as if Elvis and his fans were all interested in exploring not just sexual inhibition, but bodily inhibition more generally. But, this is an academic critique and a whole discussion that should be taking place in academia and elsewhere, and that it is not all present in this one book is not surprising.

I did go onto spotify and play a few albums of Elvis Presley’s songs while reading this book, a natural enough choice of music for this book. There were a lot of songs in his repertoire besides “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock”, and the other overplayed oldie classics everyone knows. I picked out a few favorites, and I’ll probably listen to more later.

  1. How the Web Was Woven
  2. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me
  3. Love Me
  4. Suspicious Minds
  5. In the Garden (still a favorite)

What are your favorite Elvis songs?

About Ravenmount

Independent science nerd/writer/music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently in Colorado.
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