Stark Raving Elvis
Star, London, 1985
The blurb on the back:
Dear Col. Parker,
This is great stuff. Byron Burford is a loser in pursuit of the American dream, a no-hope piece of unskilled factory fodder, sustained only by the greatest of all modern myths: that in Elvis lies salvation:
So Byron starts to turn himself into Elvis. He’s not a pantomime dame imitator, but the reincarnation of the original, a lean fuck-off contemptuous rockabilly god, recreating the awesome untamed animal that was the pre-GI Elvis, the being that got left behind in the Vegas years. Then the man himself dies, and Byron understands that it has now become his historic destiny to pick up the mantle, and he heads out west to claim his place.
What really works here is the combination of two themes: firstly, the descent into monomaniacal madness as Byron is consumed by his Elvis obsession, and secondly, the corruption of raw power by the entertainment industry. Because the rot only really sets in when Byron orders his first jump-suit; at the outset, he genuinely is the embodiment of the real thing, more Elvis than Elvis, but – just like his role-model – he is seduced by the capitalist whoredom of Vegas, a world where passion and faith are destroyed by marketing and commercial opportunities.
It is, in short, a classic rock & roll story about the pitfalls of success, but recast in the image of the greatest of all rockers. All the requisite elements are in place – the girlfriend and the best mate, both out of their depth when fame comes knocking, the grasping moneymen, the hangers-on and the groupies – and still it comes across as a fresh tale, so good is the writing. And, more particularly, such is the rush, the speed-driven narrative that doesn’t let go once it’s got its teeth into you. (Despite the terrible standard of proof-reading at Star.)
Recommended, both as a fine imaginative interpretation of the Elvis mythology and as a piece of fiction in its own right.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 4/5
Mark Childress, Tender
rock & roll