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Stark Raving Elvis

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Star, London, 1985
(price: £2.25; 218 pages)

first published in the US by EP Dutton, 1984

The blurb on the back:

Dear Col. Parker,
I understand Elvis will be appearing in Portland again for two shows. I wonder is it possible to talk to you and him about my views concerning the style of show he has taken on lately, which I think is a serious mistake. As ever, my offer stands to take over from Elvis in any situation when he might become unable to perform.
Byron 'Blue Suede' Bluford is a nobody on a factory assembly line who spends his nights in seedy clubs doing Elvis Presley impersonations. As Elvis he's sexier, smoother and better looking.
When Elvis dies, Byron becomes Heir to the Throne of Rock 'n' Roll. Because after all, Byron is Elvis - and he's going all the way to Colonel Parker to prove it…
'There's a hole in the sky where Elvis was, and I’m here to fill it.'
'Entertaining, funny, revealing' -
New York Times

opening lines:
Byron ‘Blue-Suede’ Bluford – soon to be Prince Byron, heir to the Throne of Rock ‘n’ Roll – was reborn in the Elks Club Talent Assembly, Portland High School, Spring 1958.

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:

Here was a man who made pure style out of being white trash. He was dazzling. He didn’t apologize for anything. He turned it into gold. With Elvis as your guide, there was no need to hide your bush-hog status in front of rich kids – you strutted it right in their faces. (p.11)

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.


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