Elvis Presley: Baby What You Want Me To Do Page 3
Parker is usually cited as one of the chief villains of the Elvis story, the man who sold Elvis' talent down the Hollywood river for cash. But as Guralnick makes clear, the Colonel had other, darker, more personal flaws that often resembled those of his client. Back in the halcyon days, as Elvis' addiction to pills grew, so did the Colonel's fondness for gambling. Though Guralnick does not address the rumors of Presley's homosexuality, he does offer straight reporting of the smarmier aspects of the Elvis-In-Decline story—the singer's promiscuity and rampant drug use—as well as of Parker's gambling, a problem often linked to his raising of the price promoters had to pay to book Elvis for a concert.
If there's a flaw in Guralnick's simple, straightforward writing style, it's that at times it's dry, almost academic. But this works to his advantage in the coverage of Elvis' last years, providing a somewhat refreshing change from the hysterical tone adopted by most chroniclers of that period. About the Colonel's gambling, for example, Guralnick calmly relates:
"The Colonel's friends and associates were growing concerned about his behavior as well: more and more they were coming to see his predilection for gambling, which had seemed like a harmless aberration at first, as an addiction over which he had no control. It was something no one would have ever figured him for, but one by one all the signs fell into place as they watched him drop ever-larger sums of money at the roulette table, playing with a grim determination that seemed to blot out everything that was going on around him." (p.447)
Guralnick's ultimately sympathetic portrait of Parker may be the only flaw worth noting in his two-volume masterwork. Although he initially describes Parker as "a heavyset, crude and blustering man with a brilliant mind and a guttural accent" (Last Train, p.165), it's clear—and again, Guralnick is a champ at trying to withhold judgment—that the author respects the Colonel's drive to be the master of whatever game he happened to be playing. Perhaps because of his acquaintance with the man Guralnick is too forgiving of Parker's ruthless pursuit of fame and wealth for himself and his too-pliable client. Worse, Guralnick does not identify Parker's meddling in the artistic side of Elvis' career as the disaster it proved to be.
The other traditional villain in the Elvis melodrama fares even better. Dr. George Nichopoulos, the infamous "Dr. Nick," comes off here as significantly less menacing—and rightfully so, as evidence presented in several court trials has shown. As one of the doctors who supplied Elvis' outrageous appetite for opiates, Dr. Nick, who lived in Memphis and was the personal physician to Elvis and his entire entourage, is usually made out to be the monster whose irresponsibly free hand in the writing of prescriptions helped kill Elvis. As the title of a famous article by Stanley Booth had it, "The King is Dead! Hang the Doctor." In Guralnick's account, however, Nichopoulos is seen as someone who, after failing to break Elvis of his habit, at least felt his presence could help control it.
"[Dr. Nick] showed very poor judgment at times. He himself would say, or he has said in the last few years, that he was an enabler," Guralnick says. "If you eliminate Dr. Nick from the picture, [Elvis] still had doctors all over the place, people who would do anything he wanted. Of all the doctors who ministered to Elvis, the only one who cared about him as a person was Dr. Nick. He compromised his objectivity, he took money from Elvis, he made a lot of money off Elvis, he made real errors. What he did is not the kind of thing that would lead you to him as a family physician, but at the same time it doesn't create the picture of a villain."
The only times that Guralnick allows his narrative to veer across the line into the kind of luridness infesting the Goldman book is in some direct quotes. One of Elvis' friends from his time in Germany, Cliff Gleaves, contributes one of the very few eyewitness accounts here of Elvis' abuse of drugs, in his case speed. Speaking of the spring of 1967, Gleaves said: