Elvis Presley: Baby What You Want Me To Do Page 4
Inevitably, any Presley biography comes to the point where the singer's decline began to gain momentum. The question then to be addressed is, Why? In Guralnick's view, a complex amalgam of forces drove Elvis to destroy himself and his music. He feels that, sometime in the aftermath of Priscilla Presley's departure—late 1972 or early 1973—Elvis fell into a depression from which he never emerged. This assumption, he says, is why the book's final chapters are short and rapidly paced.
"I think Elvis was clinically depressed for the last three or four years of his life. It's very much like writing about a person who's a heroin addict. Once you've established that this is the case, you're not going to write about every time the person shoots up—it's irrelevant. What's relevant is the fact that it exists, and how it affects the people around him and how it affects his own life.
"What I wanted to do [in the chapters covering the last days] was eliminate everything that wasn't essential. I wanted the pace to pick up because I felt, at that point, we were on an inexorable march to its conclusion. I felt at that point that everything had been said, and Elvis was on this monorail to a destiny that couldn't be avoided."
For Guralnick, tragedy also lies in the fact that Elvis had a spiritual side that, had it developed, might have saved him. This theme runs throughout both books.
"If you look at his spiritual readings over the last 15 years of his life, his mind remained exploratory, but it was all within a certain framework, all within a certain world. Everything that he learned he had to teach himself, because he couldn't get outside of that world. Somebody once asked me, 'If you could give Elvis anything, what would you give him?' I was kind of joking, but I was serious, too: I said I'd give him a course in comparative religion at UCLA, because it would have opened up the world to him—from acting lessons to being able to admit 'Hey I don't know everything' to 'I am vulnerable.' "
By the last page of Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, at the summit of this mountain of reporting, it has become abundantly clear that the person who must bear the most responsibility for that unmaking is Elvis Aron Presley himself. The inescapableness of this conclusion, coupled with the author's stubborn refusal to indulge his personal beliefs without corroborating evidence, is what makes Peter Guralnick's Careless Love, and Last Train to Memphis before it, such skillful and determined accomplishments.