By Dave McElfresh
The Inner Elvis, by Peter Whitmer, Ph.D. (Hyperion). Cloth, $22.95; Paper,
$12.95 (available in August).
HISTORY REVEALS THREE major assaults on literature: the loss of the library of Alexandria, the book burnings in Hitler's Germany, and the bio of Elvis written by Albert Goldman. Goldman's mean-spirited, overly imaginative keyhole observations attempted to yank Elvis from the top shelf of American mythology by revealing potentially demeaning information about the King. Okay, Elvis liked to hide behind a two-way mirror and watch girls stripped down to their panties wrestle each other. Hell, more power to you, El.
Goldman ended up digging his own literary grave by throwing dirt at someone who, like Kennedy or Lincoln, is incapable of getting dirty. Psychologist Peter Whitmer, fortunately, digs considerably deeper in his psychobiographical analysis of Presley's quirks, obsessions and addictions, and their relationship to the traumas of his upbringing. Some may find him placing far too much emphasis on the impact of his alcoholic parents and stillborn twin brother, Jesse. Nonetheless, Whitmer exhumes some fresh clues--none of them suggesting that Elvis was a centerfold for mental health--as to why the Scarfed One both burned as brightly as he did and prematurely snuffed himself out.
To its disadvantage, the book offers a lot of painful prose to wade through ("His style that night was early cunnilingual with a hint of the Massacre of the Innocents," Whitmer writes in describing a concert); but the author means well, and, unlike Goldman, admires Elvis. From the days when Freud wrote psychobiographies of Michelangelo and Moses, it's become obvious that a full quarter of the conclusions drawn would be rightfully dismissed by the subject were he/she still around to respond.
But that still leaves a lot of interesting possibilities in a book that's far more insightful than Goldman's pulp friction, or what Graceland's gardener will eventually publish regarding his dialogues with the King as he walked to his limo.
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