Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley

Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley

by Peter Guralnick

Paperback(1ST BACK B)

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Careless Love is the full, true, and mesmerizing story of Elvis Presley's last two decades, in the long-awaited second volume of Peter Guralnick's masterful two-part biography.

Last Train to Memphis, the first part of Guralnick's two-volume life of Elvis Presley, was acclaimed by the New York Times as "a triumph of biographical art." This concluding volume recounts the second half of Elvis' life in rich and previously unimagined detail, and confirms Guralnick's status as one of the great biographers of our time.

Beginning with Presley's army service in Germany in 1958 and ending with his death in Memphis in 1977, Careless Love chronicles the unravelling of the dream that once shone so brightly, homing in on the complex playing-out of Elvis' relationship with his Machiavellian manager, Colonel Tom Parker. It's a breathtaking revelatory drama that for the first time places the events of a too-often mistold tale in a fresh, believable, and understandable context.

Elvis' changes during these years form a tragic mystery that Careless Love unlocks for the first time. This is the quintessential American story, encompassing elements of race, class, wealth, sex, music, religion, and personal transformation. Written with grace, sensitivity, and passion, Careless Love is a unique contribution to our understanding of American popular culture and the nature of success, giving us true insight at last into one of the most misunderstood public figures of our times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316332972
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 02/10/2000
Edition description: 1ST BACK B
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 94,272
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.12(h) x 1.37(d)
Age Range: 13 Years

About the Author

Peter Guralnick has been called "a national resource" by Nat Hentoff for work that has argued passionately and persuasively for the vitality of this country's intertwined black and white musical traditions. His books include the prize-winning two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love. Of the first Bob Dylan wrote, "Elvis steps from the pages. You can feel him breathe. This book cancels out all others." Of the biography as a whole, the New York Times Book Review declared in a lead review, "It must be ranked among the most ambitious and crucial biographical undertakings yet devoted to a major American figure of the second half of the twentieth century." Other books include an acclaimed trilogy on American roots music, Sweet Soul Music, Lost Highway, and Feel Like Going Home; the biographical inquiry Searching for Robert Johnson; and the novel, Nighthawk Blues. His latest book, Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, has been hailed by the San Fransisco Chronicle as "monumental, epic tale told against a backdrop of brilliant, shimmering music, intense personal melodrama, and vast social changes." He is currently at work on a biography of Sam Phillips.

Read an Excerpt


MEMPHIS, MARCH 1960They left in the aftermath of a blustery winter storm. The newly promoted sergeant emerged from the Fort Dix, New Jersey, paymaster’s office with a mustering-out check of $109.54 for travel expenses, food, and clothing. "Don’t forget my commission," growled his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, loud enough for newsmen to hear, and Elvis Presley smilingly handed him the check. He then strode toward a chauffeur-driven limousine surrounded by six MPs, as the post band played "Auld Lang Syne." Six teenage girls emerged from the crowd and the MPs closed ranks, but the young soldier slowed down, smiled, and stopped to chat with his fans. He reached into his traveling case and pulled out six autographed pictures, one for each girl, then disappeared with his manager into the limo as his army buddies yelled, "Go get ’em, Elvis."

It was two years since he had left civilian life, seventeen months since he had last set foot on American soil. He leaned back in the seat, a broad smile illuminating his handsome twenty-five-year-old features, and cast a backward glance at the forty-car caravan of reporters, photographers, and fans that fell in behind them on the snowy highway. It seemed in some ways as if he had never been away, in others that he was still a stranger in a foreign land. His fingers drummed nervously on the plush upholstery — he had scarcely slept the previous night, and even now he felt such a mix of emotions that it would have been impossible for him to express them all. He had told reporters that the only thing on his mind was to rest up at home for the next few weeks, but that was not in fact true. He had an RCA recording session coming up on which he knew everyone was pinning their hopes; his guest appearance on "Frank Sinatra’s Welcome Home Party for Elvis Presley," a television special, was scheduled in less than a month; and Hal Wallis, who had signed him to his first motion picture contract just four years earlier, was planning to start production on G.I. Blues the moment these other obligations were fulfilled.

If he was certain of one thing, it was that his manager had a plan. The Colonel, heavy, saturnine, his hooded eyes veiling an expression of amused avidity that Elvis sometimes thought he alone could read, had stayed in constant touch with him throughout his army hitch. He had never come to see him in Germany — he was too busy orchestrating all the elements necessary to sustain his single client’s career — but he had maintained almost daily communication and provided a steady stream of encouragement, both strategic and paternal, even in the darkest days. No detail was too small for the Colonel to take up. He had continued to promote Elvis Presley merchandise, devised sales campaigns for each new record release, and hustled small-time theater owners when Paramount rereleased King Creole and Loving You the previous summer. He had fought the army to a standstill over plans to enlist Elvis as an ambassador-entertainer, refused to cave in to RCA’s increasingly importunate demands to have him record something — anything — while stationed in Germany, and then used the shortage of product to improve their bargaining position. He had negotiated movie deals in a climate of doubt (Will Presley’s Appeal Last? was a typical headline, and a typically voiced studio sentiment whenever money was being discussed) and had been so successful at it that they now had three starring vehicles lined up for this year alone, including two "serious" pictures for Fox.

Above all he had kept Elvis’ name in the headlines for the entire two years, a feat that Elvis had never believed possible — and he had shared every detail of the campaign with his protégé, confiding his strategy, describing his "snow jobs," bolstering the homesick soldier when he was down, praising him for his courage and forbearance, making him feel like a man. They were an unbeatable team, a partnership that no one on the outside could ever understand, and Elvis was well aware that Colonel had not taken on one new artist in the time that he was away.

The present plan was more in the nature of a diversion, and Colonel was having fun with it. They were heading for New York, he had informed the press; they were going to have a big news conference at the Hotel Warwick and then spend the weekend there. But that, of course, was nothing like what he had in mind. He had in fact worked out five fully developed alternate routes and schemes, with any number of decoy vehicles and even a helicopter on standby if need be — but, really, his only intention was obfuscation, at which he was preternaturally adept. They lost the caravan of accompanying vehicles somewhere in New Jersey. "Elvis Presley mysteriously vanished from a snow-packed fan-laden highway," it was reported in the newspapers the following day, but in actuality they simply retreated to a hotel hideout in Trenton, where they rendezvoused with the rest of the group: three-hundred-pound Lamar Fike, who had accompanied Elvis to Germany and remained faithfully by his side the entire seventeen months; Rex Mansfield, Elvis’ army buddy from Dresden, Tennessee, to whom the Colonel had gladly agreed to give a lift home; the Colonel’s chief lieutenant, Tom Diskin; and assorted other record company representatives and members of the Colonel’s staff. For most of the day they holed up in Trenton, with Colonel relaying confusing messages to the world at large through his secretary in Madison, Tennessee. That evening they took a private railroad car to Washington, where they boarded the Tennessean, scheduled to depart at 8:05 a.m. Once again they occupied a plush private car, attached to the rear of the train, but now their schedule was known to the world, published by the Colonel with the idea of giving his boy the kind of welcome a home-coming hero deserved.

There was a crowd of fifteen hundred in Marion, Virginia, twenty-five hundred in Roanoke, and substantial turnouts at smaller stops along the way. Elvis emerged on the observation platform at every one, slim and handsome in the formal dress blues he had had made up in Germany with an extra rocker on the shoulder designating a higher, staff sergeant’s rank. It had been, he explained embarrassedly when challenged about the extra stripe, a tailor’s mistake, but some of the more cynical reporters put it down as the Colonel’s work, or, simply, Elvis’ vanity. He never said a word at any of the stops, merely waved and smiled, and, in fact, somewhere in Virginia, Rex took his place on the platform at the Colonel’s insistence, and with the Colonel’s assurance that the fans would never know the difference.

Inside the car the Colonel and Elvis were rolling dice at $100 a throw, and Elvis gave Rex and Lamar enough money so they could play, too. When Rex tried to return the several hundred dollars that he subsequently won, Elvis offered him a job as his chief aide. There would be lots more money, he said, if Rex would just stick with him, and a glamorous life to boot. Talk to the Colonel, he suggested, if Rex had any doubts.

To Rex’s surprise the Colonel, whom he had been hearing about from Elvis ever since they had first met at the Memphis induction center two years before, advised against it. After listening carefully to Rex’s well-formulated plans for the future and what he considered to be his prospects for business success, Colonel Parker "told me that he thought I was good enough to make it on my own and that I did not need to hang around Elvis. He said that I was not like most of the other guys that hung around and that his best advice was not to take the job. Then the Colonel told me not to tell Elvis what he said, because it would make Elvis mad. . . . He said he had given me his honest, sincere advice, but the final decision was still mine. Again, he said to me, ‘If you tell Elvis that I told you not to take the job with him, I’ll deny it.’"

In Bristol, Tennessee, a young reporter from the Nashville Tennessean got on, alerted by a collect call from the Colonel’s staff. Presley, wrote David Halberstam, was "like a happy young colt. . . . He wrestled with some of his bodyguards, winked at the girls in the station, and clowned with his ever-faithful manager and merchandiser, Col. Tom Parker. ‘Man, it feels good to be going home,’ Presley said. ‘So good.’ Then he put a hand over the Colonel’s receding hairline and said, ‘Andy Devine [a portly Hollywood character actor], that’s who it is. Andy Devine.’ ‘Quit pulling my hair out,’ the Colonel said. ‘I’m just massaging it for you,’ Presley said. ‘Every time you massage,’ [the Colonel replied], ‘I have a little less left. . . .’

"The Colonel, both remarkably excited and unshaven after the cloak and dagger days on the east coast . . . was pleased. Pleased with his boy, and pleased with the hordes of youngsters that he had to fight off. ‘As many or more than before,’ he said, pointing to the mobs. ‘Better than ever.’"

Halberstam observed three thousand teenagers in Knoxville waving banners and signs, as the train made its stop at 8:55 p.m., less than eleven hours from Memphis. He could feel the excitement mounting, the young singer’s nervous energy would allow him neither to sit still nor to sleep all through the long night. He continued roughhousing with his companions, practiced his quick draw, and threw in an occasional demonstration of the Oriental discipline of karate, which he had been studying seriously in Germany for the past few months. If he ever lost his voice, the Colonel remarked dryly, "we could make money with his wrestling." When Memphis reporters joined the party in Grand Junction at 6:15 a.m. and then at Buntyn Station a little more than an hour later, he was still wearing his dress uniform with Good Conduct ribbon and Expert’s medal for marksmanship prominently displayed, but by now he had donned one of the two formal lace shirts that Frank Sinatra’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Nancy, had presented to him at Fort Dix on behalf of her father. "If I act nervous, it’s because I am," he told Press-Scimitar reporter Bill Burk. "I’ve been gone a long time, a long time," he muttered almost to himself, as the train pulled into the station. What had he missed most about Memphis? he was asked. "Everything. I mean that — everything."

Two hundred fans, reporters, and the just plain curious were waiting when the train arrived at 7:45. It was snowing, and there was an icy wind, but the crowd chanted, "We want Elvis," as they massed behind a six-foot-high wrought-iron fence. "It was nice to have you aboard," said the conductor, H. D. Kennamer, shaking his hand. "Thank you, sir," said Elvis Presley, squaring his shoulders and plunging back into the life he had once known. He walked along the fence, shaking hands through the bars and recognizing familiar faces. He spoke briefly with various friends and fans, then indicated to the Colonel’s brother-in-law and aide, Bitsy Mott, that he wanted to confer with Gary Pepper, a twenty-seven-year-old cerebral palsy victim who had recently taken over the Tankers Fan Club (Elvis had been assigned to a tank corps) and was holding a "Welcome Home, Elvis, The Tankers" sign above his head. Bitsy wheeled Pepper through the crowd, and they had a brief meeting, with Pepper apologizing that there wasn’t a bigger turnout, it was a school day, after all. "Elvis bit his lip," reported the newspaper, "seemed to be trying to repulse tears, and said, ‘I’ll see you later, pal.’"

Then he was gone, scooped up in his old friend police captain Fred Woodward’s squad car, arriving at Graceland less than thirty minutes later with lights flashing and siren screaming. "The gates swung open," reported the Memphis Press-Scimitar, "and Woodward’s car . . . shot through at nearly 30 miles per hour. Then the gates closed. The king was once again on his throne."

Copyright © 1999 by Peter Guralnick"

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi
Prologue: Homecoming, Memphis, March 1960 3(6)
Germany: Marking Time October 1958-March 1960
Elvis is Back March 1960-January 1961
The Colonel's Secret January 1961-January 1962
Neglected Dreams January 1962-April 1964
Spiritual Awakenings April 1964-April 1966
Family Circle April 1966-May 1967
The Last Round-Up June 1967-May 1968
The Bluebird of Happiness May-June 1968
A Day at the Races July 1968-August 1969
A Night At The Opera September 1969-September 1970
A Comic Book Hero September 1970-January 1971
A Stranger in my own Hometown January 1971-February 1972
On Tour March 1972-January 1973
Freefall February-October 1973
The Impersonal Life Fall 1973-December 1974
A Leaf in the Storm January 1975-January 1976
Hurt January-December 1976
Elvis, What Happened? January-June 1977
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand" Summer 1977
Notes 663(67)
Bibliography 730(13)
A Brief Discographical Note 743(1)
Acknowledgments 744(3)
Index 747


Before the live chat, Peter Guralnick agreed to answer some of our questions.

Q: What do you believe initially drew people to Elvis? What transformed him into an icon?

A: His ability to communicate. His identification with his audience. His almost mystical belief in the importance of his connection with his fans.

Q: What are a few of your favorite Elvis songs?

A: "Trying to Get to You," "Mystery Train," "I'll Hold You in My Heart," "Stranger in My Own Hometown."

Q: What is one thing that you uncovered about Elvis that was particularly surprising?

A: How hard his father, Vernon, worked all his life to keep his family together. How hard he tried to protect Elvis to the very end against himself and others.

Q: Please recommend three of your favorite nonfiction books.

A: Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch (winner of a Pulitzer Prize); Heaven Is a Playground by Rick Telander; and Footsteps by Richard Holmes.

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Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
chinali More than 1 year ago
I've read dozens of Elvis books, but this one stands out for the extensive research and content about his career transactions, life with his buddies, Priscilla, personality change and his tragic death. This book has no agenda other than to present Elvis' life as factually as possible.
lalaland15 More than 1 year ago
i've read the little part that they let you read and i love it!!ELvis was surely before my time! he died like 20 years before i was born ,but he is still my favorite singer i've been in love with his music for as long as i can remember and ever since everyone has known me i loved him. i listen to his music all the time and i've watched the 68 comeback special to many times to count!and i've read any books about him and i cant wait to read this one and i'm sure i'll finish it in a heartbeat like any other book i've read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This second volume of the Elvis bio is a sad story of his descent into drugs, womanizing, conspicuous consumption, and poor professional decisions. Interestingly, there are no real villains. Even Col. Parker comes across as a sincere and successful promoter - despite poor artistic tastes. But there are no real good guys either. Guralnick's view is that Presley continued to hold high musical standards but was too insecure to overcome other commercial and personal forces. I have one major stylistic complaint that applies to this and the author's first Elvis book. Guralnick has an annoying habit of introducing people briefly and then mentioning them several paragraphs or chapters later only by their first names. He'll also introduce a person or event, then after a long unrelated tangent, refer again to the person or event as 'he' or 'it'. I often had to reread many pages to remember who he was talking about. Very frustrating!
The-Avid-Eclectic More than 1 year ago
Guralnick is an adept writer and after having read "Last Train to Memphis" I could not wait to tackle the latter part of Elvis' life. While Elvis was before my time, this book makes for a fascinating read. Spend some time learning about the incredible influence Elvis had on our culture and then cry a bit as you learn the destructiveness of excess (drugs, women, etc).
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read Last Train and couldn't wait to start Careless Love. From the first page until the last, I could not put this book down. I felt that I lived every day with him. He really was The King and rightly so. His legacy will always live on good, bad or indifferent and I wish he was alive today. Thanks Peter for 2 wonderful books and for doing them right!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just when you thought you read or heard it all this wonderful book goes to another level . Some many different storys from many different people. 900 pages and I'm thinking all the same old stuff not even close. Read and enjoy.
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley begins in 1960 and ends in 1977 when Elvis Presley died. A previous book by this author focused on the early years. When Elvis left the army, he had to start his career all over again. Times were changing and starting all over wasn’t so easy. Author Peter Guralnick attempts to state the facts and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. Elvis surrounded himself with rather odd people and most of them were his employees.  I found many of the stories in this audio book disturbing because they are both funny and tragic. Presley and his entourage were constantly playing tricks on each other. He wanted to be appointed a Narcotics Agent and approached President Nixon concerning the appointment. Women were fascinated with Elvis and just kept coming back, regardless of how badly he treated them. He was under the influence of the Colonel and refused to listen to anyone else. The Elvis fans longed for and lusted after was merely a myth. In actuality, Elvis was a self-centered person. I found it strange that Elvis started singing Christian music with such greats as J. D. Sumer when in later life he was fascinated with New Age books.  This review is of the audio format of Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. There were times the author had me laughing but there were other times that all I felt was sorrow at the talented man spiraling downward out of control. The best part of this book is the honesty. Peter Guarlnick captures the true essence of Elvis without the myths.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book included alot of detail and interesting facts about Elvis. It includes interviews and quotes from many of Elvis' friends, family and musicians. I could not put this book down, I just wanted to keep reading to find out as much as I could about who Elvis Presley was.
brianjayjones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There's a moment from the film Pulp Fiction that ended up on the cutting room floor in which Mia Wallace asks Vincent Vega whether he's an Elvis man or a Beatles man. "You might like both," she tells Vincent, "but you always like one better." I'm a hardcore Beatles fan, but I'm still fascinated by Elvis -- especially the post-GI, bad-movie making, white jump-suited, bloated karate Elvis. And that's why I bypassed completely Last Train to Memphis -- the first book in Guralnick's two-part Elvis bio, which tells the story of Elvis' meteoric rise -- and headed right for the good stuff. Guralnick tells Elvis' story in a clear-eyed manner, spinning a story that's almost Shakespearian in its tragedy. And it quickly gets ugly, as Elvis corrodes into a lazy, strung-out fat kid, distracted by go-carts, badge collecting, and playing cowboys and Indians with his sycophantic Memphis Mafia, all the while derailing his own career, despite an incredibly forgiving fan base. From one oh-my-gosh, no way! moment to another, Guralnick delivers the goods, careening like a barely-controlled jalopy toward the decidedly non-glamorous ending we all know is coming. Look away? Heck no. Cringe-inducing? Heck yes. Awesome.
jmatson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Part two of this great Elvis bio.Well documented and written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This author chose to dwell on all the negative aspects of Elvis' life and none of the positive. He criticizes his voice, his choice of songs to record, etc. If you love Elvis, and I do, please save your money. A real hack job. None of us are perfect.
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If i could all i would do all day is do things that have to do with elvis only i am hiis number one fan and if you say anything bad about him you will deal with me also do not spell his name wrong or i will correct you!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I ordered this for my nook in January 2012 as a preorder. I was supposed to get it in February, then March, then it is November of 2012.