There are a great many books out there about the life of Elvis Presley. Some focus largely on his later life, on the quirks and the troubles and the ignominious end; some focus on his vast talent and his seemingly eternal legacy; still others focus on the impact he has had on popular culture, music, and media. But none of them go where this book goes, and that is to the well-known but little studied spiritual side of Elvis. That Elvis was a Christian is not news; but to see him from that angle, as a extraordinarily devout man, is a nice change from the usual.
It was 30 years ago one of the greatest talents in music passed away, an end to an extraordinary, tumultuous life that few really know all the details of, no matter how close they were. It was actually one of those days I remember with surprising clarity, as I was as in love with Elvis as only an almost-13-year-old girl can be in love. I never got a chance to see him in concert; never saw a movie in the theatre. I only had his music and the stigma of being an Elvis fan when all anyone saw of him was old, fat, and worn-out. Now, 30 years later, being Elvis fan is cool again. I saw Elvis t-shirts at a Hot Topic just recently, where the trendy kids go to buy their hip fashions. Elvis is in again. Now I'm almost 43, and still an Elvis fan. It's nice to see a book released about him telling about the good side of Elvis. It's a tale not about the drugs, the parties, and the insanity that set in when a good, God-fearing poor boy was turned suddenly into a world-wide celebrity. It's nice to read about how Elvis hated nothing more than the fact he couldn't go to church regularly. It was that which led him to being not only the King of Rock & Roll, but also one of the greatest gospel singers in recording history. Elvis only won two Grammy Awards in his career - both for gospel music. When Elvis sang gospel, THAT was the real man, not the heavy-set guy in the jumpsuit, or the fodder for every gag about Las Vegas or peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. His heart was in those recordings; you can hear it in his voice, and finally, you can read about it in this book.
The author, Joe Moscheo, was a member of the Imperials, one of the gospel groups who backed Elvis in his live shows at the Las Vegas Hilton. His story weaves his own life with that of Elvis, from his early days performing and admiring "the King" from afar to actually meeting him, and eventually, working with him. He tells in plain, simple language how it was then, how gospel quartets ruled the rural music scene, traveling from venue to venue to sing gospel music to sometimes enormous crowds - and how, oddly enough, it was from gospel singers that Elvis drew his often controversial moves and style. Moscheo speculates, probably not inaccurately, that had Elvis not gotten that contract at Sun Records, he probably would have ended up singing gospel in one of those many quartets. That was what he loved, so he carried it with him to his recording career, standing firm against RCA execs and recording his gospel records, surprising all naysayers by actually going gold with his first gospel album, His Hand In Mine. It would not be the last of Elvis's gospel recordings. Moscheo remains a part of the Elvis Presley "machine," co-producing the 2001 DVD He Touched Me: The Gospel Music of Elvis and the 2006 Elvis Lives: The 25th Anniversary Concert. He was also one of the singers on the Elvis: The Concert circuit. He writes with a surety of his subject and a warmth that conveys his memories wonderfully.
What my advance copy lacks is finishing touches. It comes with a warning not to quote it in case copy is changed before release, and while the appendix of pictures is included, none of the pictures is - and there's a list of 47 photos, most of which I'm certain I've never seen, judging by the descriptions. So I can't say anything about how the book looks, or really, say too much more about it. But I can say that for some thirty years and more, I've loved Elvis with all my girlish heart, and it does me very good to finally see a book that tells about something good. Because every one of the rags that likes to spread the dirt on Elvis admits fully that people flocked to him, enjoyed being with him, did anything for him - and here you finally can understand why they all wanted to be within his radius. Moscheo saw the spiritual, devoted side of Elvis, the boy from Tupelo who aspired to be nothing more than a gospel singer, who carried gospel music to the world of rock & roll, and who will be for all time remembered as "the King."