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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

Elvis Forever: 3

After reading the playbook of Are You Lonesome Tonight? by Andy Moseley, I set about Geoff Dyer’s 2022 hard to categorise The Last Days of Roger Federer, a book about “things coming to an end”. As well as the end of the tennis player’s career, he writes about J.M.W. Turner’s late paintings, Bob Dylan’s reinventions of his old songs, the demise of the Plains Indians, the unannounced-in-advance final performance of the Keith Jarrett trio and (much to my delight) the sheer awfulness of Anthony Powell’s 12 volume A Dance to the Music of Time. A wide-sweeping philosophical potpourri to while away the first week of January.

I bought the book prior to my infatuation with Elvis Presley had begun, although infatuation is not a description I recognise. Unlike my ex-postman, I’m content to listen to the eight officially released live Elvis albums, I have no need for bootlegs of concerts. Yet. As I started to read, I thought it possible that Dyer might touch upon the final output of Elvis, the last recording session in Graceland’s Jungle Room (October 1976), the final concert at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis (June 1977). But at no point in his 86,400 words does Dyer mention Elvis.

At school it was drummed into me by successive English teachers - not the good one, not the one who went on to become a successful author writing Venus Peter, Will and Letters from Elsinore - that a “proper” story always had a beginning, a middle, and an end. That has stuck with me, as above: I bought the book, I thought Elvis might get a mention, but he didn’t. On that criteria, and on that criteria alone, I’m one up on Geoff. Reassuringly, as he starts to wrap things up on page 266:

It's often said that writers have only one or two themes they consistently return to, finding new ways of addressing them, new fictional situations in which they can be explored. My theme, I have no doubt, is giving up. That’s what’s kept me going.

And so, back to Elvis.

There’s a general perception that in those last years, as a performer he was fading, he was past his best. Maybe he was, but it was inevitable that with a recording career than started over twenty years earlier with hits like Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel, Love Me Tender (all released in 1956), Jailhouse Rock, A Big Hunk o’ Love, It’s Now or Never, Crying in the Chapel, In the Ghetto, that there was going to be some drop off in quality later. Who among us can claim to have performed consistently at the highest level throughout our professional careers?

For reasons well documented, he wasn’t well a man, it wasn't only as a performer that he was fading, and was past his best. (Athough, as Paddy McAloon sang on the Prefab Sprout song Jordan: the Comeback, which imagines Elvis living as a recluse on the Moon, “I'm tellin' you, if I'd taken all that medication / Man, I'da rattled like... one o' my little girl’s toys.”) Nevertheless, nine months before he died, in that final session in the Jungle Room for what would become the Moody Blue album, he taped the classic Way Down. His voice sounds great, it’s got an Elvis swagger to it, and the words, well, who else but the King of Rock and Roll could have sung them?

The medicine within me

No doctor could prescribe

Your love is doing something

That I just can't describe


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