'Down At The End Of Lonely Street'
The Life and Death Of Elvis Presley
By Peter Brown and Pat Broeske
Book Review by Susan MacDougall
(from the 1997 publicity) - This intimate portrait of Elvis Presley, America’s favorite music idol, chronicles his remarkable life from a dirt-poor schoolboy in Memphis through his rise as a Rock n’ Roll superstar to his final days in Las Vegas.
Drawing on exclusive interviews with Elvis’s closest friends and new documentary evidence, this biography reveals secrets about his relationships with his addictive mother Gladys, his ruthless manager Colonel Tom Parker, his musical rivals The Beatles, and the truth behind his marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu. Featuring a complete discography and filmography as well as sixteen pages of photographs–some never before published–Down at the End of Lonely Street cuts through the lies and the legends to present the real Elvis Presley, a man who was troubled, talented, and unfailingly human.
EIN contributor Susan MacDougall reviews this classic 1997 publication - does it stand the test of time?
Down at the end of Lonely Street: the life and death of Elvis Presley by Peter Harry Brown and Pat. H. Broeske. Dutton, New York, 1997. 437 pages plus 83 pages of appendices containing: Chronology; Filmography; Television appearances; Discography; Source notes; Bibliography; and, Index.
Pretty much every aspect of Elvis’ life was thoroughly researched for this book. Brown and Broeske used many published and unpublished sources, videos and radio interviews; they consulted authorities, agencies, libraries and historical societies as well as conducting personal interviews.
At the same time, the authors had difficulty getting access to some information because their project was not authorized by Elvis Presley Enterprises. As a result, some people were unwilling to be interviewed for fear of incurring "the wrath of Graceland". Additionally, some people who were out of favour with Graceland wanted money for interviews.
Another problem for the authors was not knowing whose versions of events to trust since some of Elvis’s associates and relatives had changed their stories and anecdotes over time. The tyranny of time can affect memory. The code of silence imposed on Elvis’ casual dates, girlfriends, relatives, employees and friends to protect Elvis’ image has encouraged various rumours and myths. The intention of this book was to break through the myth and determine the facts.
The book goes through Elvis’ life more or less chronologically, documenting important events and Elvis’ rise to fame – his touring, "Col." Tom Parker, movie years, his mother’s death, the army years, his excessive womanizing, the arrival of Priscilla Beaulieu at Graceland, the decline of the movies, his marriage and divorce, the ’68 Comeback Special that revitalized his flagging career, the return to live performing and Las Vegas years, the women in his life, 1973 as "the year of the drugs", meeting President Nixon, and Elvis’ death.
The chapters each have a theme. The timeline is sometimes unclear, with some dates precisely given, others not. Within some chapters there is an overlap with the same information in other parts of the book, the text jumping backwards and forwards to follow a particular theme over time. For example: pages 241-242 provide an account of Parker’s hypnosis of the guys, who would yap, bark and sometimes fight on all fours. The same topic is raised on page 330 – Parker would be present turning them into goats and pigs. Whether it was genuine hypnosis or whether they went along with Parker is unclear. But Steve Binder thinks it was and that Parker used hypnosis on Elvis as well.
This book was published in 1997, so some of the issues may have been resolved and new information may have surfaced. Or they may be ongoing as we may still have trouble deciding which sources to believe.
Here are some of the issues addressed:
Did Elvis have plastic surgery?
1957: Elvis had plastic surgery on his nose (pages 98-99, 121-122)
1975: Elvis had plastic surgery on his eyelids, possibly also a facelift – it’s unclear from the text (page 390).
EIN note - This Photo shows Elvis in July 1975 just after his eye-lift procedure
Did Elvis want to get married? (pages 312-318)
1968: Priscilla was then 21 years old. According to Marty Lacker, there was pressure from her step-father for the marriage, which Elvis was trying to delay; it led him to increase his use of sleeping pills. Billy Smith said that Elvis wanted to end the relationship. Lamar Fyke’s opinion was that both Parker and Priscilla’s step-father were putting on the pressure. Joe Esposito, always very loyal and discreet, stated that Elvis was thrilled to finally marry Priscilla.
How did 18-year-old Page Peterson come to collapse at the Palm Springs house?
1971: In Elvis: what happened?, Red West, Sonny West and Dave Hebler write that it was Elvis who enticed the girl to drink codeine-laced Hycodan. But Sandi Miller states that the girl was taking swigs of the syrup from a bottle she pulled from her own leather purse and that, although Elvis gave her some pills, he protested that the syrup was too strong (pages 373-375). See also the newspaper article "Mystery drug girl in Presley Book: I nearly died In Elvis’s arms" (The Star, Oct 18 1977).
(Image courtesy of FECC)
Why didn’t Elvis take the role offered in Barbra Streisand’s movie A Star Is Born?
Again, there are several opinions on this (page 383). Parker possibly sabotaged the deal because Streisand would have had the leading role. Joe Esposito suggests that Elvis didn’t want to take on the role of a loser.
Did Elvis die of a drug overdose?
A review of the autopsy in 1994 by expert Dr Joseph Davis, coroner for forty years and veteran of more than 20,000 autopsies, showed that Elvis actually died of a massive heart attack, giving fairly compelling reasons (page 430). This is hard for many to accept because it doesn’t fit in with people’s expectations.
Elvis as a person
Elvis was a complicated character, sensitive to the problems of others, very generous, even helping complete strangers. At the same time he never really grew up or got over his mother’s death (some guilt involved), always wanting to be the centre of attention and being looked after. He suffered from insomnia, nightmares and sleep walking. He was addicted to sex for a while, interested in fantasies and role playing, and preferring foreplay to consummation.
He had a temper that got worse when he was on drugs: they brought out paranoia and a mean streak. He lied to his wife and other girlfriends about his sex life with other women (as the book says, he really was a good actor). He promised Captain Beaulieu that Priscilla would live with Vernon and Gladys if she were allowed to come to Graceland but didn’t follow through. He didn’t drink regularly, but when he did, he drank excessively.
Towards the end of his life Elvis suffered from some very real health problems that were partly genetic in origin. Some of his other problems came from the fact that he was controlled and stultified by Parker, who was only interested in money. Elvis was frustrated that he couldn’t develop further artistically. In the end, he self-destructed, suffering from boredom and loneliness.
The style of narrative is enjoyable and easy reading - not point laden - since it gives various different points of view and doesn't force its opinions on readers. So does it really sort out all fact from fiction? Not really. But it certainly brings out the divisions between the members of the Memphis Mafia and their dislike of Ginger Alden and attempts to discredit her.
Even though the book is almost 20 years old I think it is still worth fans' attention because of its readability, especially as some of the later "serious" biographies can be quite long and heavy going.
Down at the end of Lonely Street, published in 1997, sets out various issues and provides various people’s perceptions of what really happened. Hopefully some facts have become clearer since then, although the "real truth" may not have been resolved in every case. Elvis was a complicated character, full of contradictions. He was a sensitive and generous person, but drugs later brought out paranoia and a meaner side. Maybe he failed to maintain a clear mind on his spiritual search for meaning in life because his mind was dulled by drugs.
For those who react to his charisma, kindness, caring nature, and incredible generosity, the good outweighs the bad. For those who put more weight on his sexual excesses, manipulation of others and deception, he will not be a hero. As has been said: "If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; if you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible." (George Klein).
Review by Susan MacDougall.
-Copyright EIN January 2016 - DO NOT COPY -
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Comment on this review
'Nashville Chrome' - Book Review: In the late fifties the Country Music group The Browns - Maxine, Bonnie, and Jim Ed - were enjoying unprecedented international success, rivaled only by their longtime friend Elvis Presley. The book 'Nashville Chrome' by author Rick Bass presents a vivid evocation of an era in American music, while at its heart it is a wrenching meditation on the complexities of fame and of one family who experienced them firsthand.
Just two months ago it was announced that The Browns would be inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame. With immaculate timing, EIN contributor Susan McDougall reviews the 2010 publication 'Nashville Chrome' about this fascinating group.
The connection between The Browns and Elvis is an intersting topic - and as always Susan presents both the positives and negatives about publishing a book about such a well-researched period.
Read Susan's full review
(Book Review, Source: EIN, May 2015)
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis Presley, Elvis and Graceland are trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.