"LEAVES OF ELVIS' GARDEN "
the new book by Larry Geller
Geller, Larry. Leaves of Elvis' garden. Bell Rock Publishing, Beverly Hills, CA, 2007. 190p. ISBN 13: 978-0-9764350-0-6
"If even one person can be led to God because of me, it will be worth it."
- Elvis (p. 4)
Who better to inform us about Elvis' spirituality and beliefs than Larry Geller, his spiritual mentor and hairstylist? Geller was employed by Elvis from 1964 to 1967, and again later from 1972 to 1977. While this was only about eight years of Elvis' twenty-year career span, Geller was the most important influence on Elvis' spiritual life.
Geller and Elvis spent hours together in deep discussion. Elvis wanted to "be close to and understand the nature of God and his own place in God's universe". Geller gave Elvis many books to read on philosophy, metaphysics and religion. He also promised Elvis that he would tell his story so that the world would know man behind the façade, the inner Elvis.
Geller has already described the spiritual side of Elvis in two previous books: If I can dream: Elvis' own story by Larry Geller and Joel Spector with Patricia Romanowski (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1989) and Elvis' search for God by Jesse Stearn [and Larry Geller] (Greeenleaf Publications, Murfreesboro, TN, 1998). There is considerable overlap between the books, all of which draw much of their material from Geller's diary. Stearn's book also draws on other sources.
So what is the message in Leaves of Elvis' garden that failed to come through in the previous two books and prompted Geller to publish again, this time in his own words?
But firstly, information about the physical book and its contents: this paperback has 10 chapters followed by 14 pages of photographs. But no index! Every good book deserves a good index, as I've probably said before ad nauseam. The text is interspersed with quotations from various sources. The title is a reference to the book Leaves from Moruya's garden, Agni Yogi Society, 1924, from which is quoted:
The predestined is not accidental,
the leaves fall in their time.
And winter is but the harbinger of spring.
All is revealed; all is attainable.
Behind the distorted image of a hard-living rock and roll sex symbol and super star is revealed a vulnerable man with a thirst for understanding and enlightenment. According to Geller, Elvis was neither a dilettante nor a metaphysical dabbler, but a sincere searcher after the truth.
Those readers who weren't already aware of the depth of Elvis' inner spiritual life will be amazed. It shouldn't come as a surprise. There are many hints of his relationship with God in books, in his gospel recordings and stage performances. This aspect of Elvis' personality also comes through in the documentary He touched me: the gospel music of Elvis Presley (Video, Coming Home Music, Alexandria, IN, 1999, 2 vols.). There is an increasing number of books by various authors on this topic.
That being so, why did Geller feel the need to publish yet again on the same subject? What are the differences between the three books and what is missing? Accounts of Geller's first engagement to style Elvis' hair provide some idea of the differing treatments by the three books, as follows.
Proctor's book covers this topic in five pages (p. 31-35), Stearn's book in three pages (p. 2-4) and Geller's book in ten pages (p. 31-40). So Geller's account is the longest.
Elvis welcomed Geller warmly. Proctor and Geller comment on Elvis' down-to-earthness and ability to put people at ease. They both recount Geller shampooing, then trimming Elvis' hair, while Stearn has Geller trimming Elvis' hair, followed by a shampoo. According to Proctor and Geller, Geller finished styling Elvis' hair before they started their discussion while Stearn has Elvis pacing up and down with sopping wet hair talking about purpose in life. The sequence of events is reversed, presumably for dramatic effect. But he certainly conveys Elvis' excitement.
Stearn relates much less of the conversation about purpose in life and the search for God. He emphasises the contrast between Elvis' diet, as he digs into a bag of potato chips, and Geller, vegetarian, whom he describes as a "food faddist". While the facts are manipulated he does, in fact, capture Geller's reaction towards Southern cuisine, related in Geller (p. 132): "Coming from California, where health consciousness was growing even in the sixties, I faced cultural shock with my initial exposure to Southern cuisine. Within the first week of working for Elvis, I discovered how uninformed and unaware many people were of the relationship of diet and nutrition to health."
As we see, Proctor's and Geller's reconstructions of minor details and of Geller's and Elvis' conversation match more closely, and Proctor's version remains closer to Geller's original diaries than Spector's. Stearn has either reconstructed the conversation differently or selected different parts of the total conversation to depict Elvis in a particular way. He has taken a certain amount of literary licence to make his point. He treats Elvis' search for God sympathetically but in a more populist and sensational style.
Geller obviously felt that neither previous book conveyed everything he wanted to say and he must have been somewhat disappointed in the shallower treatment provided in the second book. What does he say in Leaves of Elvis' garden?
Leaves of Elvis' garden delves deeply and broadly into Elvis' spiritual search, the books he read and ideas he discussed, interspersing the text with words of wisdom from various authors. Among these esoteric teachings is the message that "there is an essential unity in all religions. … The discord existing between the different religions, and the ignorance of men … foster a spirit of hostility and dissension; ignorance widens the gulf that separates one creed from another. Only a few gifted persons can raise [sic] superior to the influence of their professed creeds and find absolute unanimity in the truths propagated by all great faiths." (p. 85, quoting The holy science by Sri Yukteswar).
|One of Larry Geller's earlier books, "If I Can Dream Elvis' Own Story"
Elvis believed that there is one God who is within us all. Elvis had an open and questioning mind and a thirst for knowledge; he explored all sorts of ideas - reincarnation, theosophy, metaphysics, mysticism, gnosticism and numerology, but generally shied away from astrology, psychics and fortune-telling. He attended the Self-Realization Fellowship outside Los Angeles, which is an interfaith organisation covering both Hindu and Christian teachings. He raised questions and expressed doubts, accepting nothing at face value. Geller states that Elvis was too sharp to be taken in by charlatans of any persuasion.
At the same time, Elvis never rejected his religion, only its rigid adherents and their intolerance of any deviation from the accepted word, remaining a Christian his whole life, but not a Christian to the exclusion of anything else. He believed in the unity in all religions and saw no conflict between Hinduism and Christianity. This is very much a Hindu viewpoint too. Maybe the influence of Hinduism on Elvis has been understated, although his interest in Buddhism has been noted elsewhere.
Geller explains that there was a dichotomy between Elvis' spiritual quest, his charitable nature and his kind and sensitive side - and his shadow, his self-destructive tendency that caused him immense pain and agony. He was exhorted by Daya Mata of the Self-Realization Fellowship to harmonise body, mind and soul. His failings, as we know, were his impatience and his temper. He tried hard to control his ego but neglected his body. He made attempts to change his diet but invariably reverted to the ingrained bad eating habits that had their roots in his childhood poverty.
When Elvis wanted to become a monk, he was told that his calling was to reach people through his singing. His gospel music in particular seems to have affected people deeply. Geller relates being told by a certain Darlene that she was on the point of suicide when she heard Elvis singing "How Great Thou Art" on the radio. She decided she had to live - for Elvis and for God. This is an instance of Elvis bringing at least one person to God.
the cover of one of Elvis' gospel albums released in South America
Another image that is dealt a blow in this book is that of Elvis the womaniser. Yes, he had his fling, especially before he went into the army (Stearn, inner back dust cover). But as he became more spiritually aware, his attitude changed. He engaged in spiritual conversations with most of his costars and gave them books … he had close relationships with women where the intimacy was more spiritual than physical (Geller, p. 56). This echoes similar statements in other books, such as We remember, Elvis by Wanda June Hill ( Booksurge, [np], 2006. [revised ed.] ).
So, in its way, this book is a myth-buster. It provides a whole different side to the public image of a celebrity. Geller was never the Memphis Mafia's favourite person, but they can't deny his existence and his access to Elvis. I wonder what certain members of the MM will make of this book? I challenge them to read it.
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