The Moronic Inferno: And Other Visits to America

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Authors: Martin Amis
Tags: Short Stories, Essay/s, Literary Collections
    At this stage in the obsequies, a genuinely 'shocking' book about Elvis Presley would disclose that the King secretly gave away vast sums to charity, that he was actually very slim and healthy, and spent much of his free time working with handicapped children. But it is not to be. Following the slanderous testimonies of every hanger-on in the entourage, we are now offered a definitive summation of the grossness, egomania and barbaric vulgarity that was, apparently, Elvis.
    Albert Goldman's Elvis, which one is obliged to call an investigative biography, begins and ends with an eerie evocation of the mature Presley. First, the house — Graceland. It looks like a brothel or a gangster's triplex: red velour, gilded tassels, simulated waterfalls, polyurethane finish. Elvis always insisted that everything around him had to be new. 'When I wuz growin' up in Tupelo,' he is quoted as saying, 'I lived with enough fuckin' antiques to do me for a lifetime.’
    On to the master bedroom — black suede walls, crimson carpets and curtains, 81 square feet of bed with mortuary headboard and speckled armrests. To one side is an easel supporting a large photograph of Elvis's mother Gladys; to the other is a sepia-toned portrait of Jesus Christ in his pink nightie. On the bed lies Elvis himself — 'propped up', in Goldman's gallant formulation, 'like a big fat woman recovering from some operation on her reproductive organs.’
    Before going to work, Elvis rings his valet and junk-food guru, Hamburger James. After a midnight snack — $ioo worth of Fudgesicles - Elvis consumes a pound of Dixie Cotton bacon, four orders of mash with gravy, plus lots of sauerkraut and crowder peas.
    He sleeps in diapers these days, thick towels pinned round his middle. He weighs over 18 stone.
    This is a modern biography, so we now follow Elvis from the bedroom to the bathroom. Not that Elvis can get there under his own steam: a bodyguard has to carry him. The bulb-studded sanctum is full of devotional literature, high-powered laxatives, and the King's special 'medication' — i.e., his drugs. Elvis hates drug-addicts; he would like to see them herded into concentration camps. He once had an audience with Nixon, offering himself as a figurehead in the battle against dope. He was stoned at the time. In fact, he is a drug-addict. His doctor must delve between his toes for an unpopped vein.
    In his six-door Batmobile Elvis leads the motorcade to Memphis Airport. His private plane, like his house, is a kitsch nightmare of velvet and plastic. At dawn the Lisa Marie (named after Elvis's daughter) lands at Las Vegas. Waiting limos ferry the party to the Imperial Suite of the Hilton International. Elvis is cranked down into sleep. 'Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom!' he tells his girlfriend. 'Mommy will take you.' He sleeps. He is cranked awake. He eats, with a handgun beside his plate.
    Bandaged and 'braced' — i.e., corseted — Elvis dons an outfit embroidered with the crowned head of King Tutankhamun and buckles his $10,000 gladiator's belt. He stumbles and mumbles through his act, climaxing with his 'American Trilogy': 'Dixie', 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic', 'All My Trials'. He comes off stage pouring with sweat and screaming for his medication. Soon he is back in his tomb, vowing that never again will he play 'this fuck'n' Vegas'.
    Elvis: What Happened?, published just before Presley's death, was the first expose, cobbled together by a couple of sacked goons. Since then, everyone has blabbed. Well, what did happen? How did Elvis's life, like his voice, turn from energy and innocence into canting, parodic ruin? Goldman's answer is that the whole phenomenon was corrupt and farcical from the beginning. 'There is', he warns, 'absolutely no poignance in this history.’
    Elvis's family were hillbillies, 'a deracinated and restless race'. Elvis's father Vernon, 'greedy and stupid', 'a dullard and a donkey', was clearly a fine representative of the breed. Elvis

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