"WHAT WE CONFRONTED ON OUR
FIRST VISIT WAS ALMOST UNIMAGINABLE"
Peter Guralnick Offers a Glimpse into the Graceland Archives
ELVIS DAY BY DAY started with the research that I conducted while writing my biography of Elvis Presley and the closely allied work of Ernst Jorgensen in developing his definitive Elvis sessioniography. One of the first obstacles that we both encountered was trying to sort out the stories. Often some of the most vividly detailed recollections by unimpeachable eyewitnesses were impossible to place in chronological context simply because: who was watching the clock? And yet it mattered when events took place, it was of crucial consequence whether one event occurred before another, for without that knowledge, on the most basic level, there could be no understanding of cause and effect.
Our big breakthrough came with our introduction to the Graceland archives in 1996. Obviously Ernst and I had access to a wide variety of sources prior to this date, but we could never have imagined the wealth of hitherto unexamined documentation that awaited us on our first joint archival venture. This material lay virtually untouched, much as it had been when Elvis' father, Vernon, died in 1979, and as it had been received from Colonel Parker's Madison, Tennessee offices, when the Elvis Presley Estate purchased Elvis' manager's collection of photographs, artifacts, posters, products, contracts, and correspondence in 1990, transporting thirty-five tons of material in two eighteen-wheelers, two large moving vans, and a host of smaller vans and vehicles.
What we confronted on our first visit was almost unimaginable: carefully preserved, lovingly filed, but completely unsorted in rusted file cabinets and colorful pink, red, and green trunks that could have served as magician's props.
I don't know if anyone can fully imagine the excitement we felt when we discovered Vernon Presley's touching postcards from prison anxiously seeking news of his three-year-old boy. To be presented with photographs of Colonel Parker as a young man in Holland, serving in the Sixty-Fourth Regiment of the U.S. Coast Guard Artillery in Honolulu, putting on a New Year's Eve show with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler in Tampa in the mid-1930s. To have two tickets for a previously undocumented 1955 show in Dermott, Arkansas, flutter out of a miscellaneous file. To at last be able to understand and date the origins of Elvis' unsuccessful try-out for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. These are the kinds of discoveries you want to share.
ELVIS DAY BY DAY is a kind of treasure trove of moments, the patchwork of a life, informed with a wealth of illuminating illustrations and facts both well and little known. We had to believe it wasn't just us, that this was something that could appeal to the Elvis fan and the casual reader alike. We hope we have provided a portrait, in words and in pictures, of the trajectory of a life, the life of one of the century's major cultural forces, around whom controversy will continue to swirl--as it does around every significant historical figure, for whom each generation must find its own truth--but whose voice will unquestionably continue to be heard.
Peter Guralnick photo (left) copyright David Gahr