BOOK REVIEW: ELVIS – Philippe Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Hénaff

BOOK REVIEW: ELVIS - Philippe Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Hénaff 2

Forty-two years ago this year, “The King”, Elvis Presley died at just forty-two years old. Whilst his life was exceptionally short (to the point he left his father and his nine-year-old daughter Lisa Marie Presley behind); Elvis’ life was interesting and eventful as this new graphic novel by Philippe Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Hénaff, courtesy of nbm graphic novels states. XS Noize readers will now get a chronological glimpse of Elvis from his birth on January 8, 1935, to his untimely death on August 16, 1977.

Despite being born into poverty; music surrounded Elvis from a young age. The influence of African Americans who played blues music in his small hometown of Tupelo, northeast Mississippi helped shape his sound. In fact, one could argue that his poverty pulled young Elvis into music. On the lead up to Christmas in 1946, young Elvis asked for a bike, but because a guitar was more affordable; Elvis was gifted a guitar instead. He made his stage debut at ten years old in a singing contest. This did not make him popular or bring him fame. Neither was frame lurking around the corner. Two years later, when he moved to Memphis “the other kids make fun of him or pick on him”.

In 1953 Elvis would make his first recordings at Sun Records Studio at 706 Union Ave. These were not demos for records companies but a personal gift for the most important woman in his life at the time: his mother. When Elvis found fame; he never forgot her, gifting her a pink Cadillac (which is still displayed today in Graceland, Memphis). When she died at age forty-six in 1958; Philippe Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Hénaff stated this as “the greatest tragedy in his (Elvis’) life”.

Sixty-five years ago in 1954 is documented in this graphic novel as the year when Elvis’s career started to take off. He would record “That’s All Right”, the first of five singles he released at Sun Records which led to many concert opportunities for Elvis and his Blue Moon Bays band. However, Elvis’ first professional recording session with Sam Phillips previously that year had gone badly; Phillips was far from impressed with Elvis.

The next few years would see Elvis soar to great heights. In 1955 Colonel Tom Parker (whose character is criticised by the authors) would become his manager and is credited in this graphic novel for helping Elvis reach global acclaim. A year later Elvis would release his first million-selling single: Heartbreak Hotel. During the same year, Elvis would play what is considered “the most important” gigs of his career at the Mississippi Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Many considered 1956 to be the year Rock ‘n’ Roll went mainstream and American youth had a style of music they could call their own. Despite this, there was still backlash with a smear campaign against Elvis when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show with “his suggestive hip-shaking”. The stigma never disappeared. When he next appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show; Elvis was filmed above the waist.

As well as a musician, Elvis set his heart on being an actor. He wanted to be the “next James Dean” who died in 1955. His first film, Love Me Tender, was “a huge success”. The majority of his films had the same recurring theme: “about a young man going into singing”. This novel suggests that Jail House Rock and King Creole are his best. Elvis also achieved other significant milestones, including winning over former open critics like Frank Sinatra. Following his military service, Elvis would break the record for a single performance earning $125,000 to sing alongside Sinatra. After March 1961, Elvis would not make any more television performances until 1968; the same year his then-wife Priscilla would give birth to their daughter Lisa Marie.

Whilst Elvis’ last number one hit was in 1969 and despite the next decade taking a toll on his health which contributed to his death; Elvis did not neglect his music. Elvis released eight albums in 1970 and seven the following year. He would subsequently release many more LPs until his death. Despite touring less frequently; in 1975 Elvis drew the largest crowd at his New Year concert in Pontiac, Michigan.

Philippe Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Hénaff offer an excellent introduction to Elvis and his life story in a non-controversial manner allowing Elvis’ dignity to remain intact. This is not a kiss and tell. Whilst the age Priscilla Presley was when Elvis first met her is mentioned; no analysis is offered. Elvis’ addiction problems are only vaguely hinted at and are consolidated into the generic category of “Health Problems”. There was no need to elaborate for Philippe Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Hénaff conceived this graphic novel as a generic narrative. No quirky or lesser known facts such as Elvis having a twin brother who died at birth or his father remarrying are found.

Whilst the artwork is superior and exemplary; it would have been interesting to have seen Elvis visually depicted in a different less lifelike way as The Beatles have been in graphic novels. Whilst Philippe Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Hénaff are correct in saying that “He (Elvis) went down in legend forever”; they do not elaborate on this point.

The popularity of JXL’s 2002 number one remix of A Little Lesson Conversation and Paul Oakenfold’s’ remix of Rubberneckin could have been mentioned as an example of Elvis’ lasting legacy. Nonetheless, Philippe Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Hénaff have done Elvis proud and through this graphic novel, it is inevitable that readers will be prompted into undertaking further research on The King, buy Elvis’ records, as well as the records of the numerous other Rock ‘n’ Roll artists Chanoinat and Fabrice Le Hénaff have deftly documented in this graphic novel.

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