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Sunday, May 23, 2010

For BookExpo America: Elvis at the Wheel/Al Stewart

With the publishing industry trade show BookExpo America (BEA) poised to take over Manhattan for three days starting on Tuesday, we decided to see if we could find a song that somehow related to the book industry as well as to an individual book.  We came up with Al Stewart's Elvis At The Wheel, from his 2008 CD Sparks of Ancient Light.  The first stanza offers a sympathetic nod to a long-running issue in the publishing business, the plight of independent book stores:

There's an independent bookstore
The last one that remains
All the others you might look for
Have been eaten by the chains
They soldier on
No one cleans the window panes

Browsing in this embattled store, Stewart comes across a book that recounts a bizarre incident involving Elvis Presley: While driving through Arizona in 1965, the King sees the face of Joseph Stalin in a cloud formation, which then transforms itself into the face of Jesus Christ.  This religious episode has been recounted in many Elvis biographies, but unfortunately Stewart neglects to identify just which book he's singing about.  The source of the story appears to be Larry Geller, Presley's hair stylist-turned-spiritual advisor, who was present at the time.  His first-person account can be found in Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, the second volume of Peter Guralnick's Elvis biography, published in 1999.  (Guralnick's account of the incident draws heavily on Geller's own 1989 book If I Can Dream: Elvis' Own Story, written with Joel Spector and Patricia Romanowski, now out of print.)  Stewart's song serves as a reminder that a bookstore is a great place to browse--you never know what kind of strange tales (or musical inspiration) you'll find.

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