The End of the Tour is a film that depicts the late writer David Foster Wallace making his way to the Twin Cities for a reading from his novel Infinite Jest at the Hungry Mind Bookstore (also deceased) in St. Paul. The movie is based on David Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace. I went to see the movie this past Tuesday at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis. The Uptown marquee departed slightly from the norm. To the title of the film on the marquee was appended this note: Featuring The Mall of America. The implication is that they need to plug the local angle, but I enjoyed it on its own terms. It is a haunting psychological portrait.
I also enjoyed the local angle. Although I missed David Foster Wallace’s reading at the Hungry Mind, the film brought back memories of several happy readings I attended there including those featuring Mark Bowden, Ron Chernow, and Christopher Buckley. Best of all was the one featuring Peter Guralnick in 1999 as he toured in support of Carless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley. The book is the second volume of Guralnick’s two-volume biography of Elvis; the first volume is Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley.
Guralnick specializes in writing about American popular music with an emphasis on blues, soul and country artists. He is one of my favorite writers. His Sweet Soul Music is one of my favorite books. I have preordered his forthcoming biography of Sam Phillips, to be published on November 10. All of Guralnick’s books have now been reissued in enhanced digital editions on iTunes. His site is online here.
Guralnick’s biography of Elvis is utterly compelling. Guralnick takes us inside Elvis’s life, or as close as we’re ever going to get. How does he do it? In the author’s note to the second of the two volumes he avows his “deep-seated belief in research,” yet his achievement is akin to that of a great novelist. He extends the range of the reader’s empathy and deepens the reader’s sympathy. In what could be the motto for all of his books, he observes: “There are no villains here.”
Toward the end of his remarks at the Hungry Mind he praised Dawn Powell and cited My Home Is Far Away, her intriguing autobiographical novel. My impression was that he had read it recently and that it had come as something of a revelation to him. In the video below he alludes to Ford Madox Ford’s novel The Good Soldier, presenting the classic case of an unreliable narrator. One can infer, as I did back in 1999, that he thinks a lot about narrative and point of view.
This past Sunday was the anniversary of Elvis’s death in 1977 at the age of 42. On Monday Sirius/XM’s Elvis channel broadcast a terrific interview with Guralnick conducted by Elvis’s old Humes High buddy George Klein. I went looking for videos of Guralnick online and found the 2013 interview below with Conan O’Brien. In this interview Guralnick makes many of the points he made with Klein and a few more to boot. If you have any interest in Elvis, I think you will enjoy the interview and are likely to learn a few things you will be glad to know in the process. Best of all, it should send you back to the music.
Guralnick contributed the liner notes to the 1985 album Reconsider Baby, pressed on blue vinyl and collecting several of Elvis’s (killer) blues numbers. The album opened my ears to Elvis’s post-Sun Records career in a way that they had never been open before.
The title cut was recorded during the sessions for Elvis Is Back, an album that Guralnick discusses briefly in the interview. It’s a Lowell Fulson number with Elvis supporting his vocal on rhythm guitar. “Elvis’s voice soars,” Guralnick writes in Careless Love, “giving the blues a kind of harmonic freedom that…in the end is Elvis’s alone.”