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Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2001

Elvis makes appearance in Buckley’s new novel

July 15, 2001

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"Elvis in the Morning" (Harcourt, 328 pages, $25) is exactly what one would expect when the grand champion of the conservative cause takes on the king of rock 'n' roll.

William F. Buckley Jr. founder of the National Review, lip-smacking former host of "Firing Line," erudite newspaper columnist, author of popular spy novels has concocted a breezy tale starring Elvis Presley, with cameo appearances by Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Col. Tom Parker and others.

Buckley's plot begins silly and veers quickly into ludicrous.

The year is 1959, in Wiesbaden, Germany, where 14-year-old Orson Killere lives with his mother, who works on the U.S. Army base. With socialist notions of property rights dancing in his young skull, Orson decides all the world, not just those who can afford the album price, deserve to hear the divine Elvis. So he breaks into the PX and rips off 20 Presley records, intent on giving them away. He is caught and the judge forbids him from listening to Presley's music for 30 days.

When soldier Presley, stationed near the base, hears about this, he decides to perform a private, two-hour concert in Orson's kitchen.

Elvis and Orson become lifelong friends, especially after Elvis meets Orson's pal, Priscilla Bealieu (yes, that Priscilla), who the King eventually stores at Graceland until she does him the courtesy of becoming a consenting adult.

As Orson grows up, he and Elvis share frequent telephone calls and the occasional visit as they go their separate ways: Elvis to pop icon status and bloated has-been, Orson to comic book personification of all-American baby boomer.

Poor Orson. Keeping up with Elvis is easy compared with the cliches Buckley expects him to shoulder during this factual-fictional romp through the '60s and early '70s. Here's Orson as misguided campus protester. Here he is as aimless drifter, copy of Kerouac's "On The Road" in tow. Now he's a coke addict. Now he's working on the ground floor of the computer revolution. Now he's the socialist-turned-entrepreneur. The only thing that remains steady is his love for Elvis, the troubled man and his glorious music.

Occasionally charming, even sweet, this book has all the believability and resonance of "Viva Las Vegas." But if Richard Nixon can give Elvis Presley a crime-fighting badge in the Oval Office this actually happened then it probably makes a certain kind of weird sense for Buckley to write about it.

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