'Losing Graceland' - Book Review

Plus Interview with author Micah Nathan

By Piers Beagley

Released earlier this year, 'Losing Graceland' by Micah Nathan is a fictional novel with Elvis as its main protagonist.

The press release described it as "An irreverent tale about a recent college grad, a mysterious old man who may be Elvis, and a perilous road trip that could lead to the old man's final comeback."

In the novel Ben Fish responds to a newspaper advert, to avoid another season working a dead-end job, from one John Barrow, who is looking for a driver on short notice. The Old Man hires Ben to drive him to Memphis, 900 miles away, in search of his granddaughter Nadine.

Their trip quickly turns into a capriciously epic journey as John, who claims to be, and for all purposes seems to actually be, Elvis Presley, takes them on detours to fight with biker gangs, visit an oracle, and save a hooker named Ginger from her one-eyed pimp. Nathan presents the reader with several fantastic characters in this rollicking, adventurous tale. Readers will pore through this fast-paced, adrenaline-filled novel and eat up the fantastic dialogue that brings Elvis back to life in a new, deliciously lascivious way.

Review and Interview by Piers Beagley.

Released earlier this year, 'Losing Graceland' by Micah Nathan is a fictional novel with Elvis as its main protagonist.

The press release described it as "An irreverent tale about a recent college grad, a mysterious old man who may be Elvis, and a perilous road trip that could lead to the old man's final comeback."

As a true Elvis fans I always seem to be reading one kind of Elvis biography after another and so it is a pleasant change to read a fictional Elvis novel that had me engaged and amused all the way through.

The story starts in Buffalo, New York when college graduate Ben Fish replies to a newspaper ad that states "Driver Needed Seven Days. Excellent Pay No Druggies, Drunks, or Felons."

He meets the 'Old Man' who just happens to have a lot of spare cash, an old Cadillac and wants to get to Memphis to find his missing granddaughter. The 'Old Man' also happens to look like a seedy old Elvis impersonator, loves karate and has a penchant for prescription drugs!

EIN needs to point out that Elvis fans who only want to read sensitive portrayals of a "do-gooder" Elvis should avoid this fictional book since there are several very unsettling sequences that may disturb.
The "Old Man" (is he Elvis in any case?) is of course a parody of Elvis who treads a very down-and-dirty path via some very seedy dives and crazy low-life characters on this road-trip to Memphis.

With this book however the delight for Elvis fans who enjoy a modern thriller is the fact that you can clearly imagine this "Old Man/Elvis" who denies that he truly is Elvis, but also says he was ‘the King’. He also seems to know way too much about Elvis Presley's past not to be Elvis!

Author Micah Nathan has done a lot of research as throughout the book the 'Old Man' drops in little stories of times spent with Lamar (Fike), Charlie (Hodge) and The Jordanaires and many others. These are titbits that only serious Elvis fans would properly reference and understand. (plus some interesting little errors too!)

Before they take off on the road trip the Old Man reveals his tale to Ben ...

"The official report says I died on August 16, 1977. But in truth I died the day I began to hate. … I hated the goddamn cameras that kept looking for someone handsome when all I had was ugly. I hated the goddamn women who were looking to be my Mary, talking about "You're the sweetest man I ever knew" when everyone around me knew I wasn't sweet. If I could've put a bullet between the eyes of every sonofabitch that screamed themselves hoarse whenever I faked my way through "Polk Salad Annie," you'd be looking at a man who gave the Angel of Death a run for his money.

Five million in 1977 goes a long way, and here's what it got me: peace. Kept the circle tight, made sure everyone got paid, and let everyone else believe what I wanted them to. It didn't take much, and it wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be. I'd been giving people what they wanted for twenty years. Pretending Elvis was alive was a hell of a lot harder than pretending he's dead."

Is this the truth or is it just a pile of clever lies to keep Ben interested in the all-too demanding job?
Then again, perhaps the Old Man is after all an Elvis Presley impersonator who knows a lot and has been around the traps too long. All too often he certainly behaves in a manner unbecoming to the real Elvis we all think we know.

At times the Old Man/Elvis character is debauched, wild and outrageous (as well as swearing like a trooper) which understandably upsets and disgusts his new companion Ben Fish - but at the same time it is easy to understand why Ben has real sympathy for this out-of-this-world character.

There are some very funny lines along the way. For instance when the Old Man/Elvis ends up in hospital the Doctor informs Ben, "You should know your grandfather's exhibiting signs of dementia…. Tell me, is his whole Elvis getup a personal preference?"

There are also times when the book becomes more about the true bond of friendship and the strange parallels within our own emotional lives, than just about the old Elvis impersonator.

Though harder to see from an Australian beachside suburb, it is interesting that one US review also noted, "Losing Graceland is an alluring parable for a generation forced to find adulthood in the wreckage their elders have left behind in Great Recession America… Micah Nathan—his perspective pleasantly off-kilter, his voice spare, wry, and occasionally down-right evocative—has created a confident narrative for Ben Fish’s road trip of introspection and self discovery."

In the end the story is a good page-turner with the Old Man/Elvis on some kind of road to redemption, while young and faithful sidekick Ben Fish, who is haunted by the recent the death of his father, lives his own coming-of-age tale.

There is plenty of action as they pass through down-on-their-luck roadside towns with Ben beaten up by some bikers, as well as being seduced by an eighteen-year-old hooker who also joins in on their trip. They of course take in some Elvis Impersonator contests along the way to everyone’s amusement

So what would happen if Elvis had taken the money and was alive today, nearing the end of his life at 76 years-old but needing to save a mysteriously missing Lisa Marie?

As the publicity for the book says, "Elvis Presley was once famously quoted as saying: "You only pass through this life once; you don't come back for an encore." What if he never left in the first place?"

It’s a great yarn and I haven't enjoyed an Elvis novel as much since 2008's "Contract with the King' by Paul Pullen which was another well-researched novel.

Overall Verdict: I found 'Losing Graceland' a very enjoyable story. The insights and research that author Micah Nathan has made into Elvis' background kept me interested in the minor details, while the road-trip story was truly exciting and had me rushing to get to the final pages. I found it a very entertaining read and my only warning would be to fans who need their Elvis to be overly pure and wholesome since they may be shocked by some of the language and the "Old Man's" bad habits. However anyone who has travelled on-the-road in the USA and spent time in those run-down country towns will empathise with this great road trip and understand the kind of crazy mess they get themselves into along the way. Recommended.

Click here to Amazon for more details and to purchase this book.

The EIN Micah Nathan Interview

Having enjoyed 'Losing Graceland' so much EIN's Piers Beagley needed to ask author Micah Nathan a few pertinent questions.

Q. You have obviously done plenty of research into Elvis' life and friends. How
long did you research Elvis' background before writing the book?

Micah Nathan: I read just about every Elvis bio I could find - Guralnick's were the best, by far-and watched his concerts, backstage interviews, and TV appearances. Then when it was time to start writing, I got rid of all my Elvis material. I had to invent my own version, not the carefully orchestrated version presented to us by his handlers, and not the version presented by Elvis himself. I tried-and readers will decide if I succeeded-to find the "human" Elvis. I didn't want some gimmicky story where Elvis is simply a marketing tool and bears no thematic relation to the story's core.

Q. Were you an Elvis fan before writing the book? And did you parents like Elvis or perhaps influence you?

Micah: A few years back his Sun Sessions captured me. I hadn't heard anything like it. Still haven't. The rest of his music isn't my style-my taste in his music begins, and ends, with his proto-punk rockabilly swagger. That said, watching him belt "Baby What You Want Me To Do" during the Comeback Special remains one of the finest examples of pure rock I've ever witnessed. It's heavy metal meets R&B. It's brilliant.

Q. Did you have "Elvis" chosen as the main character before you decided on the theme of the book, an old man searching for some kind of redemption?

Micah: We were having dinner at a friend's home in Cambridge, and some Elvis song came on, and I got this image of an old Elvis entering a karaoke contest and coming in second. I'm not sure where that came from or why it lingered. I wasn't even an Elvis fan. Sure, everyone, in some way, is an Elvis fan, but I rarely thought about him.

The character of Elvis, however, held enormous fascination for me. Here was someone with fame similar only to Santa Claus. Dress like Elvis almost anywhere in the world and people will recognize the intent. Zip up that white jumpsuit, glue on some sideburns, slip on a pair of those iconic shades, and everyone will know: Ah, the Elvis thing again. But the more I read about Elvis, the less I knew. He didn't write his own songs, he rarely gave candid answers in any interviews, and he became increasingly alienated/paranoid. Nobody really understood him, it seemed. That's when I realized part of his appeal: Elvis is universally proprietary. Anyone can claim Elvis, projecting their own version of who they believe he was, because there are few facts to the contrary. He was a tabula rasa of sorts, with phenomenal talents, charisma, and a tragic ending. In many ways, he represents the American ideal. Like a funhouse mirror reflecting the adoring's image back to them, changing it to look better than the original.

And the tragedy thing held great appeal because this guy who grew up in poverty and caused a seismic shift in how we listened to music and even thought about music, this guy who raked in enormous amounts of money, who could talk his way into a meeting with the President, who created his own genre...this guy lost it all. Blame it on self-destruction, or addiction, or whatever, but his fall was of biblical proportions. From the invention of rock and roll to dying on his bathroom rug, underwear down, head in a puddle of his drying vomit. That's tragedy, and tragedy is the building block of fiction. So it seemed obvious to build a story around him. Not his decline and fall-we've read enough about that-but what he would be like today, if he'd dodged the bullet. What sort of regrets would he have? How angry would he be? Would he have learned anything?

Q. The insightful "Elvis" titbits from the 'Old Man' would lead any true Elvis fan into thinking that he must be The King. Yet non-Elvis fans might miss the importance of these subtle true facts. Did you write the book specifically towards Elvis fans?

Micah: The esoteric answer, first: I wrote it for myself. Sounds selfish, right? And yet everything I write is, ultimately, for myself. It needs to be the sort of story I'd like to read, otherwise I'll tire of it.

As for the Elvis fans... well, yes. I tossed in some "insider" references that die-hard fans would recognize. I also wanted them to notice the supposed "mistakes." Especially the supposed mistakes.

Q. Elvis fans are often sensitive about how their hero is portrayed. There are several times in the book when The Old Man/Elvis says some pretty outrageous statements and suffers a few indignities. Have any fans complained to you about this perhaps being a too seedy portrayal?

Micah: I haven't received any complaints. As with all my characters, I do my best to throw away the pretty trappings and go right for the flesh and bone. I like my characters to have those ragged edges, the ones we're all familiar with because they are often our own.

Q. Have you had much feedback from Elvis fans, good or bad?

Micah: Not to tempt the Gods or anything, but thus far it's been good.

Q. Having delved into the "Elvis World" why do you think Elvis still has such an amazing following a cultural impact 33 years after his death?

Micah: His undeniable talent. Time is the ultimate judge. It so rarely errs. Time hasn't diminished his influence; he remains so influential that his vibe has entered our subconscious, and there it will remain, I suspect. His early stuff-the Sun Sessions, in particular-was punk rock. Nobody had ever heard anything remotely like it. This dude had swagger, and style, and he clearly didn't give a shit what anyone thought. Women lost it at his concerts. Calling their response orgasmic isn't hyperbole. Men, too. The first time I watched his '68 Comeback Special-this is on a DVD, forty years removed, and I'm going in with a thick layer of irony and cynicism born from years of pop culture consumption-I could not look away. He had me transfixed.


CLICK HERE to Micah Nathan's website from more information on this book - and his other novels.


Book Review & Interview by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN April 2011 - DO NOT COPY.
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.

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