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Summertime Blues

Gonna raise a fuss, gonna raise a holler: rock & roll books

Reviewed by Greg Beets, June 11, 2010, Music

Baby, Let's Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him

by Alanna Nash
It Books/HarperCollins, 704 pp., $27.99

In terms of numbers, all you need to know about Elvis Presley and women can be surmised from the length of this book. From his 1954 debut on the Louisiana Hayride through his 1977 death at age 42, Presley was afforded the double-edged opportunity to indulge his sexual appetite via a mind-boggling array of Memphis beauty queens, Hollywood leading ladies, and adolescent fans such as 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, the onetime Queen of Del Valle Junior High. Music journalist Alanna Nash's Baby, Let's Play House is a well-researched chronicle of the King and his consorts that's appropriately juicy without being unnecessarily salacious. Here we learn that Presley nicknamed his uncircumcised penis "Little Elvis," had a brief fling with future Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! star Tura Satana, and tried unsuccessfully to hit on both Cher and Tanya Tucker in the mid-1970s. Like other biographers before her, Nash paints Presley as a devout believer in the virgin/whore complex. While the future Priscilla Presley was kept cloistered at Graceland with her parents' blessing, Elvis canoodled his way from one movie set to another, never acknowledging the inherent hypocrisy of such an arrangement. When details of his relationships get obscured in the muck of competing accounts, Nash attempts to winnow as much definition as possible. And yet, when it comes to explaining the psychological forces that made Elvis who he was, both sexually and otherwise, she's too quick to accept as gospel the assessments of former Turtles drummer-turned-psychologist Peter O. Whitmer, who theorized that the prime determinant of Elvis' life was a desire to compensate for the loss of his twin brother at birth. Nash's endorsement of Whitmer's psychobiography as the magic bullet that explains Elvis Presley's life and loves is both overenthusiastic and underscrutinized, a glaring anomaly in an otherwise entertaining read.

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