Paperback, 112 pages
Published by Soft Skull Press,
June 1, 2009
This book defies even the broadest of categorizations. I want to call it poetry or flash fiction, but it is more. Each piece could be called an anecdote and although many are entertaining, they are not trivial. Story, by poem, by list, by letter the weight of C.A. Conrad’s work becomes a kind of testament and a working field guide to Elvis Presley.
Conrad begins his Advanced Elvis Course with a series of prose poems interspersed with dialogue between him and others while touring Graceland. Although Conrad is the main speaker in this collection of literary forays, numerous other characters lend their voices. Friends, family members and other Elvis-ites create a chorus that draw readers under the Presley spell. Make no mistake; Conrad has an agenda. He is on an “Advanced Elvis Course” though to what end remains to be seen.
One thing that I love about this collection is that it is a kind of devotional. Growing up Catholic, I was exposed to small booklets of prayers or devotions. Each had its own theme. One book might be dedicated to angels. Another may outline a series of prayers and actions for the first Fridays of the month. Conrad gives the reader his own personal devotions to Elvis. There is “Priscilla Presley’s Memoir Elvis and Me as Divination” where questions are posed and answered by bibliomancy. There is also the SATOR magical square of protection from the ancient world contrasted with Conrad’s ELVIS square.
One of my favorite sections was “The Elvis Was Ben Interview” in which Conrad interviews a Ben Franklin scholar and seeks to make a connection between the two great men. Another was “If Elvis Could Hear You Now!” in which posters were plastered across Philadelphia that stated callers could leave a message for Elvis. Conrad takes his favorite fifteen calls (from the hundreds he claims to have received) and shares them. The diversity and creativity of the pieces in Advanced Elvis Course is considerable.
If you don’t love the King and Conrad before this book, you will after reading it. Perhaps my only criticism for this book is that I wanted more. Although we see the outline of the “Advanced Elvis Course” we can only assume what the end result will be.
The day after I finished the book, I dug out my record of Elvis Presley’s movie “It Happened at the World’s Fair” and put the same film on my Netflix queue. Conrad’s writing makes me want to love Elvis as much as he does–which just might be the point.