Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson is the author of the highly-acclaimed Richard Nottingham series and is also a well-known music journalist. Born and raised in Leeds, he lived in the USA for thirty years and now makes his home in England.

Nickson's latest book in his Tom Harper mystery series is The Iron Water.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Nickson's reply:
I’ve recently been going back through some of Peter Guralnick’s books. As well as being a novelist, I’ve also been a music journalist for over 20 years, and Guralnick is one of the best at exploring American music. Sweet Soul Music digs expertly into the Southern soul scene that was such a powerful force in the 1960s and early ‘70s, with the twin beating hearts of Memphis (especially the Stax label) and Muscle Shoals, where so many great sides were recorded.

Guralnick’s epic, though, is his two-volume biography of Elvis Presley. Last Train to Memphis takes the reader up to Elvis being drafted in 1958, while Careless Love covers the rest of his life. It’s far from hagiography, but neither is it judgemental. Instead, it’s a fairly surgical, ludicrously detailed examination of the man’s life, an epic feat of research. By the end it’s difficult to have much liking for Elvis, but you do understand him and the forces that pushed him. And you do wonder about his manager, Col. Tom Parker, a man whose personality was formed by the carnival, who guided – and in many ways destroyed – his career.

I’m not an Elvis fan, not beyond the early Sun sessions and the sonic wonder of “Heartbreak Hotel.” But the cultural impact he had on America – and by extension, much of the world - in the 1950s is remarkable. I was born in England the year his first record appeared, so I was too young and too far away to understand what a change he made. And although I grew up with the Beatles’ music, I was still just too young to have properly lived the changes they wrought (and without Elvis there might never have been a Beatles).

Even though I lived in the US for 30 years, by then it was too late. I couldn’t share in the sorrow when Elvis died the year after I arrived on American soil. By then he’d become a figure of ridicule to those who took music seriously. Guralnick helps redress that balance. He’s doesn’t try to make Elvis into a tragedy (that would be impossible) but he does give you sympathy for someone who turned out to be at the mercy of the legend that had been created about him, and also of the great god, money. It’s probably 15 years since I read these books, and they’re as powerful now as the first time around.
Learn more about the book and author at Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

--Marshal Zeringue