Reviewed By: Brown Burnett
It’s been more than 40 years since Elvis Presley’s ignoble death. His music remains timeless. Millions of records have been sold and a two-decade movie career still provides entertainment for generations of fans around the world His concerts are memorable musical landmarks all, but just who was this man who ran Elvis’ career? Col. Tom Parker, has remained a man of mystery for decades.
James L. Dickerson’s book, “Colonel Tom Parker: The Curious Life of Elvis Presley’s Eccentric Manager” pulls Elvis’ shadowy Svengali into the light. It seems that Colonel Parker had his own fascinating life story. It was Parker who steered Elvis career into the stuff of legend, becoming a musical titan for the ages. Parker not only steered Elvis’ career, he also steered Elvis’ money, right into his own personal fortune. Elvis spent most of his life in a bubble created and jealously guarded by Parker. “The Colonel,” as everyone knew him, recognized Elvis naivete from the beginning, managing not just his career and finances but also his personal life. He made sure that Elvis really never “grew up.” Parker kept a watchful eye on Elvis’ “’toys”—the cars, the women, the trappings of superstardom, but Elvis’ health and overall well-being was all but ignored, making Elvis a tragic figure.
We all knew Elvis, but did we really? We really only knew the Elvis that Parker created.
Dickerson’s book begins with the stunning fact, that Parker actually invented himself before taking the reins of Elvis’ life. In fact, Parker was not even an American. He was born Andreas van Kuijk in Holland, a young man who somehow made it to the United States—an illegal alien masterfully blending into the American dream.. He soon was introducing himself as “Tom Parker from Huntington, West Virginia” and began his career of hucksterisms in the 1930s, ducking in and out of hustles which ranged from carnivals to sideshow patent medicines.
Dickerson has spent much of his writing career telling us about American blues, rock, and country music and how it sprouted from the area in the South he calls The Mojo Triangle. When we look at the Mojo Triangle today, so much of it centers around Elvis Presley, the man, the music and the myth. In telling Parker’s dark, but remarkable story, Dickerson takes us into Parker’s mysterious underworld and tells us how “The Colonel” jumped at a chance to take advantage of a naïve young man from Tupelo for more than two decades.
Ever stop to think why Elvis never performed outside of the United States, much less ever left it (except for his highly publicized GI stint in Germany)? And why did Elvis spend much of his career in Las Vegas? Just look to the man in the shadows with the cocked hat and a big cigar. Parker didn’t just cast his shadow over Elvis’ career, he also dealt with stars such as Eddy Arnold and Hank Williams.
Dickerson’s book takes you on a journey into an evil Svergalis’s world and how Elvis’ life, once considered to be the fulfillment of the American Dream, was actually a nightmare of epic proportions, created and controlled by a man whose brilliance was only matched by his lack of a conscience.
It is a tribute to the power of Elvis Presley’s music that it continues to flourish despite Andreas van Kuij –Colonel Tom Parker. .Elvis’ brilliance lives on. Parker’s darkness is just now being revealed.
Whether you are a fan of Elvis Presley on not, this is a book not to be missed.
Parker’s darkness is just now being revealed.
Brown Burnett is a former entertainment editor and reporter for The Commercial Appeal and the Jackson Daily News.