First edition (original title)
|Publisher||Gold Medal Books|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
Spider Kiss (originally titled Rockabilly) is a 1961 novel by author Harlan Ellison. The novel follows the meteoric rise and eventual fall of an early rock 'n' roll singer named Stag Preston, whose description would lead you to believe the character was inspired by Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis. Preston also shares some traits in common with Lonesome Rhodes, the character played by Andy Griffith in the 1957 movie A Face in the Crowd.
A seemingly shy and humble country boy named Luther Sellers is discovered to have a magnificent voice and mesmerizing stage presence. He is given the stage name Stag Preston and after a short time on the "Chittlin' Circuit" becomes a major rockabilly music star under the tutelage of a manager who seems to be patterned after Elvis Presley's manager, "Colonel" Tom Parker. Over time Luther's success goes to his head and his "Aw, shucks..." demeanor simply becomes a gimmick used to keep his fans, who he secretly despises, believing that he hasn't really left his country roots and humble upbringing.
In reality Stag lives up to his stage name, using his fame and seductive powers to lure any woman he can into his bed, leaving broken hearts and scandals everywhere he goes. The latter are all tidied up by his money-grubbing manager, who doesn't want anything to taint his cash cow. Meanwhile, Stag's growing megalomania eventually has him treating everyone around him like dirt and becoming harder and harder to work with. Eventually he is entangled in a scandal that takes all their power to cover up, and sets into motion the events leading to Stag's downfall.
Similarities to Real Celebrities and other Fictional Characters
Much of the personality attributed to Stag Preston seems to be modeled on real rockabilly stars of the mid-to-late 1950s.
Jerry Lee Lewis, who scandalized the world when he married his 13 year-old cousin only to have it later discovered that he wasn't officially divorced from his ex-wife at the time seems to be a major source for the character. Though the types of scandals the Stag Preston character is involved in are of a different variety, much of the character is reminiscent of some of Lewis's real life character traits.
The description of Stag's stage persona in the novel sounds more like Elvis Presley. Like Presley, Stag starts out as a somewhat rockabilly stylist who morphs into more of a crooner as his career progresses. Ironically, when read today, the novel also sounds eerily like an inside look at the private life of Elvis Presley. However, at the time the novel was written Presley was fresh out of the Army and his image was relatively untarnished beyond the backlash by those who had initially decried his overt sexuality and exposure of white teens to what was then euphemistically referred to as "race music". It would only be after his death sixteen years later that some of the darker aspects of his personality that seem so similar to the Stag Preston character would be made public.
As stated in the introduction, Stag Preston also resembles the Lonesome Rhodes character from A Face in the Crowd. In that movie, Andy Griffith portrays Larry Rhodes, an itinerant country-folk singer discovered while sleeping off a drunk in an Arkansas jail. While being recorded in his jail cell for a local radio program he is spontaneously dubbed "Lonesome" Rhodes by the woman who discovers him (played by Patricia Neal). He becomes a local and eventually NYC-based national celebrity whose public personality of populist, corn pone humorist is a cover for the derision he feels towards both his own low origins and the gullible public who fall for his charade. Meanwhile, his ego and mistreatment of people around him grows, and he courts disaster by marrying a 17 year-old contestant from a high school majorette contest for which he goes back to Arkansas to serve as the judge.