- For the Trotskyist and labor movement lawyer, see Albert Goldman (politician).
April 15, 1927|
Dormont, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||March 28, 1994
En route from Miami to London
Goldman wrote about the culture and personalities of the American music industry both in books and as a contributor to magazines. He is best known for his bestselling book on Lenny Bruce and his controversial biographies of Elvis Presley and John Lennon.
Albert Goldman briefly studied theater at the Carnegie Institute of Technology before serving in the U.S. Navy from 1945–1946. He earned a master's degree in English from the University of Chicago in 1950; under the chancellery of Robert Maynard Hutchins, students who were not enrolled in the generalist "Chicago Plan" undergraduate degree program were designated as master's students and received the higher degree. While enrolled in the English doctoral program at Columbia University, Goldman taught literature courses at the City College of New York. He completed his PhD in 1961 with a dissertation on Thomas de Quincey. Goldman argued that de Quincey had plagiarized most of his acclaimed journalism from lesser-known writers; the dissertation was subsequently published by Southern Illinois University Press in 1965. From 1963 to 1972, Goldman was an adjunct associate professor of English at Columbia; among his course offerings was the University's first class on popular culture.
Bestseller dealing with Lenny Bruce
Goldman's breakthrough bestseller, Ladies and Gentlemen – Lenny Bruce!! won praise from the likes of Norman Mailer and Pauline Kael, who called the book "brilliant." The book was largely positive in its appraisal of Bruce's talent, though it was attacked by many of Bruce's friends for allegedly distorting his character and for claims that Bruce had had homosexual experiences.
Elvis Presley biography
Goldman's critical 1981 biography Elvis was much more controversial. In this book, Goldman drew on more than four years' research into Elvis Presley's life. But for many fans and some critics, his research was undermined by his intense personal dislike of Presley. For instance, Goldman dismissed Presley as a plagiarist who never did anything of note after his first records at Sun Records, insisting that he was inferior as an artist to Little Richard and other early rock'n'roll singers. He also portrayed Presley as nearly insane, using stories that some might see as innocuous (such as Presley taking his friends halfway across the country to buy them peanut-butter sandwiches) to "prove" that the singer had lost his grip on reality.
On the other hand, the book includes several newly discovered facts. For instance, in the course of his research, Goldman discovered that Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was not a Southerner but a native of the Netherlands. Parker had successfully covered this up to the degree that Presley himself allegedly never learned of it. (The book is harshest on Parker out of all the figures in Presley's life with whom it deals.) Furthermore, the book critically deals with the singer's weight problems, his diet, his choice of performing costumes, and his sexual appetites and peculiarities. The author even suggests that Presley's promiscuity masked latent homosexuality. Discussing Presley's personal life, Goldman concludes: "Elvis was a pervert, a voyeur." Some critics found comments like these overly biased and judgmental.
- In his review of the book in the Village Voice, rock critic and Elvis Presley scholar Greil Marcus wrote: "The real significance of Goldman's 'Elvis' is its attempt at cultural genocide ... The torrents of hate that drive this book are unrelieved." He particularly objected to Goldman's constant slurs against Presley's background, including his characterization of Presley's parents as "the original Beverly Hillbillies" without bothering to include the explanatory context that the situation comedy was actually the story of suddenly rich innocents, as Presley's parents themselves were, who were trying to cope with the fear that even money and social access would never be enough to enable them to belong. "It is Goldman's purpose to entirely discredit Elvis Presley, the culture that produced him, and the culture he helped create – to altogether dismiss and condemn, in other words, not just Elvis Presley, but the white working-class South from which he came, and the pop world which emerged in his wake." However, Marcus also admits that Goldman has significantly shown that "Elvis Presley built his own world...where the promise was that every fear, pain, doubt, and wish could be washed away with money, sex, drugs, and the bought approval of yes-men..." And the reviewer also admits that the book, "as no book on Elvis Presley before it, ... has been taken seriously. Despite some partially negative or carping notices, the reviewing media have accepted the book as it presents itself—as the last book we will need about Elvis Presley."
- In 2006, BLENDER Magazine called Elvis a "muckraking biography", stating that Goldman dealt with everything about Elvis Presley but his music.
- Other critics liked the book. Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post called it a "nasty book, written in spectacularly execrable prose, but the view of Presley that it expressed dovetailed in many instances with my own, and in spite of itself I found things in it to admire."
- According to Rolling Stone, October 21, 1981, Elvis "is a poignant book, the result of Goldman's winning the trust and confidence of hundreds of sources, including many of Elvis' closest friends. It is also an intimate look at a side of Elvis that few even suspected existed. Many people will find some of the revelations unpleasant and view them as a needless and harmful invasion of privacy. Yet, such revelations comprise a truth about modern American heroism and success. The fact is that somehow inherent in Elvis' great fame as an American ideal and idol is a contradiction that was the seed of destruction."
- Lamar Fike, the Presley insider and former member of the Memphis Mafia, who introduced Goldman to many of his sources, recalled: "The problem was Albert's personality. At first, he liked Elvis. But later, he started disliking him. And by the end of (writing) the book, I think he hated him. I said, 'Albert, you can't do this.' But I couldn't stop him."
Defending himself against his critics, Goldman told an interviewer: "People were scandalized by my use of humor and ridicule in (the Elvis biography). Elvis was someone they were accustomed to taking in a very sentimental way. But I feel he was a figure of the most bizarre and grotesque character. . . . The humor is a mode of perception. Of making things vivid."
Article on Bruce Lee
Second book on Presley
In 1990, Goldman published a second book, entitled Elvis: The Last 24 Hours, on the circumstances and events of Presley's death, arguing that the singer had committed suicide. The book drew some attention for its sensational thesis but was largely ignored.
The Lives of John Lennon
Goldman's next biography arguably aroused even more controversy than the Elvis biography. In The Lives of John Lennon, a product of years of research and hundreds of interviews with many of Lennon's friends, acquaintances, servants and musicians, Goldman describes John Lennon as both talented and neurotic. The book reveals a very personal side of the musician who was prone to faults, such as anger, violence, drug abuse, adultery, and indecisiveness, but who was also a leader of "Peace and Love." It deals with Lennon's childhood and the impact others had on the life of the sensitive little boy, among them his aunt, Mimi Smith, his father, Fred Lennon, and Johnny Dykins. The author implies that strong women ruined Lennon, starting with Smith, and that he was later being held prisoner by his wife, Yoko Ono.
Centering on the mistakes or mean things the musician did, Goldman made many controversial allegations, among them the charge that he may have had something to do with the death of his friend Stuart Sutcliffe, an early member of The Beatles. The author also says that Lennon had a homosexual affair with The Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, whom Goldman characterizes as a dishonest, incompetent businessman who hid behind the image of a "gentleman". Half of the book covers the personality of Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono, who is portrayed in a very bad light; Goldman alleges that, among other things, she hated Paul McCartney, neglected her children and brainwashed and pulled Lennon away from everyone who ever meant something to him. Goldman also alleged that the two carried on constant affairs throughout their marriage and he substantially revealed that no record exists of the phone calls Yoko Ono claims to have made to McCartney and Mimi Smith the night Lennon was murdered.
What is the basis for this sweeping and defamatory assertion? Absolutely nothing save for my quoting only one book about LSD. Yet if Sante knew anything about drugs, he would recognize that the only serious problem about Lennon's consumption of LSD was one that has no literature; namely, the question of what effect this drug has upon a man who takes it every day, eating it 'like candy.'
In popular culture
- "Don't believe in Goldman
- His type [is] like a curse
- Instant Karma's gonna get him
- If I don't get him first"
The American television program Saturday Night Live had a season-14 sketch in which it was revealed that Albert Goldman, portrayed by Phil Hartman, was the fifth member of the Beatles, and played the trombone. The band, supported by Elvis Presley, decides to fire Goldman—a task they leave to John, with Elvis backing him up. This ostensibly fueled Goldman's lifelong hatred of the two.
- The Mine and the Mint: Sources for the Writings of Thomas de Quincey (1965)
- Freakshow;: The rocksoulbluesjazzsickjewblackhumorsexpoppsych gig and other scenes from the counter-culture (1971)
- Ladies and Gentlemen – Lenny Bruce!! (1974)
- Carnival in Rio (1978)
- Grass Roots: Marijuana in America Today (1979)
- Disco (1979)
- Elvis (1981)
- The Lives of John Lennon (1988)
- Elvis: The Last 24 Hours (1990)
- Sound Bites (1992)
- Freakshow : Misadventures in the Counterculture, 1959–1971 (2001) – posthumous collection
- The New York Times
- The Los Angeles Times
- See Greil Marcus, "THE ABSENCE OF ELVIS: The Myth Behind the Truth Behind the Legend"
- See Jonathan Yardley, "CARELESS LOVE: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley".
- Alanna Nash, Elvis and the Memphis Mafia (Aurum Press, 2005)
- Barry Miles, "Nemesis: Albert Goldman." UNCUT, December 2000