Netherlands author / creator of
'Almost in Elvis'
Interview conducted by Nigel Patterson, November 2021
EIN continues its series of interviews with Elvis world identities in different countries, this time discussing “things Elvis” with Dennis Tiel from the Netherlands.
EIN: Dennis, before we discuss your books and Elvis in the Netherlands, what is the Dennis van Tiel story?
DvT: I was born in 1972 in Utrecht, a city in The Netherlands near Amsterdam (a little country in a not very big Europe, compared to Australia). After high school I followed different vocations in the direction of writing, editing (for film) and graphic design. To make a living and be able to subsidize my own creative projects I also followed studied as an accountant. So, now I work a couple of days as an accountant and the rest of the week I am writing my own books/magazines and publish them under my own publishing company. In the past I was also a stand-up comedian and I produced small documentaries and sketches for local television. I have also owned a video store, which specialized in the more alternative movies.
EIN: You were a stand-up comedian! How fascinating. Please tell us about that experience.
DvT: Well actually in The Netherlands they call it cabaret (not the same as Broadway cabaret), because besides trying to be funny with jokes it also contains music and character plays/drama. I did it for a couple of years, from when I was twenty until I was around 30. I did two evening filling shows (one was called Mopet Ali, based on the lives of Mohammed Ali and Elvis) and also did some sketches (satire) in which I played the parts of politician, artists and otherwise.
EIN: To EIN’s knowledge, you have published at least three books and they all seem to be very different in content. Your latest book in the Almost in Elvis series is called 'De Elvis.' (From Elvis). EIN understands 'De Elvis' is not a fan club magazine/book, but the latest edition of an annual thematic publication with contributions from several fans. Please tell us more about it.
DvT: De Elvis. is the 19th issue of Almost in Elvis. An initiative for writers, journalists, poets, artist and just passionate lovers of the character Elvis A. Presley. Every issue has is own theme. The style and the design are different every issue and follows the theme of that edition sort of speak. You could consider Elvis is a kind of muse in this context.
The 19th edition is a book with 116 pages and hardcover. The theme is the similarities between the character of the United States and the character of Elvis Presley (the show business, patriotism, music, fast food, addiction on medicines, cars, weapons, etc). So, De Elvis. tries to describe the United States in Elvis and the other way around. More than ten writers / journalists / poets / artists and even a very well-known American history-professor/TV personality participated in this edition.
EIN: And some editions of Almost in Elvis are books while others are magazines. Is this correct?
DvT: Yes, it all has to do with the theme. Like nr. 2, called All Shook Up had the theme Elvis and sports. The design was based on the well-known pink sport paper from Italy, Gazzetta dello sport. The fifth edition was called Desert Storm, and the theme of this issue was Elvis performing in Las Vegas in August and September 1974, and then special focus on the closing show in which Elvis had hunting dialogues about the gossips that he was a drug addict. It all sounded paranoid almost, that's why the design was a brown envelope with Desert Storm written down as a stamp.
And inside the envelope (closed with a copper pin) you could find separate sheets filled with different columns, essays and stories and with black censor stripes like an FBI dossier. And then you have some glossy designed magazines and then the last three editions are designed as books.
EIN: Last year you released the book, Jaarringen van een Koning (Years of A King). How would you describe it?
DvT: Very short: a historic novel with a twist. Jaarringen van een koning (Jaarringen in Dutch means the rings in a tree, to know the age of the tree) tells the story of adventures, inventors, athletes, politicians, artist and even a dog, that starts in 1935 above the Pacific Ocean and ends with the Wow!-signal in 1977. This era is also known as the reign of the King of rock-‘n-roll, Elvis Presley. The singer is followed from his birth until his presumable death in 1977. From the possibility to destroy ourselves by just push of a button, development of youth culture, the battle of minorities to be heard, and the right to making the oldest light in the universe visible, the King was there.
The structure is 43 chapters (for every year 1935-1977 one chapter) with a historical event, described with the point of view of one of the main characters of that event (so the event is fact, and the thoughts of the character are fiction). After the event there is a part with a (sort of) factual short story of Elvis’ whereabouts in that year. And every chapter ends with a poem, inspired by the content of that chapter. I hope this is clear.
The book’s design is inspired by a logbook of a DC-3 airplane around 1935, and it is a hardcover with 280 pages.
EIN: What gave you the idea for an historical novel?
DvT: First, it was a very personal reason. When I reached the age of 42 1/2 in 2014 I realized that I had outlived Elvis in age. And second, that in 2017 Elvis would have left our planet 40 years ago. Unfortunately, because of other projects and work, I finished the book a few years later than I had originally wanted. But the way I constructed the content was to combine my passions in one book: history, science, music, of course Elvis and poetry.
EIN: Dennis, the other book of yours that EIN is aware of, Een Verknipte Engel (A Twisted Angel), was published in 2012. Underpinning this was a very interesting theme. Please tell us about it.
DvT: Een verknipte Engels is a collection of the best essays, stories and poems first published in the Almost in Elvis editions (from number 1 to 12). The title is inspired by a monologue Elvis delivered on stage in Las Vegas about the angels on the ceiling that he painted black with some of his buddies. That, in combination with his strong religious beliefs and him being a good, so so, and bad angel, like we all are, gave me the idea of the twisted part ;-)
EIN: Are there any other books by Dennis van Tiel that EIN is unaware of?
DvT: Besides Jaarringen en Verknipte Engel and all editions of Almost in Elvis I also have written a book about my great grandmother who kept a diary about her first forty years of her live (1902 – 1942), were she grew up in poverty and had a harsh life.
And I wrote a poetry / photo book about my journey through North Korea in 2014. The poems are written as a supporting act to the pictures in the book that I took during the trip. The poems are ironic and cynical and are written like I am a court poet of the dictator Kim Jong-Un himself.
On this moment I am working on a new novel, based around an old man who fought in the Dutch colonial war in Indonesia in 1949-1950 and I am working on the 20th editions of Almost in Elvis that should come out next year, when Almost in Elvis is also twenty years old!
EIN: Was it your intention for your books to be so different or was it something that happened naturally?
DvT: It comes naturally, I guess. But I have to say that I always intended that each edition of Almost in Elvis would have an original design, themes, and style. This was because I wanted to reach an audience that was wider than just Elvis fans.
EIN: How have readers reacted to the Almost in Elvis series?
DvT: Through the years it seems that some Elvis fans don’t like the way some things are written. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, let’s put it that way. Not everyone can see through the irony, self-mockery, cynic, honesty, and more artistic approach.
EIN: Elvis has always been very popular in the Netherlands (Holland) with strong fan clubs, many books and magazines published, and various Elvis related activities. How is the Elvis scene now compared to when he was alive and in the decade or so after his death?
DvT: I must be honest on these questions. I am not really involved in the Elvis scene. I know the fan clubs, but I don’t attend fan club activities. The only time I see other fans is during special cinema screenings (Comeback Special and recently Elvis That’s The Way It Is). What is funny to mention is that in my city Utrecht, there is a real Elvis store where you can buy every souvenir, vinyl record, cd etc! Sometimes, I talk with the owner and the fact that he can make a living says enough about the health of the Elvis scene in Holland (lol).
Because I was only five when Elvis died, I can’t really give an indication of how big the Elvis scene was when he was alive, compared to today. I think Elvis was not really a big part of the musical scene in Holland. He didn’t really have a lot of hits here. In the seventies they didn’t sell well. He had a small revival during the comeback days of rock-‘n-roll around 1974 and his death in 1977. The Netherlands were more a Beatles and Stones country.
But, the fact we have an Elvis shop that can stand on his own must mean there are thousands of dedicated fans.
EIN: There have been numerous Elvis records and CDS released in the Netherlands that are of interest to collectors. What are some of the most important or interesting?
DvT: I can’t help you on this one. I only buy the FTD collectors’ releases (not all I have to say) and some of the Sony Legacy albums. The Dutch records and CDs are usually compilation type albums, which I am not really interested in.
EIN: Are Elvis tribute artists popular in the Netherlands?
DvT: Not that I know off, there is one, but I think he is only famous with fan club members. And I must be honest again (lol) – “I really don’t want to know” them. I guess I have seen too many that walk around in a “Captain Marvel’ suit and really think they are Elvis, but sound terrible. I always have the credo: if I want to listen or see Elvis, I listen and watch Elvis.
What I can dig are known artists and bands with their own style and music and on occasions show up at tribute shows and perform Elvis songs by using their own style and way of singing. For me, that is more sincere.
EIN: In many countries, there is a close relationship between Elvis clubs and rock ‘n’ roll clubs. Is this the case in the Netherlands?
DvT: Again, I can’t really answer that one. And personally, I have to say, and this will be blasphemy to a lot of your readers, but I am not really hooked on the rock-‘n-roll period of Elvis, but more interested musically in the Nashville 1960-1963 and Memphis 1969 period.
EIN: As someone who has been involved in the Elvis world for a long time, where do you see it being/what will it look like in the year 2030?
DvT: I think like with all artists who are no longer with us, it will continue to slowly shrink until you have only a few thousand dedicated fans and a bigger but less fanatical group of music lovers who will keep appreciating Elvis and have some albums in their possession. And Elvis will become more of an icon. It is a natural development, as even for the dedicated fans, musically, the bottom of the bucket has almost been reached and there is nothing new for us to listen to. You must realize that even the collectors label Follow That Dream will be 23 years old next year…... the same period of time that Elvis’ career lasted (1954 till 1977).
EIN: Dennis, did you ever get to see Elvis live in concert?
DvT: It will be the only time to say that I think it is a pity that I am only 49 years old and was too young to see Elvis live, ha-ha. But I remember watching Aloha from Hawaii for the first time as a 10-year-old kid. I couldn’t sleep afterwards because I was so excited. Does that count as seeing Elvis live in concert (lol)?
EIN: Do you have plans for another Elvis book?
DvT: Yes, as I mentioned earlier, I am working on the 20th edition of Almost in Elvis. It will be a real book again, hardcover and the content will again be very original, that’s a promise. My goal is to publish it next year when Almost in Elvis is 20 years old and Elvis will have been missed for 45 years.
EIN: How can interested fans obtain your books?
DvT: They can visit my website www.almostinelvis.nl and look around. There is an order page, but if you can’t figure that out because of the language (it is all in Dutch), you can send me an e mail: email@example.com. Ideally, I would like to have an English language website with English language books and magazines, but it is question of not having a budget to hire a translator. It is very important that everything is translated in a way that the character and style of the stories and poems stay intact. I can write reasonable English, but for the subtle touches I need a professional translator.
EIN: Dennis, is there anything else you would like to say to EIN readers?
DvT: Again, it is unfortunate I don’t have the resources to translate my books and magazines of Almost in Elvis in English, so more people could enjoy (with a big hopefully ha-ha) the adventures written down in all editions of Almost in Elvis and Jaarringen van een koning.
There is one thing that I don’t like. I have noticed on the forums and sites that a lot of fans take themselves and Elvis very seriously. In too many cases there seems to be no room for criticism, irony, or a more literary approach. As soon as some sentences seem to be harsh, some fans have the habit of not reading further and take everything too literally.
There seems to be no space for different sounds. It is like a painter who paints an abstract version of a vase with flowers by only painting stripes and dots, and then someone will accuse him of making fun of the flowers. They refuse to let others the freedom to look at the artwork and consider how the artist has been inspired and expressed his subject. That is Elvis to me, a muse and not a prophet or someone I am blindly in love with.
As an example, on one occasion I had an article from a regular column in Almost in Elvis translated. Except for one person, others took it literally and didn’t bother to read between the lines as soon as the content seemed too fragile. They didn’t notice that the column is actually about empathy and passion for Elvis. The article can be read here
EIN: Dennis, on behalf of EIN’s readers, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Fans can check out the Almost in Elvis website
Comment on this Interview
Interview by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN November 2021
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
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