Interview conducted by Nigel Patterson (October 2020)
About Jean-Marie Pouzenc: Jean-Marie is one of Europe’s most well-known identities in the Elvis fan world. He is the founder and long-time president of the celebrated Elvis My Happiness fan club which operates online, has a physical shop, and publishes one of the best Elvis magazines in the world. Jean-Marie has also written a number of acclaimed Elvis books including his latest coffee table release, Elvis Technicolor in Black & White.
EIN: Jean-Marie, it’s great to finally talk with you about Elvis. How, and when, did you become an Elvis fan?
JMP: First of all, thank you for the interest you bring to the work we do here in France. I have been an Elvis fan from the very beginning, since 1956. I was 13 and my friends and I were fascinated by all that came from the USA, the movies, particularly the westerns, the music… I’m a true kid of Paris and with my buddies we were constantly looking for new stuff in our city. And then came James Dean, Marlon Brando, Rock’n’Roll, Bill Haley, The Platters and Elvis! Although there was nothing for us neither on the radio or on television - which virtually was non-existent at that time, we were so eager for discoveries that we used to visit all record shops in Paris. And one day, I saw a record cover, with no picture on it, with just the design of a drum kit and a title Rock’n’Roll n°2 – Elvis Presley – today it is one of the most wanted and most valuable records in France. The songs included I Forgot to Remember to Forget, Mystery Train, I Was the One and Heartbreak Hotel. I asked the saleswoman if she would let me listen to it. In less than no time my life has been flipped upside down, my existence changed completely and since then the magic never ended.
EIN: You are President of one of the world’s oldest and most successful Elvis fan clubs. When was Elvis My Happiness founded?
JMP: In the first instance my priority was to provide security for my family and that didn’t leave me much time to follow my passion. That didn’t prevent me from staying in contact with the Elvis world. Then from the early 90’s I had more free time and in 1992, with the help of some friends we created the fanzine, Elvis My Happiness, as at that time there was no magazine in France dedicated to Elvis. Then everything went very quickly.
Our fans asked us to organize trips to the US, to bring Elvis’ musicians to Paris, to open an Elvis shop… the next step was to create our own products, records, CDs, books… which led us to develop an excellent relationship with RCA/Sony France.
EIN: Sixty plus years is a long time. What changes have you noticed in the Elvis world since 1956?
JMP: First, bear in mind that in France we are facing some particularities such as the language. In the 50s/60s only few French people spoke English. But surprisingly, despite this, from 1956/1957, fans joined in great numbers and simultaneously Elvis songs were adapted in French and performed by French singers. The phenomenon did not cease to grow, even during his army days. Then he made a smashing comeback by selling one million copies of It’s Now Or Never in our country. In the early 60s, almost all young singers claimed to be him, all his songs were covered in French and finally he reached a total of about 500 cover versions in our language. That shows the incredible impact he had on the French population. His movies worked well until 1965. Then things were less successful. But from Big Boss Man, Guitar Man, it was all better again. After came the ’68 Comeback followed by That’s The Way It Is producing a new generation of fans which constitute the bulk of our troops. The trend didn’t slow down until he died. Sales records were achieved one after the other!
Elvis in Paris, 1959
Since his death things, like sales, have remained stable. He has received many awards, gold records, platinum records, and the same for his DVDs. Among significant achievements in France, Elvis The Concert was sold out in all the largest halls in Paris. In my opinion, the most significant change came when the Internet arrived. For many, it makes things easy and that induces negative behaviors such as fake news and that is a problem. The youngest ones have grown accustomed to listening to online music and for me it doesn’t offer the same flavor as a physical experience. That’s the reason why we try, through our magazine and our books, to stick as close as possible to the truth. With regard to the fan club, unfortunately some of our members, essentially from the first generation of fans, leave this earth and although young fans also become members, as I said many seem to confine themselves to the internet. That’s the big change!
EIN: What are some of the highlights for you over that time?
JMP: To share our passion with as many people as possible has always been our main focus. We managed to welcome in France the musicians and the background vocals of Elvis and also people close to Elvis such as Joe Esposito, who joined us to commemorate the 50 years of Elvis’ visit to Paris. Our shop in the very center of Paris has allowed us to welcome our guests in excellent conditions. We had a wonderful time together! We visited Paris together, we have toured in France, we shared meals, some of them, like Scotty Moore, had dinner at my place. They became friends and of course with such sources of information, we gathered valuable confidences. We even organized the last European concert of Carl Perkins. All opportunities for cherished memories that brought us even closer to Elvis. But what we are most proud of is to have allowed thousands of French and European fans to fulfil their dream: visit Graceland. That’s also the magic of Elvis - to make dreams come true when, seen from France, they seem unreachable!
EIN: Jean-Marie, your latest book, Elvis Technicolor in Black & White (in EIN’s opinion, a very clever title) is now available. It is devoted to an examination of Elvis’ film career with a focus on two major films in Elvis’ film career. How did the book come about?
JMP: As you can imagine in more than sixty years, we have archived a huge number of documents about Elvis specific to our country that of course are unknown to the new generations. Since our first books we have concentrated on that segment: to show the unique place occupied by Elvis in our country – being aware that of course an abundant literature already exists about what is happening in the USA or in the UK, for instance. So, there was no point in going down that path. Moreover, as it is the case with the book Elvis In Paris, we own many unpublished pictures from some movies and we considered it legitimate to share these photos and documents with as many as possible people. Therefore, we decided to go further than Blue Hawaii and Fun In Acapulco and address all of Elvis’s cinematography in our country and to conclude with a wink to our Belgian friends with the addition of the complete collection of the famous Belgian movie posters. The book is in French and in English and offers a vinyl album and CD with alternative versions of movie songs.
EIN: What are the key elements/what will fans find in the book?
JMP: Regarding the two movies already mentioned, the key elements are the huge number of unpublished pictures that cover almost all the important scenes from the movies but also, and particularly in Fun In Acapulco, the book shows pictures intended for advertising. Then I follow the chronology of the two movies, song by song, and I focus on each of them by telling their story. For instance, Can’t Help Falling In Love being a French song in origin will have an incredible journey, becoming one of the most sung songs in the world. The version by Elvis has been the subject of five different versions in French and even in both the Corsican and the Tahitian language. And on top of this I include hundreds of documents specific to France.
EIN: How does your book differentiate itself from other books about Elvis’ film career?
JMP: First of all, the book differentiates itself from other Elvis books because Elvis’ film career is seen here through the eyes of France and of course because it includes hundreds of unpublished pictures and documents, movie posters, advertisements, reviews, newspaper clippings… unknown by the fans both in France and abroad.
EIN: In researching and writing Elvis Technicolor in Black & White, what were some of the most interesting things you discovered?
JMP: Although of course I had already seen both movies many times, I ran into it again with an incredible pleasure. By the way I suggest the fans to read the words of Larry Mullen Jr., the U2 drummer, which I highlighted at the beginning of the book. They summarize perfectly what these films meant to many fans. Personally, I consider that certain people's view and blindness regarding the King’s movies, although not all are of the same quality, is narrow and clannish. I suggest they take the time to have a look at other artists who made hundreds of movies and see what is left of their career. Anyway, when I wrote the book there were no real discoveries for me and although I’m not a nostalgic person, I must admit it brought back a lot of memories.
EIN: Elvis Technicolor to Black & White has been released with a bonus CD and vinyl LP. Please tell us about these.
JMP: We like to make books with a theme, that deal with all parts of their subject, and as we did in our previous books it seemed so obvious to link photos, documents, posters, …to the music of Elvis. It’s the reason why the book offers alternative versions which are different -in all, on the vinyl and CD there are 37. Moreover, for the French market, we have made a bonus CD that offers 25 tracks sung in our language by French singers.
EIN: As often happens, another book with a similar title was published the last year. It has a very different perspective, focusing on Elvis and Race. Were you aware of Paul Belard’s, Elvis Black and White to Technicolor?
JMP: Yes, I do know about his books. Paul Belard is a real craftsman and it’s a pity that his books remain as very limited editions. The title of the book is a true coincidence, we had chosen it long before as we owned many negative cliches in black and white although the movies are in technicolor. Let me say that Paul Belard’s book is very interesting – with a serious subject.
EIN: Jean-Marie, you have written many books about Elvis. Which is your favourite?
JMP: In fact, they are very different, as you find a Elvis French discography that is very important, as well as a novel, Le jour où Elvis a chanté à Paris (The day when Elvis sung in Paris). In this novel, I wanted to talk about the relationship between Elvis and his fans in our country. I also wrote a biography, 50 ans avec Elvis (50 years with Elvis). But I think that my favourite one is Elvis un homme, toute la musique (Elvis a man, all the music) certainly because it is about the musical work of Elvis. It consists of two volumes, each one offering a CD edited with Sony France. In the two volumes, I tell in detail the story of each song and here we get to the very heart of Elvis.
EIN: Your various books about the time Elvis spent in Paris have proven to be very popular, the most recent iteration being 60th Anniversary Elvis in Paris 1959-2019. Why do you think there is such a strong interest in this interesting, but arguably relatively minor part of the Elvis Presley story?
JMP: Minor part … maybe, but certainly not for the French Elvis fans. Because Elvis came to Paris three times, and don’t forget that beyond Germany where he went by obligation, it’s the only place in the world where he travelled to voluntarily. The book Elvis in Paris has a real fascination because Elvis is so different there than anywhere else. And all the pictures prove it, he is of a remarkable elegance, as you can see in the photos from the press conference, from his visit to the cabaret Le Lido. Please note that he stayed in one of the most beautiful palaces in Paris. Another point of major importance: the third time he came was to meet with a master in karate, a sport that, as everybody knows, became absolutely essential in his life.
EIN: In 2018 you released your wonderful two volume set, Elvis Un Homme, Toute La Musique, covering Elvis’ music career from 1953 to 1977. Unlike some of your other books which have bi-lingual text (French and English), these volumes were only in French. Have you considered releasing them in English?
JMP: The two volumes consist in a 500 pages piece of literature that include many documents but moreover many pieces of text and it was complicated at the time for the editor to translate it. I would have liked to include an English version but… maybe we should consider it in the future?
EIN: Do you have any plans for another Elvis book, and if so, what can you tell us about it?
JMP: To tell you the truth I’m not interested in publishing another book just to publish one more, although some people ask me to do it. I need a real subject, a real theme. If it consists in doing what has already been done elsewhere, I am not interested. However, to answer your question, Elvis’ life and career are so rich that they can be approached from multiple angles and they deserve to. Today I’m 77 and the fan club already keeps me busy. I have the opportunity to express myself in shorter and very diverse articles in our magazine. I’m running out of time, but if I find some, I prefer to address the man, his humanity to take down all these cliches that have been around for so many years. I sincerely believe that Elvis deserves more than some ambiguous writings distilled by pseudo-intellectual persons.
EIN: A “crystal ball” question. With many of Elvis’ original fans leaving us, where do you think the Elvis world will be in another ten tears time?
JMP: I belong to the generation that is dying out little by little and, because that’s life, will finally disappear. For my part, as late as possible, I hope. As I said before, we have a large population that joined us after That’s The Way It Is. Those still have many good years ahead of them and that’s what I wish for them. Although it’s obvious that because of the internet we welcome less new members, we can say that many new members are young. Of course, they often turn to the web but it’s an area where Elvis is omnipresent. I don’t know how it works on your side of the world but if there’s something that goes pretty well over here, it's an intergenerational transmission. And then Elvis retains a real potential. There is still a big demand for the annual trip to Memphis. Elvis is part of the World Heritage. He lives in the collective unconscious. His daily presence is noted in multiple documents, TV series, movies, advertising… So even if the world of Elvis will be different, I don’t worry too much about him and his community.
EIN: Jean-Marie, is there anything else you would like to say to EIN readers?
JMP: Thanks again for the interest that you bring to what we do here in France. Your readers are fortunate to have such a high-quality site that cares about everything happening in the Elvis world. I would like to tell your readers not to waste their time visiting fake websites and blogs. They are too many! Elvis deserves better than that. And I want to tell them that when you have the chance to live such a passion it’s good to share it. So, let’s share it for a long time together!...
EIN: Jean-Marie, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to EIN. It has been fascinating hearing about Elvis in France. We wish you, and Elvis My Happiness, all the best for the future - and we look forward (hopefully) to another great Jean-Marie Pouzenc book release!
Comment on this interview
Interview by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN October 2020
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis My Happiness website
Elvis My Happiness on Facebook
Culture Factory Elvis My Happiness
25 Boulevard Arago, 75013 Paris
Books by Jean-Marie Pouzenc:
Elvis Technicolor in Black & White
Elvis un homme, toute la musique (Elvis a man, all the music) – two volumes
Elvis in Paris (60 th Anniversary Edition)
50 ans avec Elvis (50 years with Elvis).
Le Jour ou Elvis a chante a Paris (novel)
Elvis a Paris
Elvis La discographie francaise