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Book Review

The world knows Elvis Presley - but they don't know me

by Bruno Tillander

Premium Publishing, Sweden, 2014, Hardcover, 398 pages, Illustrated, ISBN: 978-9187581038

includes: Who's Who, Picture Credits

Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, December 2014

The name Bruno Tillander will be familiar to many European fans and some in the UK and USA. He has been involved in the Elvis world for many decades and established the Swedish Elvis fan club magazine Tidskriften Elvis.

In 1984 he also co-founded with George Klein The Elvis Presley Museum - a travelling exhibition of Elvis owned and related items which toured until the late 1990s. The author is also a businessman with a deep interest in history and culture and his new book was recently released.

With an intriguing title, Tillander's book is structured in two parts, the first a six chapter section examining the Elvis story chronologically. Part 2 is a 13 chapter (plus listing of Who's Who in the Elvis world) consideration of Elvis the person, from his political and spiritual beliefs to those who influenced him and his relationship with African-Americans.

Tillander examines the Elvis story in the context of its socio-cultural influences. He also challenges well known issues. For example, he correctly observes John Lennon's statement (assuming he ever did say it) that 'Before Elvis there was nothing' is untrue (given the rich musical history that pre-dated and influenced Elvis). On another issue he discusses the public relations image of Elvis ("A fictitious image of Elvis") and challenges the claim:

Even people who may appear to be credible witnesses will tell you that they remember Elvis as a rebel in his school days.......they're confusing the time before 1955 with the time when his career as an artist was off the ground.

One of the more important chapters (#15) deals with Elvis' relationship to African Americans commencing with the scene setting question why don't some black people like Elvis? In this chapter Tillander offers a cogent appraisal of Elvis' contradictory relationship to the black civil rights movement.

At another juncture Tillander offers a not unreasonable, albeit quite short, consideration of the Colonel and his lack of long-term planning, including:

Parker didn't only try to stave off financial advisors or independent people such as Larry Geller, but also outspoken songwriters such as Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

There are also very strong accounts of individual members of Elvis' Memphis Mafia, uplifting stories of Elvis' spontaneous generosity and intriguing reflections on Elvis the bibliophile.

The world knows Elvis Presley caused some controversy with its pre-publication promotion referring to Elvis' collection of Nazi memorabilia. As detailed in chapter 18 the author's claim is correct and the suspicions raised by a number of sites, including EIN (our apologies to Bruno Tillander), was unfounded. Numerous pieces from the collection formed part of the Butterfield & Butterfield (now known as Bonham's) Elvis auction in Las Vegas on 6 and 7 October 1995*, while other pieces are/were in the possession of Dick Grob.

The Butterfield auction items included:

  • German 9MM Luger
  • German SS Officer's Dress Knife
  • German Officer's Dress Sword
  • German Officer's Dress Broad Sword
  • German Colonel Officer's Dress Short Sword
  • German Infantry Officer's Dress Bayonette
  • German Infantry Officer's Dress Bayonette (with Scabbard)

It is also believed Elvis owned a rifle (possibly stored in the attic at Graceland) which once belonged to Hermann Goering (Commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe and for a time one of Hitler's closest confidantes)!

* the 190 page catalog (shown opposite) for the 1995 auction, Elvis Presley Memorabilia, can occasionally be found for sale on ebay and Amazon
Throughout Tillander's expressive perspective of the Elvis story there is a volume of ancillary information about other artists and public figures - Fats Domino gets solid coverage and some readers may find (usually) short sections on, for example, The Dean Martin Show, Dolly Parton, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, somewhat extraneous. Apart from his musical influences, the author also discusses the influence on Elvis of non-musical stars including James Dean and Tony Curtis.

Biographical details for many of the people mentioned are descriptive and minimalist, reflecting their inclusion as encyclopedic type entries.


Purchase The world knows Elvis Presley - but they don’t know me from Amazon UK:


The world knows Elvis Presley is well served by both the welcome inclusion of sections on little known players in the Elvis story such as Ernest C. Withers (Memphis photographer) and Harry Geissler (founder of Factors Etc Inc.). and the author imbuing his narrative with accounts from the complex Elvis story which are impressively compelling........one such instance being the power play around the recording of Guitar Man, when singer-songwriter, Jerry Reed, took a confrontational stand with music publisher, Freddy Bienstock and Memphis Mafia member, Lamar Fike, on the issue of songwriter royalties:

There were many in the room whose jaws dropped with astonishment. None of those present could recall anything ever occurring in such a naked and brutal fashion in a recording studio.......

........Jerry left the premises in anger and the recordings continued as planned. But all the joy and commitment were completely gone, the good mood was lost...

The eclectic range of information on offer is unlikely to meet with approval by all readers. Its mix of minutiae and more substantial concerns ranges across:

  • Kissed his first girlfriend
  • The old Lyric cinema in Tupelo
  • The bank should be kept open (why wasn't the Colonel fired in January 1967?)
  • Larry Geller discussing the library at Graceland
  • Obsessed with his struggle against evil
  • Female co-star taller than Elvis
  • Elvis as a poet
  • Elvis was controlled
  • Secrets in the Graceland attic?
  • What were the political views of the Memphis Mafia?
  • Memphis Mafia - a gang of fortune hunters
  • Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry
  • Shaun (Nielsen) analyses Elvis' voice
  • the connection of Queen Sofia Magdalena, wife of Gustaf III (King of Sweden in the 18th century), to Priscilla Presley

One of Elvis' girlfriends in the 1950s, Barbara Hearn (Smith) contributes 4 pages of insightful narrative and photos from her personal collection and there are sections on Jerry Schilling's first visit to Graceland; the Lansky Brothers and Elvis' visit to the Moulin Rouge in Paris. Other text and photographic contributions come from Dr. Nick, Larry Geller, Scotty Moore and Jerry Weintraub.

As a total package Tillander presents a comprehensive consideration of the Elvis story including post August 1977 issues affecting Elvis' ongoing presence as an international icon. What he offers is not a linear, factually based biography, but rather an examination which pierces below the surface to discover what influences shaped and drove Elvis and those things that represented who he was as a person (not just his star image).

The book design is very good with high quality semi-gloss paper stock, hundreds of excellent color and b&w images and a strong, thoughtful narrative which, as the author's considered opinion, is valid (and of course open to contrary views on some issues).

Verdict: The world knows Elvis Presley - but they don't know me** is a valuable and interesting addition to the burgeoning Elvis book library. The narrative is a balance between descriptive accounts of friends, family, work in Elvis' life and the author challenging various myths in the Elvis world. In the latter respect it is a thought provoking read which many readers will appreciate and others will probably nit-pick about. Bruno Tillander has achieved his objective of producing a serious examination of who the 'real Elvis' was and in doing so has produced an important release which not only has gravity but shapes itself as one quite different to most other books written about Elvis.

** the title is Elvis' own words to Larry Geller shortly before his death (they represent the frustration Elvis felt that his fans saw only his star image, not Elvis the human being, and were the motivation for Bruno Tillander to provide an objective and serious perspective on who Elvis really was)

Comment on this review


Simon: I enjoyed your review of Bruno Tillander's book and have ordered it. Thanks for all the great work you guys do promoting Elvis to us fans.


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