'Elvis The Army Years Uncovered: Behind the Scenes of the Two Years That Changed The King of Rock and Roll's Life'
By Trina Young
Book Review by Kees Mouwen, 'Elvis Day By Day' blog, September 2020
Trina Young published her third book on Elvis Presley. After delving into the legend behind Presley and the “love and rivalry” between the Beatles and Elvis, she now investigates the two years when Elvis served his country and how that changed his life.
Some may think that stepping out of the spotlight at the height of his popularity, serving almost two years as a G.I. 53310761 in Germany, and following orders from Uncle Sam was mostly uneventful. The reality is to the contrary. Out of the spotlight and behind the scenes, several impactful “events” took place that would indeed redefine, reshape and revamp his life and career, both negatively and positively.
And let’s not forget, Elvis’ did not swap his guitar for an army rifle to film ‘G.I. Blues’. “It was more like war than you might think,” Presley’s fellow soldier, Rex Mansfield said. “It was not peacetime. It was ‘be ready’ time… We’d been warned (war with Russia) could happen at any time.”
In this book Trina Young goes behind the superficial public relations story of Presley’s army years. As the author notes: “The 17 months out of the U.S. public spotlight offered Elvis a time to live like a normal person again, to a degree. In fact, since becoming a household name in 1956, this would be the only time in the remainder of Presley’s career until his death in 1977 that Colonel Parker would not be there to exert management control over his client.”
And after being mobbed again during the filming of ‘King Creole’, having to “escape from his fans” by climbing up to the roof and then cross over to the roof of another building to save himself, you can imagine Elvis himself would enjoy some time away and a little distance to those fans.
The book comes as a paperback and e-book and is primarily a text-book with 25 short chapters on almost 200 pages. It includes seven pages with black and white illustrations presenting various pictures of documents, people, and some memorabilia relevant to the story.
You can see the author is an experienced writer as she has an entertaining and colorful writing style. The book also shows that Young is a professional journalist who did her homework as the book includes 20 pages of notes and used sources.
The use of the many quotes from people who were there when it happened makes the text come alive and adds to its credibility.
Elvis had two pre-army haircuts before his legendary clipping,
but there was still a lot of hair to trim off! [Bob Klein Media]
The book opens setting the scene for Elvis’ Army years detailing the positive and negative reactions on Elvis’ draft, running all the way up to President Eisenhower who had an opinion on his new soldier. It's funny and entertaining to read letters from Elvis' fans to people like the President of the U.S., to the public information officers at Fort Chaffee (one of them being the father of Elvis’ last girlfriend Ginger Alden):
“Dear President Eisenhower,
My girlfriends and I are writing all the way from Montana. We think it’s bad enough to send Elvis Presley in the Army, but if you cut his sideburns off, we will just die! You don’t know how we feel about him. I really don’t see why you have to send him in the Army at all, but we beg you please, please, don't give him a G.I. haircut, OK, please, please don’t! If you do, we will just about die!
(signed) Elvis Presley Lovers,
Linda Kelly, Sherry Bane, Mickie Mattson”
Young also showed that the reactions of some die-hard fans were as hard and unpleased as some posts by today’s music fans on Facebook or Twitter. Fans will be fans.
One of the first “events” that happened during his Army years was of course the death of his mother, August 14, 1958, which left Elvis and Vernon devastated. Looking at how close the Presley family was, it is easy to understand that their life would never be the same. The book does not answer the question if Elvis’ draft contributed to the death of Gladys, causing stress and further deteriorating her already fragile physique. Answering the question how Elvis’ life would have evolved if he had had his soul mate at his side would be speculation anyway, and the author stays away from that.
Perhaps being shipped off to Germany a month later was possibly a beneficial distraction for Elvis. The book also details how Elvis became more interested in spiritual matters as he grieved for his mother.
The book illustrates how Elvis found his way in his new temporary home abroad. And where some may expect a “sensationalistic” coverage of Elvis dealing with girls, substances and more, using some of the original coverage of Elvis life abroad, Young keeps it fact based.
The author covers all aspects of Elvis’ army years. Next to his military training and career, the author details his personal life, relationships (and there were a few), his daily life on and off base, the hotels he rented with his entourage (and got kicked out of), and settling down with his family at Goethestrasse 14 in Bad Nauheim. The Colonel’s strategy to keep Elvis in the spotlight is also discussed, as is the Colonel’s interference in Elvis’ love life, how the media reacted to Elvis’ stay in Germany, and the new recreational interest that would become an important part of Elvis’ life.
Elvis with 18 year old actress Vera Tschechowa
Having dated many girls abroad, like Margit Buergin, Heli von Westrem and actress Vera Tschechowa, and trying to keep things going with his “official” girlfriend, Anita Wood, back home, his main love interest in Germany was of course, Priscilla Presley. All of Elvis’ “relations” with these ladies - or should we say “young girls” - are covered respectfully and factually in this book. Trina Young details how Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship progressed, and was managed. Although naming the chapter in meeting Priscilla “Meeting An Angel” goes a bit far in my book.
As most fans know, while in Germany Elvis and his Army buddies were introduced to amphetamines and other substances to keep them energized to stay up all night for their exhausting training maneuvers. The author’s discussion of these substances does not condemn nor justify it.
The reader also learns about the photographer who shot the iconic portraits for the ‘His Hand In Mine’ album as well as other shots while Elvis was in Bad Nauheim. One of the pictures ended up on the cover of the single ‘A Big Hunk O’ Love’ while another of Elvis posing on a bridge, was the inspiration for a statue (the unveiling of which in August 2021 is included). This illustrates that the book is very up-to-date. I would have liked to see more of these pictures in the book.
Readers will find the author’s account of an encounter with comedian George Bernard at the Lido Club in Paris, enlightening.
After 711 days on active duty - enlisting during the height of his career - and rising to the rank of sergeant in two years, G.I. Presley was discharged and returned to normal life and his hometown Memphis. This is where the book ends.
Looking back these two years we see how the Army turned the boy into a man and gained more insight in the “events” that happened and impacted Elvis for the rest of his life. Elvis was proud of his two year stint in the Army too. Trina Young identifies a little known piece of evidence that confirms that pride.
The author set out to answer questions on the German girls Elvis dated, secret concerts that Elvis gave in Germany, close calls and dangerous situations Elvis faced, special treatment he received, friends he made, new hobbies he discovered and of course the girls he left behind in the U.S. leaving for Germany and girls he left behind in Germany returning to the States.
Reading the book, I can only conclude that all questions were covered, but not all were answered. And that’s not a complaint, as part of answering these questions would be speculation. What if he had done … or hadn’t met …? Young stays away from that.
Overall, Trina Young has written a knowledgeable and easy to read book. She compiled information from multiple sources, adding new elements and perspectives on these two years. Young stayed away from the “what-ifs” but offers the reader material to make up his or her own mind. The only minor issue is that a few more illustrations would have given this book some more appeal and credibility and helped the stories come more alive.
I found the book entertaining and learned a few new fact I wasn’t aware of before. Something to keep in mind next time I visit Bad Nauheim.
Read EIN’s interview with Trina Young
Comment on this Review
Review by Kees Mouwen.
-Copyright EIN September 2021
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network/ Elvis Day By Day.
Image from the book.
Fan Lillian Portnoy got a kiss from Elvis as his ship was leaving New York. The photo appeared in many papers across the country (9/23/58).
Trina Young talks to EIN: Music journalist, Trina Young’s latest Elvis book, Elvis: The Army Years Uncovered: Behind the Scenes of the Two Years That Changed The King of Rock and Roll's Life, is now available.
Trina recently took time out to speak with EIN’s Nigel Patterson about her new book, her earlier Elvis books, the concerning issue of plagiarism of her works, and more.
Read Trina’s full interview
(Interview, Source: ElvisInformationNetwork)
'Elvis - Made In Germany’ In-Depth Review: The new MRS 'Elvis - Made In Germany – The Complete Private Recordings’ 4CD set contains more than 3 hours of the private recordings Elvis made while off duty in Germany when he was serving as a soldier in the US army during the 1958 -1960 period and, includes rare tracks from a recently discovered tape comprising over an hour of unheard personal recordings.
The 152-page hardback book contains rare photographs and documents plus a comprehensive text provided by Gordon Minto, which discusses each of Elvis’ RCA studio (non-film) recording sessions held during 1957-58, before focusing on the private recordings he made in Germany.
The BONUS CD features the essential RCA studio masters from 1957-58.
With such an expansive book, along with hours of Elvis jamming with his friends in Germany, there is plenty to discuss as well as finding out what extra material this set contains over the official releases.
Go here as EIN's Nigel Patterson & Piers Beagley provide an in-depth review of this new MRS release
(Book Reviews, Source;ElvisInformationNetwork)
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