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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Mama's Little Prince: The Mårten Melin Interview


Interview with Mårten Melin about his book Mama's Little Prince.

My brother Mårten Melin is the author of the Swedish book Mammas lilla prins (Mama's Little Prince), a novel about Elvis Presley's childhood. Yesterday I published a sample of it in English here on my blog and today's post features an interview with Mårten where he talks about his book.     

First, can you tell me a little bit about your relationship to Elvis?

Well, I've been a fan since our brother Staffan bought the German 2-LP collection Elvis Forever. My favorite song was "King Creole" so the first album I bought with my own money was the King Creole soundtrack. Elvis has always been important to me, and I would say I listen to him almost every day.

Why did you decide to write a novel about Elvis childhood?

As a writer I always look for good stories. And I realized that Elvis' childhood is exactly that, a great story, with his still-born twin, his constant singing and his over-protective mother. I first wrote a more poetic script with snapshotlike scenes. That version became a short story for Swedish Radio, narrated by actor Sven Wollter. But my publisher Rabén & Sjögren wanted a story that was more like an ordinary novel. So I gave it a try and it worked out well. They did publish it, at least!

What ages is it aimed at?

The publisher says 9-12 years, but I'm sure it works for adults as well.

How did you go about your research?

I thought of going to Tupelo, but I don't think that would have helped since I guess it just doesn't look the same anymore. But I read a lot of books, the most important being Elaine Dundy's Elvis and Gladys. I also found some interviews with Elvis' friend Sam Bell, and photos and maps of Tupelo from the 1940's. Dundy found out about Elvis' obsession with the comic book character Captain Marvel, Jr. So I use that in the book.

How did you plan the plot?

The first version of the story was much about him getting ready for his performance at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. But then I found out that a lot of interesting things happened after that, so the story pretty much follows his life from the first day of school in September 1945 to the family's move to Memphis. Then I thought it would be effective with a short epilogue from his more famous days, where he for a few seconds looks back at his childhood.

Elvis is one of the most famous persons that has ever lived. What challenges did that entail when writing the book?

Strangely enough there is not really that much known about his childhood. But I guess the challenge is to not think about fans reading the book and complaining that some details are made up. Which brings us to your next question ...

The novel is based on true events. But how much is truth and how much is fiction?

I would say of the things in my book that didn't occur in Elvis' real life, that they could have occured. A lot of stuff did happen: he did win fifth place in the fair show, he did jump to the black people's seats at the cinema, and he must have thought about his lost twin a lot, being a lonely (and only) child.

What were the biggest challenges in writing the book?

To try to find Elvis' own voice. Since it's written in the first-person point of view that was very important. How did he really think about things? How did he express himself? Also, since it is a novel based on truth, how much can you change the facts without straying to far away from the real life of Elvis? 

There are many topics in the book that are as relevant to youngsters today as they were when Elvis was a boy: your first love, the relationship with your parents, racism, bullying, being popular and so on.  Was it easier or harder to write about that with the help of Elvis?

It helped a lot, I would say. He wasn't very popular in school, so I thought: Why was that? And he did attend a Halloween costume party, so that set my brain going: What did he wear? Who did he meet there? Some of the facts of Elvis' childhood is very brief, so it's ideal writing a novel about it. Why on earth did he wear glasses on that talent show in 1945? There are no other photos of him wearing them! I had to find the answer to that. (Or rather, make it up!)

The book ends with Elvis on stage in 1971, remembering his childhood. How much of the boy do you think was left in Elvis by then? Was he still Mama's little prince?

I think the life of Elvis Presley would have looked a lot different if his mother hadn't died when he was so young. He did go back to Tupelo in 1970, showing his wife some of his childhood sites, so he must have remembered something. But I also think he didn't want to think too much about his poor days. He was a person that lived very much in the present. (Otherwise he would have taken care of his economy a bit more, as well as himself!)

What do you want the reader to remember after reading the book?

Maybe that your childhood is important to who you later become. That even famous, larger-than-life people have once been children. And that wishes and life-goals can come true if you really believe in them.

You have said yourself that this is probably the first novel about Elvis' childhood. Why do you think that is the case?

For a lot of adults, being a child is just something you are before you grow up. And, as I said, not too much is known about Elvis' childhood. Other writers have just not been too interested in that part of his life.

Which reactions do you hope to get?

It would be great if my readers, adults and children, will become more interested in the life and career of Elvis. But I also hope they think it's just a good story!

Additional reading:

Monday, June 28, 2021

Mama's Little Prince: A Sample In English

Mamas Little Prince: Elvis Presley in 1945.
As I promised in my previous post, this one will include a sample from my brother Mårten Melin's new book Mama's Little Prince, translated by him as it is written in Swedish. The novel was released today, it has 213 pages and the reading age is from 9 years.

But before we begin, I'd like to let Mårten himself introduce the book:

This is the story about Elvis Presley. But not the one about the world-famous entertainer, adored by millions. No, this is the story about the poor eleven-year old boy from Tupelo who just wanted to sing. And to buy his mama a pink cadillac.

It's about the boy who would be known to the world simply as ”The King”.

Dealing with issues like bullying, racism and the first big love, you really don’t have to be an Elvis aficionado to enjoy it. But after reading it, maybe you will be.

Based on true events, and thoroughly researched, the story takes place in the small town of Tupelo, Mississippi in the mid-1940’s. Elvis Presley moves from house to house with his mama (who likes to spend money) and his daddy (who’s not to keen earning them). Among bullies, neighbors, friends and love interests, he plans for the future: to become a famous singer. But how is he to achieve his goal? Could the talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy show be the beginning of success? Or will the feelings of guilt, being the only surviving twin, hold him back?

This is a story told with warmth and humor, filled with both sadness and triumph. We believe it’s the first book of its kind: a novel for young people about the young would-be king, before fame and fortune came his way, when Elvis Presley was still just his mama’s little prince. Or at least, when she thought he was.

So now, without further ado, here follows a sample in English
from Mama's Little Prince.  

Chapter 15

I place the cans on top of the fence. Squeeze the rocks in my hand.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I haven’t lost it. I hit all of them. I put the cans on the fence again, pick up the rocks. It’s the same cans I had on Berry street. Same rocks, too. I never did unpack them, not until now.

”Will you let me try?”

I turn around. There’s a black guy standing there, about my age. He’s alone, standing in the garden on the other side of the fence. I don’t answer his question, just nod towards the house behind him.

”You live there?”

”Sure. With my grandpa.”

I wonder where his parents are, but before I ask he says:

”Most people here on the Hill are black.”

I shrug.

”Not us.”

We look at each other for a while, then I hand him the rocks.

”Be my guest.”

He climbs over the fence, glancing to both sides as he does. He takes the rocks and throws the first one. He misses.

”Throw like this, from the side.”

I show him. He misses again, but he’s getting there. Third time he scores. He smiles at me and I can’t help smiling back at him.

”Name’s Sam,” he says. ”Sam Bell.”

”Elvis. Elvis Presley.”

We shake hands, just as if we’re grown-ups.

”Where did you live before you came here?”

”Mulberry Alley. But originally we’re from East Tupelo.”

 ”Got any siblings?”

 I think of Jesse, of course I do. But I just shake my head.

 ”Nah, it’s just me and my ma and daddy.”

 ”Mulberry,” he says. ”That’s close to Shakerag. It’s pretty wild, I hear.”

 ”Yeah!” I say. ”There was this man, he could really play the guitar!

 Sam laughs.

 ”I was thinking of fights and stuff. You like music?”

 ”I love music.”

 ”I got something for you then. Come on!”

 I gaze towards the house.

 ”I just gotta tell mama. Follow me!”

 ”You sure?” Sam asks.

”Yeah!”

We run up to the house, it’s like a race that Sam wins. We enter, mama sits there with a cup of coffee, listening to the radio. Of course, Grand Ole Opry is on soon. But it can’t be helped, I’m too curious to see whatever Sam wants me to see.

”Mama, I’m going out with a friend.”

Mama looks at me.

”What friend?”

”A new one, he’s living next door. Sam, say hello to my mama.”

Sam, who has been standing in the hallway, takes a few steps forward and bows. He looks nervous.

”Nice to meet you, ma’m.”

Mama looks at him, surprised.

”Well, hello Sam. What you gonna do?”

”Just listen to some music, ma’m.”

Mama nods her head.

”All right. Just be back at five.”

”Thanks, mama!” I say. ”Bye!”

When I pass the window from the outside, I look up. Mama is standing there, looking at us. I wave at her, she waves back.

”Your mama’s all right, Elvis.”

I smile at him.

”I guess she is.”

               *       

Sam starts to run, I have to work hard to keep up with him.

”Let’s see,” he says. ”Yes! There they are.”

I hear music. Guitar and singing, it’s a woman’s voice.

”Who?” I ask.

”I don’t know their names, but ... there!”

Sam is pointing to a man and a woman sitting outside a little drug store. They each have a guitar, but only the woman seems to be singing. They could be about mama’s and daddy’s age.

 Look down, look down that lonesome road
 Before you travel on
 Look up, look up and greet your maker
 For Gabriel blows his horn

At first I believe they have a speaker somewhere, it’s so loud! The singer makes faces, she’s really into it, singing with her eyes closed.

I applaud them when they’re done. The woman looks at me, surprised, then she smiles. They play some more and I long to get home, to play the guitar myself. Somebody comes out and hands them sodas.

”She sounds a little like Sister Rosetta Tharpe,” Sam says.

”Who?”

”You gotta listen to her. Let's go to my house!”

”Does she live there?”

Sam laughs, then starts to run. He makes a gesture that I should follow him. Does he ever walk?

                   *   

Sam’s house looks just like ours. It smells of tobacco inside. An elderly man is sitting in an armchair, reading the paper. He looks up at Sam.

”There you are, my boy! How’s everything?”

”Great, grandpa. This is Elvis, he lives in the house behind ours.”

”How are you, sir?”

I bow, just like I’ve been taught to do in front of older people. Sam’s grandfather raises his eyebrows, then smiles at me.

”Just fine, son. Welcome to the Hill!”

”Could we use the record player, grandpa?”

”Record player?” I cry out. ”You have a record player?”

”Of course! We can’t listen to a record without a record player, can we?”

I look around. And there it is, the big brass horn is gleaming in the sunlight that looks in through the curtains. They have a piano as well. What luxury!

Sam’s grandfather laughs out.

”You gotta have a record player to hear the really fine songs. What will you play?”

”Sister Rosetta Tharp,” Sam says.

”Good choice!” his grandfather says.

Sam starts to browse through a pile of records. I want to hear them all.

He finds the record he’s looking for, puts it on the turntable and starts to wind it up. When the turntable is spinning, he puts the needle down, and soon a powerful voice fills the room. Sister Rosetta Tharpe slides on the notes, drowns out the trumpets in the background. Sometimes she talks more than she sings.

When she’s holding the last note I hold my breath. What a voice!

Music is really everywhere. Outside stores, in the church, on the radio. But with a record player you can decide for yourself when you want to listen, what you would like to listen to. It must be the greatest invention of all time.

”She sounds like the woman at the store, doesn’t she?” Sam asks.

”Uh-huh,” I say. ”Only better.”

We listen to the other side of the record. It's just as good as the first. I want a record player too. And records!

I make a promise to myself that when I grow up I’m going to have a whole room full of them.

Then it’s time for me to go, mama will wonder where I am if I don’t come home.

”It was nice meeting you, Elvis. You’re a very polite boy. Come back anytime.”

”Thank you, Mr Bell.”

I bow before I go out through the door. Sam joins me.

”You know what, Elvis? You’re weird.”

”What do you mean?”

”You don’t have to call my granddad Sir. Whites usually don’t say that to black people.”

”He’s your grandfather. He’s older than I am. Of course I will call him Sir.”

Sam gives me a big smile.

”As I said, you’re weird.”

He says it like it’s a good thing.

”See you!” I say and jump over the fence.

Sam waves back at me.

       *               

Next Saturday he enters our garden where I sit and practice. I keep playing, while he’s standing there, listening. When I’m finished he laughs a little.

”You sound like a black person when you sing.”

I shrug.

”I don’t think I sound like a black person.”

”Is that so?”

”Or a white person, for that matter.”

”So who do you sound like?” Sam asks.

I have to think about that for a while.

”I sound like myself.”

Sam laughs again.

”Wanna do something?” he asks.

”Sure,” I say.

”What do you like except music?”

”The movies! We can go to the movies! Strand has a showing at three o’clock.”

”But we can’t sit together,” he says.

”Don’t worry about that,” I say.

”And I don’t have any money either.”

”I have money,” I say. ”I can pay for the both of us.”

”All right, it’s a deal!”

We go into the kitchen. Mama gives us each a sandwich and we’re off.

”Two tickets, please!” I say.

The cashier looks suspiciously at Sam, then at me. But she gives me the tickets. I hand one of them to Sam.

”See you inside!” I say. ”Keep a seat for me.”

”What?”

”You heard.”

The house is half-filled, mostly with children. I wave at Sam, he waves back, but looks at me, uncertain.

When the lights go down, I climb the railing that separates Sam’s part of the house from mine. It’s easy.

I sit down beside him.

”You’re a fool, Elvis,” he says and laughs.

”In the dark you can’t see who’s white and who’s black, can you?” I say.

I think of music, of different voices. Is it really possible to hear who’s black and who’s white? For real?

© Mårten Melin, 2021

 If you are a publisher and interested in this book, please contact Rights director Åsa Bergman, Rabén & Sjögren Agency, at asa.bergman@rabensjogren.se  

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Mama's Little Prince

My brother Mårten, who is an author, has written a novel about Elvis' childhood called Mama's Little Prince (Mammas lilla prins in Swedish). 
As I have mentioned from time to time here on my blog, I am lucky to have a brother - Mårten - who is just as huge an Elvis fan as I am.  What I haven't told is that he is also an author who has published over a hundred books for children and teenagers that have been translated into various languages and won him several prestigious awards here in Sweden.  

The reason I bring this up now is that he has written what is probably the first novel about Elvis' childhood, called Mama's Little Prince. This is how the book is presented on the publisher's website (translated into English):

Tupelo, Mississippi, 1945. Elvis is ten years old and loves to sing. His mother encourages and believes in him, but at the same time she wants to protect him from all evil. They have been very close since Elvis' twin brother died.

At school, Elvis is pretty lonely. He gets teased for being a mama's boy and for bursting into song as soon as he gets the chance. But there is a girl in the class who likes to hear him sing. Her name is Eloise. To her, Elvis dares to tell about his secret dream: that he one day will sing in front of thousands of people.

In Mamma's Little Prince, Mårten Melin shows evidence of a new side when he in a tenderly portrayed portrait brings to life the childhood idol Elvis Presley. The boy, who before the breakthrough, lived in poor conditions in a city marked by class divisions and segregation. This is a story about school, exclusion and your firs loves. And above all: the love of music.

Since the book is coming out tomorrow, I thought it appropriate to dedicate the next couple of posts to it. The first will include a chapter in English, translated by the author as the novel is written in Swedish. The second will feature an interview I did with my brother a couple of days ago where he talks about, among other things, why he decided to write a book about Elvis' childhood, how he did his research and what the biggest challenges were. 

And yes, I have had the honor of reading Mama's Little Prince in advance, and it's great. So stay tuned.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

What If: Celebrating My Birthday In Memphis, June 10, 1975

Elvis on stage in Memphis on June 10, 1975. I turned eight that day.

Last week, on June 10, I listened to the second CD on the FTD release Elvis Hometown Shows, featuring Elvis' 1975 concert in Memphis. It seemed appropriate. Not only was it my birthday, but the show was performed on that date as well, although 46 years ago. I was in Sweden celebrating my eighth birthday at the time, but imagine if I had been in the Mid South Coliseum instead. To borrow a phrase from fellow blogger Tyggrius who runs the Mystery Train Blog: You've just crossed over into ... the edge of reality.

My parents had been Elvis fans for as long as I could remember. I grew up listening to them talking about how great he was and there wasn't a day when one of this records wasn't on the turntable. And they must have told the story of how they met a hundred times. Would you believe it was outside the cinema after watching the Swedish premiere of Blue Hawaii on March 31, 1962, with their respective friends?

Five years later, on June 10, 1967, I was born. To celebrate, my dad gave my mom a copy of the Double Trouble album that had been released just a couple of days earlier. So "Old MacDonald" was probably one of the first Elvis songs I heard, together with the rest of the tracks on that LP. My mom later confided in me that she wasn't overly impressed with it at the time, but that it has remained special to her all the same. Like me.

A couple of days after my fifth birthday, in 1972, my parents bought me my first Elvis album ("A late present" they called it). It was a brand new copy of the Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden recorded on my birthday, June 10, and rush released just eight days later. It was love at first sight. One of my earliest memories is holding the cover in my hands and thinking Elvis looked like a superhero. I don't remember the first time I listened to it, but my parents do. Apparently I was moving around a lot to the music with a big smile on my face, enjoying every second of it. I still do.

Three years later I guess you could call med a full-fledged Elvis fan. I listened to all the new releases my parents bought, read the fan club magazines they subscribed to and dreamed of seeing Elvis in concert. My two-year younger brother couldn't understand what all the fuzz was about, and neither could my three-year younger sister. My youngest brother, just three years old, showed some promise, though, clapping his hands every time I played an Elvis record.

With my birthday just a couple of days away, my parents told me they had a surprise. As Elvis' latest single "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" was blasting through the speakers, they asked me to turn the volume down. "We are flying to Memphis in two days, and you are coming with us. You are going to see Elvis perform on your birthday in Memphis."

Mid South Coliseum, June 10, 1975.

When I think back on my journey to Memphis, some memories are crystal clear while others are faded or a bit sketchy. I don't remember much of the actual flight or the hotel where we stayed but thankfully a lot from the actual concert is still vivid in my mind: all the cars and people outside the Mid South Coliseum as we arrived, the excitement in my parents' eyes as the first notes of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" sounded through the building, Elvis entering the stage in his Indian feather suit and so many flashbulbs going off it looked like daylight. 

Another thing I will never forget was the screaming fans, my mom among them. "We love you, Elvis!" she shouted at the top of her lungs more than once. I think my dad was close to screaming, too.

As for the show, I remember bits and pieces, like Elvis throwing his guitar at a guy on stage (Charlie Hodge) who dropped it. I also recall Elvis kissing a lot of girls during "Love Me," and handing out plenty of scarves as well. My parents later told me he ripped his suit during this song, and joked about it throughout the concert, something I didn't notice. I guess my English wasn't as good as I thought it was.

Two songs I clearly remember that he sang was the rockers "Burning Love" and "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" as those were among my favorites at the time (they still are). Before the show I told my parents I hoped he would perform them and he did. The extended endings of both songs were so exciting!

If I close my eyes I can also see most of the people in the audience clapping their hands during the chorus of "How Great Thou Art" and maybe half the audience standing. When he finished the song everyone was standing and they would not stop applauding. That I will never forget. 

A funny thing is I don't remember the final part of the concert or Elvis leaving the stage. But that's OK. My parents and me shared an incredible experience together with the other 12,364 people in the audience that night. It remains the best birthday I have ever had.

Back in this universe, my parents met under completely different circumstances. I became a fan after one of my brothers bought an Elvis album in the late 1970's, and I first laid eyes on the Mid South Coliseum during a trip to Memphis and Graceland in 2005. But that's another story.  

Additional reading

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Harum Scarum: The Charlie McCoy (Guitar) Interview

Interview with Charlie McCoy who played guitar on the Harum Scarum soundtrack.

In my recent interview with Ralph Strobel, who played the oboe on the Harum Scarum recording sessions on February 24-26, 1965, he had, among other things, this to say about the soundtrack:

“I believe that other than myself there is only one other living musician that performed in the soundtrack of Harum Scarum. That musician is outstanding guitar player Charlie McCoy. Charlie was born March 28, 1941. I was born September 23, 1940. We are both 80 years of age.” 

In an email to me, Ralph Strobel suggested that perhaps I could contact Charlie McCoy to see what he remembers regarding the Harum Scarum sessions.

I thought that was a great idea and sent Charlie McCoy an email, mentioning the interview with Ralph Strobel, and asking him if he would like to answer a couple of questions about those recordings back in February, 1965. I was happily surprised when he wrote back to me within a couple of hours. That really made my day!

He started his letter with mentioning Rufus Long, who played the flute on the Harum Scarum soundtrack. Here goes:

Rufus Long was a very good friend of mine. He has played on one of my solo CDs. I’ll try to answer your questions here. 

How did you become a musician?

I came to Nashville in 1959 to audition as a singer. I was turned down but was then invited to watch a Nashville recording session for 13-year-old Brenda Lee. When I watched that session, I decided that I didn’t want to be a singer. I wanted to be a studio musician. 

So what happened then?

I moved to Nashville to stay a year later and on May 9, 1961, I played on my first session as a studio musician. (With a new singer from Sweden named Ann-Margret.) This past May 9, I celebrated 60 years as a studio musician and I’m still going.    

Charlie McCoy's first recording as a harmonica player was the song "I Just Don't Understand", by Ann-Margret for RCA.
How did you end up playing on the recording session for the Harum Scarum soundtrack?

The movie company changed dates on the sound track and all the regular musicians who usually played on Elvis’ recordings were booked. We were the relief band.  

I believe this was the first time you worked with Elvis. What were your thoughts when you said yes to play on an Elvis recording?

I was thrilled. He had been one of my favorites growing up as a rock and roll guitar want to be, loving those Scotty Moore sounds on his records. 

And how was it to meet him?

He was so very nice, shook everyone’s hand and said, “Thanks for helping me!”  

Do you remember how the recordings took place?

Like normal Nashville sessions, hear the song, learn it on the spot (no charts) and within 30 to 45 minutes, you have a record. The only rehearsals were to learn each song, perhaps 20 minutes.  

How was it to work with Elvis?

It was great, we, the substitute band, were thrilled to be working with him. 

What did you think of the songs that were recorded?

I thought the songs for Harum Scarum, overall, were probably way below the average in his other movies.  

Elvis singing "So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise)" in a jail cell after being apprehended in King Toranshah's palace.
“So Close, Yet So Far (From Paradise)” is often seen as the highlight of the session, what do you think of it?

I’m sorry to say that after about 14,000 sessions, no I don’t remember that one. 

You continued to work with Elvis through the 60’s, as well as on his studio recordings from 1970 and 1971. Any memories you’d like to share?

I ended up on 13 Elvis albums. My main instrument is harmonica, and I got to solo on “Big Boss Man”, “High Heel Sneakers”, “I washed My Hands In Muddy Water” and in Frankie and Johnny on “Hard Luck”.

Additional reading: