WEIRDLAND: Elvis Presley—Where No One Stands Alone

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Elvis Presley—Where No One Stands Alone

The groundbreaking new album, Elvis PresleyWhere No One Stands Alone (2018), releasing on August 10, features 14 original performances of gospel songs with newly recorded instrumentation and backing vocals, all in support of Elvis’ original lead vocal recordings. “Saved” is an energetic gospel-rock call-and-response tune with some fun rhythmic twists, sassy lyrics and Darlene Love jumping in on background vocals. And in classic Elvis fashion, the king testifies as he gives up his errant ways. Produced by Joel Weinshanker, Lisa Marie Presley and Andy Childs, Elvis Presley—Where No One Stands Alone introduces newly recorded instrumentation and backing vocal contributions from music legends who’d performed on-stage and/or in-the-studio with Elvis, including Darlene Love, Cissy Houston, The Imperials and The Stamps. It also includes a reimagined duet with Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, on the album’s title track and spiritual touchstone. “It was a very powerful and moving experience to sing with my father,” wrote Lisa Marie in her notes for the album. “The lyrics speak to me and touch my soul. I’m certain that the lyrics spoke to my father in much the same way.” Plus, the 50th anniversary celebration of the Elvis ’68 Comeback Special is coming to theaters in August, 16 and 20. Source: parade.com

Ann-Margret was known at the time—just after her breakthrough in Bye Bye Birdie—as the “female Elvis,” a high-voltage sex symbol who could sing, dance, and act. She described herself and Elvis as “eerily similar.” Just as intriguingly, Ann bore a likeness to Priscilla. The Swedish star and Elvis' part-Norwegian fiancé had pouty lips, pert noses, wide-set eyes, and heart-shaped faces; as Priscilla grew older, it often became difficult to distinguish her from Ann in certain photographs. Elvis and Ann-Margret had a relationship that was both intimate and friendly. His nicknames for her suggested as much: He called her either Rusty or Scoobie. “They had a great time and were madly in love,” in the opinion of Joe Esposito. “Ann and Elvis liked a lot of the same things. They were always happy.” Even Joe’s wife, Joanie, whose loyalties would lie with Priscilla, considered Elvis and Ann “terrific” together. Elvis was at a turning point in his personal life, faced with a choice between two women, Ann-Margret and Priscilla, that would determine the direction of his future. Several of the Presley aides—Marty Lacker, Lamar Fike, Billy Smith—would contend that Priscilla was Elvis’s second choice. Patti Parry, who had no ulterior motives and spent time observing Elvis with both Ann and Priscilla, considered Ann “the love of his life,” and it was clear, both then and later, that Ann-Margret felt the same way about Elvis. 

Although Ann refused, out of respect for Elvis, to discuss their love affair publicly, she referred to him in her 1994 memoir as her “soul mate.” She knew Elvis had promises to keep, and he vowed to keep his word. Ann-Margret was obviously referring to the Beaulieus’ arrangement with Elvis for Priscilla. “I really believe Elvis told Priscilla’s parents that he was going to marry her… and that was the deal,” Joe said. Ann-Margret made Elvis get outside his comfort zone; in many ways he liked that, but was also afraid of that. Elvis was threatened, in the judgment of virtually everyone who knew him, by Ann-Margret’s fame and independence. Patti explained: “I was in awe of Priscilla, but Ann-Margret—she and Elvis were equals. She was the best girl, the most fun. They would have been the perfect pair. But she wouldn’t give up her career, she wouldn’t be with him twenty-four hours a day, and he wanted someone who would be there twenty-four hours a day.” Other Elvis’s intimates shared this opinion. “Elvis knew Ann had a career and wasn’t going to give it up for him. He wouldn’t expect her to. And he knew he could never be with someone who was in the limelight; when he wanted them there, he wanted them. Not like ‘I’m on location, I can’t do it.’ Priscilla he knew would be there whenever he wanted her,” Joe reported. Priscilla enrolled in a dance class in Whitehaven, the Memphis suburb where Graceland was located, then tinted her long hair Titian and pulled it back from her face in a mod-style bouffant, like Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas

“The one person Priscilla wanted to look like, when she did her hair, was Ann-Margret,” confirmed Dee Stanley, who was fashion-conscious herself and noticed the transformation. “Everything like Ann-Margret she wanted to become.” “That’s because Ann-Margret was the love of his life, and Priscilla knew it,” commented Patti. Elvis’s feelings for the actress remained constant throughout his life; from 1964, when they broke off their relationship, until August 16, 1977, the date of his death, he sent her roses before every one of her performances. Elvis reconnected with Ann-Margret after one of her performances in Vegas that year. He called her late that night while she was with her husband, Roger Smith, hinting that he wanted her to come to his room to rekindle their relationship, but Ann declined.

Priscilla had become more confident of her standing in Elvis’s life, even instituting changes at Graceland. She never had to balance a checkbook and had an unlimited clothes budget. To a different young woman, a life of leisure with Elvis Presley might have been a fabulous fantasy, but for Priscilla, who craved variety and action and full-throttle sex, it was a form of exile. Heavy make-out sessions continued to be Elvis’s sex of choice with Priscilla; he seemed to get more pleasure, other sexual partners would attest, from dry-humping than from intercourse, due at least in part to his performance anxiety. “Yeah, he had hang-ups,” confirmed Sheila Ryan Caan, one of Elvis’s girlfriends. “He never completely grew up.” This was in some measure, Sheila believed, a residual fear of getting a woman pregnant and being sued for paternity. “Plus, he was a southern small-town guy. I mean, he kind of never grew up and dry-humping was kind of a thing. Actually, I kind of liked it. He liked the playing part. He was not perverse at all.” Elvis’s reluctance to complete intercourse with Priscilla left her frustrated often. Elvis was a victim of his sexually omnipotent image. As Priscilla analyzed: “I heard that the same phenomenon happened with Marilyn Monroe. She was a sex symbol, a sex goddess, and anyone who was with her expected to be blown out the door with ecstasy. And because of that, she was very insecure in that area. So it’s something that I can honestly see how he felt like that, because women talk about it, you know?” In a certain way, it begged the question whether Elvis and Priscilla had intercourse in Germany as Currie Grant claimed. Elvis felt that if he withdrew before the "sensation hit", it kept the woman as a virgin, in his mind anyway, so maybe he did think she was a virgin when they married, even though it was just an illusion. Being in Memphis while Elvis was shooting in L.A. or recording in Nashville was tantamount to solitary confinement to Priscilla. “Because I didn’t have anything to do!” she complained. “He didn’t want me to work. I remember shopping every single day!” Rumors began circulating through Elvis’s entourage that Priscilla was having an affair with her dance instructor Steve Peck. 

The prim, “good-girl” side of Priscilla’s split personality had deceived even Joe Esposito, who had known her since she was fourteen, for Priscilla admitted in her memoir that she had a sexual liaison with someone from her dance class, identified pseudonymously as “Mark.” “We knew about it,” said Charlie Hodge, who believed Priscilla’s lover was Steve Peck. “In fact, we were talking about it in a group with Elvis, and one of the guys said, ‘We could get a detective to follow her.’” But Elvis forbade them to use a private investigator to tail Priscilla and would not allow anyone to say a disparaging or unkind word about her in his presence. “Elvis said, ‘Anybody does that, they’re fired.’” The affair was reminiscent of the teenage Priscilla, back in Germany, when she maintained a double life with another boyfriend while Elvis was thousands of miles away in the United States, believing her to be faithful. Priscilla’s barely buried resentment came out years later, after Elvis died and she assumed control of the estate, when she would refer to certain members of the entourage as “has-beens and leeches”. 


In 1968, Elvis followed the TV comeback special with two critically and commercially successful singles, “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds,” and the comeback briefly revived his dormant sexual relationship with Priscilla, though it was still a “different kind of relationship,” in her words, meaning there was little intercourse.  She and Elvis, Priscilla said, usually had sex on the nights he opened and closed in Vegas each January and August, a ritual that resembled the mating habits of some exotic species, since they were seldom intimate on other occasions. After one of Elvis’s 1970 openings in Vegas, Priscilla missed her period for two months and thought she was pregnant. She told Elvis, and he was “elated. He was calling me every single day to see if in fact I was. And then when I told him that I wasn’t, it was a disappointment.” She was not happy in her lifestyle with Elvis; this was plain to all who knew Priscilla and from everything she said after their divorce. One of her primary complaints was that she and Elvis did not spend enough time together, but by show business standards, theirs was a relatively standard marriage in terms of family time as a couple: From 1967 to 1970 they took regular holidays in Hawaii, vacationed in the Bahamas, and spent Christmas at Graceland. Becky Yancey, the Graceland secretary, remembered Elvis buying Priscilla expensive jewelry—diamond rings, watches, charm bracelets.

This would have been some women’s Cinderella story, but the glass slipper did not fit Priscilla. She was restless, sexually unfulfilled, dissatisfied, and bored—as she had been, in truth, from her first days at Graceland. The difference now was that she had realized her goal—to marry Elvis Presley—and she could move on. Nancy Rooks, the longtime Graceland maid, always felt, interestingly, that Priscilla “was not as much in love with Elvis as he was with her.” Elvis once told Kathy Westmoreland, his friend and backup singer after 1970, that Priscilla “never loved him, she only wanted a career for herself.” Elvis was still searching for answers to the spiritual questions that both haunted and compelled him, issues that did not intrigue Priscilla or most of his male entourage, whose interests were more shallow. Elvis told actress Barbara Leigh that the spiritual dimension was missing from his relationship with Priscilla. A declaration signed by Elvis in his divorce papers attested he knew about Mike Stone by December and that Priscilla informed him, that Christmas holiday, that she wanted her freedom; Becky Yancey confirmed this in a book she wrote in 1977. Elvis spent his birthday, January 8, at Graceland with Joyce Bova, while Priscilla rejoined Mike Stone at their apartment in Belmont Shore. Ed Parker later wrote of a conversation he had with Elvis around this time, when Elvis told him Priscilla was leaving him: “He poured out his soul that night, and I saw him cry for the first time.” 

Elvis, once past his initial anger over Priscilla’s betrayal, slipped into a frightening decline. The maids at Graceland noticed that he lay around much of the time, exhibiting “a lot of depressed feelings and loneliness,” as Nancy Rooks stated it. “There was a lot of talk about his mother. On Mother’s Day he would cry. He wanted her picture by his bed.” The catalyst was Priscilla’s departure: “He thought they should always be together.” Elvis and Red West wrote, and Elvis recorded, the song “Separate Ways” that year, a transparently autobiographical account of his breakup with Priscilla. Barbara Leigh had little sympathy for the story Priscilla would later tell of her hellish life with Elvis: “I think she tries to paint herself as the good one in the picture, when I know, in truth, that she broke his heart forever.” Ed Hookstratten, who handled the divorce, held Priscilla responsible as well. “After that, Elvis started to slide,” he said. “And after that, he slid and slid, until he finally died. The divorce was the turning point, and I was close to that situation. I saw it with my own eyes.” It was Elvis who filed for divorce from Priscilla on August 18, 1972, six months after their final encounter in Las Vegas, though the instigator was clearly Priscilla. “He did not want the divorce,” asserted Ed Hookstratten, who filed the petition for Elvis. After Elvis' death, Priscilla became the executrix of Elvis’s estate.

Elvis' physical decline had worsened when his relationships with Sheila Ryan and Linda Thompson ended late in 1976. His entourage would say Elvis dismissed Linda, who was having an affair with a musician named David Briggs; Linda’s account was that she moved out voluntarily, tired of Elvis’s “vampire” life. Quite probably it was a combination. “I think that Linda was growing tired of it all,” said Shirley Dieu, who was living with Joe Esposito then. “If you were with Elvis, you had to stay in a locked room with foil on the windows. I think she got fed up, and she heard that David was worth a million dollars and she latched right on to him. Everybody felt that Elvis knew it but didn’t want to be embarrassed by it, and he made it look like he was getting rid of her before she left.” On November 19, 1976, George Klein ferried the Alden sisters, Terry and Ginger, to Graceland to meet Elvis. 

Elvis had an immediate, almost out-of-body experience upon seeing Ginger Alden. “His first words to me were, ‘Ginger, you’re burning a hole through me,” she recalled. “When I like someone, I really like them a lot,” Elvis mumbled on their first date. “It’s not just a fling. I don’t like one-night stands.” “I don’t like one-night stands, either,” Ginger replied. Elvis told Ginger she resembled his mother, and in truth she did, particularly around the eyes, which, like those of Elvis’s mother, were brown, deep-set, expressive, and soulful. “When I see Ginger, I feel like I’m falling into my mother’s eyes,” Elvis told Larry Geller. Elvis became instantly obsessed with Ginger and telephoned her parents the next weekend to invite her to join him on his tour. By December, less than three weeks later, while Elvis was appearing in Vegas, he was picturing them married. “Elvis told me when he closed his eyes he kept having visions of me in a white gown.” He called Jo Alden, Ginger’s mother, during the Vegas engagement and said, “Mrs. Alden, I’m in love with your daughter and I want to marry her,” according to Ginger. On January 26, back at Graceland, he proposed to an incredulous Ginger. The setting, as it had been with Priscilla, was a bathroom. “I noticed a lot of commotion at Graceland,” Ginger recalled. “People coming in and out and phone calls being made often. He called me into his bathroom, where I sat in a chair as he knelt down in front of me. He said: ‘Ginger, I’ve been searching for love so long, and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would find it. I’ve been sixty percent happy and forty percent happy, but never a hundred percent. I’ve loved before but I've never been in love. Ginger, I’m asking you: Will you marry me?’ and then presented a gorgeous diamond ring. I was so surprised as I said yes.” 

Elvis showered the bewildered Ginger with gifts. “He gave her three or four diamond rings at a time,” said Jo Alden. “She told him one time, ‘Elvis, I would be just as happy for a box of candy or flowers.’ ” Elvis responded, “Well, you’re going to have to get used to it.” Ginger recalled that “Elvis said he would love to have a son and he wanted me to be the mother. We had started a list of names.”  For some of his entourage, the entire courtship had an air of almost tragic desperation. George Klein felt Ginger was “misunderstood” by the guys, because, in Jo Alden’s words, she “didn’t pal around” with them, as had Linda, who had been their favorite. Rick Stanley attributed this resentment to Elvis envy. Ricky was present when Elvis called together the guys at Graceland on January 26 to announce that Ginger had accepted his marriage proposal. “He cared about Ginger, he really did,” Ricky recalled. “He told me he was gonna marry her. Showed me the ring, the whole thing.” Kathy Westmoreland, who was still keeping company with Elvis, believed that Elvis had changed, that he was maturing, that he genuinely wanted to be in a monogamous relationship with Ginger. “He was really in love with her. I felt that she was beautiful and sweet, maybe too young to really understand him and cope with his needs at that particular point. And there were a lot of problems in his life too.” Elvis, whose dreams had been broken, saw Ginger as his potential salvation, a means of resurrecting the shattered fantasy of finding his twin soul. Marrying Ginger, to Elvis, was the magic pill—like waving a wand and erasing the regrets of his past.

Elvis and Larry had many deep conversations, occasionally drifting to the subject of Priscilla. Elvis had changed his mind in thinking they were soul mates. He still believed there was a “karmic link” between them, but it had taken on a different meaning in Elvis’s mind. “It took me a long time to realize Priscilla is not my soul mate,” he told Larry during his last few months. “Priscilla came into my life for two major reasons: one, so we could have Lisa and number two, so I could teach her. Priscilla came to learn a lot of lessons about life.” Larry recalled Elvis saying, “I had to push her out of the nest so she could fly with her own wings.” Elvis himself realized, at the end, the paternal—as opposed to carnal or erotic—connection he had with Priscilla. —"The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley" (1997) by Suzanne Finstad

I followed Elvis out of one of the hotel’s back doors. There, gleaming beneath nearby lights, was a brand-new white Lincoln Continental Mark V with white leather seats and a burgundy dashboard. Elvis walked toward the car and everyone gathered around it. I was still confused about why this car was here or what we were doing. Then Elvis looked at me and nonchalantly said, “It’s yours, Ginger.” To say I was overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe the enormity of my emotional reaction. I had never even owned a car before, and now I had a Lincoln Mark V? All I could say was, “Thank you.” I was excited to test-drive my new car, but Elvis turned to go back inside. I didn’t know Las Vegas, understood he must be tired, and was okay with following him back up to the penthouse. I was still reeling with excitement. Once we were back in the suite and seated in bed, Elvis asked me, “Have you ever been married before?” “No,” I said, a little surprised by his question. “Were you seeing anyone before we met?” he pressed. I answered, “Yes,” momentarily thinking about Linda’s phone call. I wondered if that was what had prompted this conversation. Elvis thought about this for a few moments, then said, “Well, I would like it if you wouldn’t see anyone else.” He was seriously asking for a commitment! As odd as this sounds, it also made me feel good to think that Elvis was really that serious about us. But how could I be sure? 

What Elvis did next made me believe he felt as deeply about me as I did about him. Without saying a word, Elvis suddenly leaned in and kissed me on the mouth, but not a light kiss like before. Then he slowly began removing my bathrobe. I felt chills as he touched me. Was this it? Were we finally going to make love? I was aroused but anxious, barely able to breathe. I had been afraid of letting go of my feelings, terrified of being hurt by sleeping with Elvis and then have him move on to someone else, but at this moment, I wanted to make love with him. I stayed completely still, letting Elvis open my robe and begin touching me. “Please, love me, Ginger,” Elvis said softly, kissing me again. Then, still partially dressed in our sleepwear, Elvis and I made love for the first time. This crazy tension and our heightened emotions made our intimacy all the more intense. Elvis’s lips were soft and his kisses were filled with passion. He was gentle, yet I felt his determination to prove that he should be the only man in my life. He succeeded. I was experiencing emotions and physical sensations that were completely out of control, and, in keeping with Elvis’s TCB motto, it was all happening lightning fast. —"Elvis and Ginger: Elvis Presley's Fiancée and Last Love Finally Tells Her Story" (2014) by Ginger Alden

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