EIN contributor Ken Sharp recently interviewed Ginger Alden to publicise her recent book, as featured in the Sydney Telegraph.
It has been noted that Ginger Alden was very wary of certain questions being asked in her interviews.
Ken Sharp: Why did you wait so long to write a book about your time spent with Elvis, what makes this the right time?
Ginger Alden: Well, I had gone forward with my life when Elvis had passed away. I’d written down a lot of my memories; it was my own personal thing just to hold on to. I didn’t want to forget anything about that special time.
I wrote down so many things, exact statements that were said. I moved forward with my life. I began to work; I worked for 15 years and in the course of that time there were a lot of books coming out, just swirling things about our relationship and about the last year of Elvis’ life.
As difficult as it was, I got married and I had my son; my son turned 20 last year. It was difficult not to put out a book sooner. I thought that I wanted the truth out there about our relationship but I knew it was going to be a very emotional journey for me.
It was going to take a lot of time to put that together and I didn’t want to take that time away from my son. I only had one son and I raised him. So when he turned 20 and went away to college, that’s when I sat down and wrote the book, which took me about two years to put all of my memories together.
KS:What I like about your book is it puts me into that world; I feel as a reader you’ve brought me there with you.
GA: Well, thank you. It’s funny because I didn’t want to write from the perspective of the age I am now and looking back in retrospect, I wanted to put the reader there and I hope I did because you don’t lose those feelings. When I went back and I was looking at my notes, some things you’ll just never ever forget.
It left such an impact on me; I’d just turned 20. Just stepping through that front door again of Graceland; it looked different from the inside. It was decorated in this plush red and some people called it gaudy but it left quite an impression on me at the time.
For me and my sisters, the evening we first went to Graceland, for us growing up in Memphis it was like being invited into the White House and meeting the president and some may think that sounds silly.
But I had driven past Graceland numerous times going to a shopping mall and was like, “Wow, I wonder if Elvis is home now?” Just growing up in Memphis, I was proud that he shared my hometown.
|KS: In terms of your age, there was a 22 years gap between you and Elvis. Explain why you connected so strongly.
GA: I grew up in a musical family; a lot of people may not know this. My mother played the guitar, mandolin and piano. Her father had been a minister in a small church years and years earlier. When I grew up she played a lot of gospel music; we played a lot of music on the stereo in our house and a lot of Elvis’ gospel albums. I loved singing and my sister, Terry, was a great pianist.
I remember standing numerous times behind my mom and singing a lot of these gospel songs. So the very first night I actually met Elvis in November of ’76, we were invited to his home and he played the piano for my sisters and me. I was like, “Wow, this is Elvis and I’m in awe but this just seems so comfortable.”
There was just a comfortable feeling there and spiritual interest. I found the books he was reading interesting. He was on such a spiritual quest in his life when I met him.
S: So the age difference was not a factor?
GA: No, I never looked at our age difference as being an issue at all. The only time I felt like Elvis was more kind of a fatherly figure is he loved teaching; he loved showing me new things. And that was when we were reading and he would point out passages. I felt like I was with an interesting teacher.
But I never looked at our age difference; Elvis could be like a big kid in many ways. I was extremely shy but he was getting involved with my family. My sisters and I always joked and cut up with one another and my older sister Rosemary hit it off with Elvis and they would joke at times or the way he would joke with his band on stage so there was a connection there.
I was pretty shy so I couldn’t pinpoint it. You’d have to ask Elvis, you know, “Why me?” Why did he single me out? But I feel we did connect and there was strong love between us.
KS: Before you met him, you first saw Elvis play live for the first time in Memphis.
GA: I first saw Elvis play live I think on July 5, 1976, in Memphis. My sister was Miss Tennessee in 1976 and she had been given some tickets to Elvis’ concert but she couldn’t go; she had some other things she had to do as Miss Tennessee so she gave the tickets to me, my mother and my sister Rosemary.
I’d never seen Elvis live before and it was great. I wrote about it in the book, when he first walked out, all of a sudden I’m hearing this voice live that I’d only heard on record or on the radio or on television and it was very exciting. Who knew that this would be unfortunately his last hometown appearance? But yeah, we were there that night.
||KS: From seeing him live in Memphis and now being out on tour accompanying Elvis, what was it like to be thrust in the eye of the hurricane?
GA: Well, it was like running next to a fast moving train and jumping on. There was no slowing down. It was exciting. It wasn’t necessarily tiring for me; all of a sudden I was visiting places I’d never been but you didn’t really get to see them.
You’re on the road and you’re in a car and you’re in a hotel room. You’re on this roll but it was an amazing time. Elvis loved performing.
There are so so many things written about how The Colonel pushed him too hard and he wanted to stop but I never sensed that from Elvis. In fact, a couple of weeks before he passed away I remember he turned to me and at one point said, “I’ve been off too long.” Performing was in his blood, he loved to perform and he loved to be on stage.
KS: Speaking of The Colonel, characterize Elvis’ relationship with him.
GA: I felt their relationship was mainly business. I didn’t get to know him well. We never got to speak much in private. I remember being in Palm Springs with Elvis and The Colonel’s wife Marie was ill and Elvis wanted to go and say hi to her so we went to her home. The Colonel certainly never spent anytime talking much with me; it was usually just a brief hello. I sensed Elvis’ relationship with The Colonel was mainly centered around business.
KS: What kind of music would Elvis play around Graceland?
GA: I loved Elton John and Led Zeppelin and enjoyed listening to them but Elvis turned me on to Mario Lanza, opera, Brook Benton. He usually had the radio playing in his bedroom; I think it was comforting for him. He would always tell me, “Music is the universal language.” Sometimes when we were talking to one another, if he was trying to get a point across, he’d nod his head if there were some words that were matching up to what he wanted to teach me.
There might be some lyrics to a song that was playing on the radio or a record and he would nod toward it and say, “Listen, they’re talking to you.”
KS: In the book you mention Elvis speaking about how music is everywhere, even in the sound of the crickets outside.
GA: He really felt there was music in everything. There were various times when we sat on his front porch and he was just in tune to so much around him. It was such an important part of his life. Unfortunately for us there just wasn’t time; I did write about a funny incident in the book.
KS: Was there a song on the radio that was your song?
GA: When we were sitting in bed once he wanted to sing with me a song called “Since I Met You Baby” and I was extremely shy back then but I did love singing so we sang together and I was like, “Wow, if I can sing with Elvis, maybe I can sing in front of anyone!”
But we sang that song a few times. I loved so many of his songs. There was a song called “Trying to Get to You” that for some reason I latched on to and I liked when he would sing that during his shows. But he had so many great songs.
KS: Some uninformed people may view Elvis as a very simple person but he was the opposite; he was intelligent, complicated and thoughtful, someone who had unending thirst for knowledge and spirituality?
GA: He was on such a spiritual quest. We spent so many hours reading. Even on the road he would bring a dictionary and have someone ask him how to spell the word and what the meaning was. He always wanted to better himself in that respect.
KS: Can you recall which books were the most important to him at that time?
GA: From my understanding, his hairdresser Larry Geller had given him a lot of these books back in the 1960s. There was a place called the Self Realization Fellowship in California and I believe Elvis was a member. This was before I met him back in the ‘60s. These books were The Prophet by Kahlil Gilbran; The Impersonal Life, and Autobiography of Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. They’re fascinating, wild books to delve into and I was intrigued by it. Did I understand them? No, but I was trying.
KS: Elvis tried to reach you about them?
GA: Oh yeah, he loved that. We read through those books I would ask questions. It would have taken years to gain an understanding of those books and again, he had been studying them since the ‘60s. It was very important to him so I was there for him but may not have always understood it. But I sat by his side and we read. I was trying to grasp it all at the time.
KS: Elvis was on a quest toward enlightenment. From what I’ve read, he was constantly questioning why he was chosen to be Elvis Presley. Did you ever discuss that with him?
GA: I think Elvis was always trying to understand why he had become as popular as he had. I think he was touched and he tried to reach people through his music and bring them happiness. I wrote in the book about how he wanted to do more serious films. There was a script he had called The Mission. It paralleled his life of bringing happiness to others.
He said one day he hoped to do it. I went into the attic with him one day and we browsed through a box and looked for it but didn’t find it and he came back downstairs. I wish he would have told me more about it. It would have been so wonderful to see him do a film like this.
KS: There was a lot of pressure bearing down on Elvis near the end of his life and one of those pressures concerned “Elvis-What Happened,” the tell-all book written by former members of the “Memphis Mafia” — Red and Sonny West and Dave Hebler, and tabloid journalist Steve Dunleavy, which came out a few weeks before Elvis’ death. Reportedly he was able to access an early copy. Did Elvis ever speak about this book and share his feelings?
GA: From my own personal experience I had no idea who they were. I’d never heard their names before. It was late in the summer of ’77 before Elvis mentioned it to me one night. It hurt him deeply. I didn’t fully understand; I had no idea what was in the book and I never read it and I still have no desire to because I knew it hurt him.
But he seemed to have come to a place that evening when he talked to me about it. He said, “Ginger, if something’s ever said about you that’s untrue, kill it and get it behind you.” You know, a lot of people have this vision of Elvis sitting in his room and being depressed all the time. But that wasn’t what I witnessed at all. There were many fun times up there.
He was human and he had good days and he had bad days. He didn’t say any more to me about the book after that one night but of course I can see how that would have hurt him. He had to go out and face people about the book but I felt he was ready to.
KS: A lot of activity in the book in regards to Elvis at Graceland happens in the bedroom where Elvis spent most of his time reading and being at peace.
GA: He was on the road and we weren’t home for very long and then he’d be back on the road. You think back to all the years he’d been on the road and all the time spent in hotel rooms. Upstairs at Graceland in his bedroom was his sanctuary. His daughter’s room was up there; he had everything up there. He’d call downstairs and the maid would bring up food.
His grandmother lived downstairs and his aunt lived downstairs. But he felt the most comfortable upstairs. He’d play the organ in his office. He’d watch television. People would come up and visit. I think for him it wasn’t a negative by any means; it was just where he felt comfortable. It was almost like his office. It was definitely a sanctuary for him.
KS: Speaking of the “Memphis Mafia,” what was your relationship like with them? Were they wary of you?
GA: Everybody was nice and I never had a problem with anyone. Elvis had asked me to move into Graceland and I know a lot of women think this is crazy but it wasn’t my way at the time. Yes, I stayed with him but it just wasn’t something that I believed in at the time and he said he respected me for that.
But every day I would go up there. Some days I’d stay at Graceland for two or three days and then go back home and maybe they didn’t understand that. There was a lot of swirling speculation that came out after Elvis passed away.
I had to write unfortunately about a few incidents that happened in our relationship because of a dependency on sleep medication, which Elvis did have and it caused mood swings. Those mood swings were few and far between, which tend to be escalated in tabloids and all that stuff and I think that’s unfair.
I thought, this was not Elvis every single day and unfortunately those things are pulled out by the tabloids. I wanted to make it clear to his fans that 98 per cent of the time Elvis was in a great mood. But yes, there were things that happened.
There were more health issues that Elvis had that I was unaware of. He had colon problems. I knew Elvis had glaucoma and high blood pressure. He never sat around and said, “I really don’t feel good.” No one ever said to me that he was ill and shouldn’t be traveling.
So when Elvis passed away I was boggled when I saw interviews coming from certain people around him saying, “Oh, we thought he was gonna pass away at any time.” I was like, he was playing football in Hawaii. There are a lot of questions I have and many things I didn’t understand but that was my experience with Elvis and I didn’t sense that.
But getting back to the “Memphis Mafia,” I didn’t get to know the “Memphis Mafia” really well and I think that was a big part of it. Elvis was spending time with me and my family and I think that was a difficult thing for a lot of the guys around him. When we were in Palm Springs, Elvis was basically staying in his bedroom with me and my sister and he was introducing her. They’d known him for years and they were not getting to know me; maybe they felt this was a little bit of pulling away from them.
I wanted to write the book and hope some of them would understand things better. But when Elvis passed away they all turned on each other too, which shocked me; so many of them pounced on each other and I removed myself from it.
KS: Elvis always rose to a challenge but it seemed like the last years of his life were devoid of such challenges. Did Elvis ever speak about the state of his career which at that point was him on a perpetual exhausting series of one nighters?
GA: He definitely wanted to do more films. I was watching a movie with him once, one of his, it was either Girl Happy or Double Trouble and he said, “Same script, just different location.” People said he never watched any of his films but he watched it briefly and sure enough he changed the channel. He would have loved to have done more serious films and I definitely sensed that after he made that comment to me.
Image taken from the book Elvis The Final Curtain. Look here for more.
KS: What were the lessons Elvis taught you during your nine months together?
GA: Well, what Elvis said about “killing it and getting it behind you” when people say negative things about you or learning how to bow out gracefully. I’ve had to ignore some things said or written about me and move forward and I’ll be forever grateful for that advice. I didn’t read a lot of Elvis books but there’d be this person this or that person saying that about me and then biographers pick it up and then the next thing you know it’s steamrolled and it’s complete lies and tales.
It’s like, who started this? I used to hear things like, “Ginger hated touring” and I never felt like that. So that was even more the reason to write a factual account of our days together and I was able to do it in a chronological order. Unfortunately, we had a whirlwind love but it wasn’t a long long time for the two of us.
KS: If you could see Elvis again and were only able to ask him one question for which you’d like an answer, what would you ask him and why?
GA: I would probably talk more with Elvis about soul mates because he was introducing me to the idea of soul mates in the beginning of our relationship and I’ve come to a place where I do believe you can have more than one soul mate. I’ve been happily married since 1991 to a wonderful man and I have a beautiful son. But there was a deep connection between Elvis and I and I probably would have wanted to delve more into the soul mate things with him that we were talking about at the time.
KS: Finally, is there a moment in your life with Elvis that you’d like to relive one more time?
GA: Wow…It would have to be when Elvis and I became engaged. He took my hand and walked me into his bathroom and had me sit in a chair and got on bended knee and said many beautiful things to me and presented me with my engagement ring.
Ginger Alden today
The complete interview of Ginger Alden by Ken Sharp can be read HERE.
Ken Sharp also wrote the fabulous book "Elvis: Vegas '69' as well as 'Writing For The King' - see details below..
'ELVIS: Vegas '69' - Book Review: Written by Ken Sharp author of the critically acclaimed 'Writing For The King' the book tells the remarkable story of Elvis' return to the concert stage told through first-hand accounts by those lucky enough to be on hand to witness Elvis' miraculous artistic and creative rebirth. But does 'Elvis:Vegas '69' live up to its promises?
EIN's Piers Beagley provides a detailed review of this absorbing and stunning book - and includes some excerpts and images.
'Writing For The King' FTD Book/CD review: FTD’s biggest project to date with over 140 interviews by author Ken Sharp, 400 pages, plus two bonus CDs. While perhaps not for 'jumpsuit junkies', this is a text driven book that deserves one's time being spent poring over the information and discovering plenty of fascinating quotes and Elvis stories along the way. EIN's Piers Beagley spent a week delving into this host of delights - and here provides an in-depth review of one of the best Elvis releases of 2006. (Source: EIN, Feb 2007)
EIN reviewed 'Elvis & Ginger' noting - ELVIS & Ginger is a long overdue memoir and one which many fans will enjoy. It is a release that has already, quite emotionally, divided some fans. Regardless of one’s feelings about Ginger Alden, her book offers a positive and welcome window into Elvis’ final months and provides a record of some of the small things in life......and in Elvis’ case those small things are what countless researchers and authors have striven to find and report over many decades.