Category Archives: Biography

Ginger Alden Confirms Elvis’ Thirst for Knowledge

 Ginger finally tells her story about Elvis!

UnknownWho is Ginger Alden?  Ginger Alden was Elvis’ last love.  She spent the last nine months of his life with him.  You can read about the love affair in her new book, Elvis and Ginger   Elvis Presley’s Fiancee’ and Last Love Finally tells Her Story.

She, like all of the other Memphis Mafia (people around Elvis), was starry-eyed and overwhelmed by Elvis’ persona and “apparent” wealth.  Ginger was only twenty years old when Elvis came into her life.  He was in his forties.  According to Ginger, there was a great distance of years but it did not seem that way when they were together.  Elvis gave her jewels, automobiles, fur coats, and a credit card of her own.  He showered presents on the rest of her family, and promised to pay for her mother’s home. (Elvis died before this was accomplished.  When he died, he had little money in his estate.  Vernon (Elvis’ father) contested the promise and he won in court also.)

Unlike other books written by his entourage, Alden does not damage the image of Elvis. She writes about a tender and needy side of this bigger-than-life performer. From all of the stories written about him in the book, Ginger believed that Elvis was in search of a new family. His old associates and family were increasingly becoming dysfunctional. She and her mother and sisters, for a few months, provided a welcoming and appreciative place to go.

Throughout her recollection of her time with Elvis, she told stories of how they would read books together, almost every day.  They discussed all sorts of religions and religious books, talked about world news, and meditated together.  They were soul mates.  In her book she lists many of the books that Larry Geller also mentions as favorites of Elvis.

Here is an excerpt, “While I was packing, Larry Geller had flown in and given Elvis more religious books.  Elvis gave some copies to me when I returned to Graceland, and I was happy to be included.  I had begun to enjoy our ritual of reading together and talking about the various ideas that we found intriguing in these books.”  (p. 155)

Certainly, Elvis never wanted to reveal to the public that he was an intellectual.  That would go against all of the bump and grind and fabulous notes he hit on stage.  But, secretly, most of his spare time was spent in reading.  He did not like parties, did not drink alcohol, and did not like anyone to see him in a bathing suit.  He was shy!

New Book, "For the Love of Elvis"

New Book, “For the Love of Elvis”

Elvis was also very ill at this time.  Ginger does not seem to be fully aware of his problems, even today.  She did not know that he had “bone” cancer.  She knew that he would often gain water weight, and thought that his diet had something to do with it.  The truth was that Elvis had experienced a few heart attacks.  Along with the heart condition, he had high blood pressure, diabetes, a liver disease, and glaucoma.  At one point he almost went blind in one eye.  (Remember the cloudy sun-glasses he wore.) He had broken so many bones studying Karate, that it was difficult for him to perform without pain killers.  There is more, and I address these problems in my book, For the Love of Elvis.

While Ginger is now in her fifties, the book is written from the point of view of someone who is barely out of the teen years.  There is evidence that she kept a diary, or kept notes about her activities with Elvis.  Many of the stories have more detail in them than most people would remember.  And while she is telling her story, she does very little, if any, analysis of Elvis’ career.  She assumes that it is normal for a teenager to be swept off her feet by an entertainer.  From almost the first moment she met Elvis, she joined his tours and lived with him at Graceland.

When Elvis died, there were many rumors floating around about Ginger.  Some in Elvis’ entourage blamed her for his death.  Questions were asked, “Why did Ginger have her makeup on when she came downstairs to report that Elvis was lying on the floor in his bathroom?”  Some said that she had phone calls with publishers before she informed the staff that Elvis was sick.  No one knows the truth.  And Ginger does not answer these accusations head on.  What she does do, in the book, is to claim that Elvis wanted her to wear her make up to bed, so, she always had eye makeup on when she went to sleep.

We are not allowed to know much more about Alden.  She had great grief, but somehow she was offered parts in movies and modeling jobs.  She, like so many of the members of Elvis entourage, went on to garnish a living because they knew the “King.”  His legend helped feed her career.

This book is very important because it is another source that makes reference to books that Elvis loved to read.  Eventually, I will discuss many of those sources in a new book on Elvis.

Please forgive me if I am too critical.

When I was seventeen years old, I was dating a handsome and apparently wealthy sailor.  He drove a Cadillac like the one that was given to Ginger.  He wanted to marry me and even asked my father if he would give him permission to marry me.  I was only seventeen years old and had not seen the world.  I wanted to make my own way in life.  I did not want someone to take care of me.  The chances were that I was going to be very poor for the next few years in my life.  I had been accepted into several colleges and had no money.  My parents could not support me.

As Evita sings, “I chose freedom.”  Ginger chose the opposite.  She became the handmaiden of Elvis, with a gorgeous diamond ring and the promise of marriage some day.  Don’t Cry for me Argentina

 

As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge

 

Elvis Presley and “The Prophet,” Khalil Gibran

The Divine Mother and Elvis Presley

Elvis at Graceland

Elvis at Graceland

The Prophet was a popular book read by young people in the 1960’s in the United States. I remember reading it twice because it was short and simple to read. Now reading it fifty years later, I realize that I adopted some of the points of view in the book. Khalil’s popularity grew among what was termed the Counter Culture and the New Age movement in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Born into a Christian/Catholic family that followed a specific rite or ritual called Maronite in (Mount) Lebanon, yet also speaking and writing Arabic, Gibran became an artist and writer who never married. He died early, at the age of 48. He studied Islam, the Bahai’s,  and found comfort in the words of the mystical Sufis.

Many people in the middle of the twentieth century were drawn to Khalil’s work. Elvis, in looking for answers to his own struggles with Christianity, would have enjoyed reading this book. In a way, The Prophet, argues for the same type of morality that Elvis lived.  He was open, and honest, and did not subscribe to a rigid morality. For instance Gibran writes, “Love one another, but make not a bond of love.” (15) This describes Elvis’ life completely. He never wanted to capture anyone, nor did he want to be captured after Priscilla divorced him. In an explanation on giving, Gibran writes, “It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” (19) Elvis gave of himself and his belongings until there was virtually nothing left.

Gibran’s The Prophet is a synthesis of several universalistic and pantheistic thoughts wrapped in

The Prophet

The Prophet

a monotheistic point of view. He offers a point of view of life that is for everyone, and discovers the Divine in everything. While he uses the word God, he also used the term God-Self (39). He deliberately and indirectly attempts to discredit formal or classical religions, which teach rigid dogma and ethical guidelines.

While The Prophet is not categorized as sacred literature, I think the writer intended it to be interpreted that way. Throughout the book Gibran’s goal is to pull people away from dualistic thinking; that there is only a left or right or a good or a bad in life. He pushes them to the middle of an argument, but does answer the questions for them. He speaks in riddles and reminds me of a Zen Master who offers Koans to his followers. Here is a cute one entitled, “Dreamland.”

 Our school master used to take a nap every afternoon, related a disciple of Soyen Shaku. We children asked him why he did it and he told us: I go to  dreamland to meet the old sages just as Confucius did. When Confucius slept, he would dream of ancient sages and later tell his followers about them.

It was extremely hot one day so some of us took a nap. Our school master scolded us. We went to dreamland to meet the ancient sages the same as Confucius did, we explained. What was the message from those sages? our school master demanded. One of us replied: We went to dreamland and met the sages and asked them if our schoolmaster came there every afternoon, but they said they had never seen any such fellow. (Zen Koans.

Khalil Gibran

Khalil Gibran

The person who speaks/writes in The Prophet, is one who is alone, who is lonely most of the time, and lives in the forests or away from the people. He is about to leave on a ship and wants to bid farewell to the people and leave important messages for them. Did Khalil want to portray himself as an Ascended Master? Or was he portraying himself as a wise sannyasin found within Hinduism.  Similar to the way that the Law Code of Manu, an ancient Hindu sacred text, is written, villagers ask the prophet questions and he answers them.

Gibran offers an alternative to organized/rigid religion when he argues  that simply eating and drinking is an act of worship. (23-24)  Gibran speaks of a mansion in the sky, a mansion that is not attached to the earth. This is a home that has no roots. The writer/prophet has no roots.  And while Elvis did own property, he did not choose to stay in one place for very long. He liked Las Vegas, and spent the last nine years of his life on tour with brief stays at Graceland. So he was a nomad, sort of ….

“For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion in the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and silences of night.” (34)

There is a struggle within many religious traditions between people who think they have the Truth with a capital “T,” and those who understand that there are many truths.   The  TRUTH People believe that there is only one Truth, and many Christian traditions fall into this category. Elvis explored many truths, and I do not know whether he would label any of the religions he studied as Truth. Certainly he loved his musical heritage and experiences he had within many different types of Christian organizations, and those memories sustained him. I think he would have gravitated toward the following quotes,

“Say not, ‘I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”  Say not, ‘I have found the path of the soul.”‘ Say rather, ‘I have met the soul walking upon my path. For the soul walks upon all paths. The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself, like a  lotus of countless petals.” (55)

And again he writes, “And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn. Your daily life is your temple and your religion. Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.”

When the prophet begins to leave the people he looks at the ship in which he will sail and says,

“I am ready. The stream has reached the sea, and once more the Great Mother holds her son against her breast.”

This last statement may have been written by Gibran as his own epitaph.

Elvis would have loved the above phrase because it would make him think of his mother who left him when he was so young. Throughout all of the book Gibran refers to the Divine as God, but here we have a reference to the Divine being a female. I think that reading The Prophet would have supported the kind of life, ethics, and lifestyle that Elvis had chosen. It differed with his past, but also in a way, it allowed his past to comfort him.

Complete copy of The Prophet.

Quotations are from:  Khalil Gibran, The Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Kopf, 1923.

As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge

Life Everlasting and the Twelve Mile Blues is published!

May I share an excerpt from the book with you? 

(Click link below  to soar to the Amazon site.)

Life Everlasting and the Twelve Mile Blues

Life Everlasting and the Twelve Mile Blues

Life Everlasting and the Twelve Mile Blues

One afternoon while hiking the hills of North Carolina, in July of 1987, I stumbled across an old map with the town of “Gilreath” on it. “Gilreath” is my mother’s family name. That small-unexpected discovery captured my imagination for almost three decades. That old map eventually propelled me to the hills of Kentucky, and back to the roots of my ancestors. Who were these people who risked their lives settling the frontier?

Touching the Mind of the Universe

Have you ever visited a place for the first time and felt as if you were at home? It happened to me the first time while visiting the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. They were featuring a Native American exhibit punctuated with the music of Carlos Nikai. The music seemed familiar, hauntingly so.  The dreaming world was my world. There were exhibits of weaving, corn husking, making molasses, sewing, cooking, and preserving food. I realized as I walked through the exhibit, that these photographs and paintings were living scenes of stories told to me by my Kentucky relatives, and experienced by my own parents.

Ova and Joe Gilreath

Ove and Joe Gilreath My Grandparents

My father was half-Cherokee from the rolling mountains of Tennessee. He and my mother were raised on rural farms in a surprisingly similar fashion as the Southwestern Native Americans, although my parents moved away from their roots. Nikai’s new age twist to Native American music seemed to capture the vibrations and sounds of the woods I knew so well in Kentucky. Without words, the notes seem to mimic the fearful and fearless nature of the whispering pines. Within his flute, I heard the strange off-key (minor) songs sung in piano-less churches and the guttural mourning that underlies the daily existence of people who claim their heritage from the mountains.

As I began my research, I hoped to find a kindly ancestor with whom I could claim a synonymous life. Did I believe that my spirit had lived earlier in a forgotten relative? Was I looking for someone like me, so that I could claim the heritage of Aunt or Uncle, Cousin, or Grandfather as my own personal legacy? Could it be that I, too, was on a perilous journey, hoping to create a better, a new, happier life for myself — just like my ancestors?

The Dream

Gilreath Family making molasses from Sugar Cane

Gilreath Family making molasses from Sugar Cane

Dreams often keep people alive and give them a foundation to hope for their tomorrows. Rubem Alves calls this the “presence of the absent” (What is Religion? p, 6). Many settlers during the 18th and 19th centuries made their way west through the Cumberland Pass into the Appalachian Mountains. Into this land, later to be called McCreary County, came settlers from North Carolina. Some came to escape poverty, slavery, a feud, or the law. Others came to escape the oppressive life of service to landowners or merchants, and still a few came to hunt, but most came to farm and to find a pot of gold. Among those adventurers who forged their way into the wilderness were a people by the name of Gilreath. The Gilreaths settled in a remote region of Kentucky now known as Pine Knot, Marsh Creek (sometimes spelled Marshes), Jellico Creek, Strunk, and Holly Hill in McCreary County. They even crossed the county line into Williamsburg.

In 1859 William Matt and Sarah Ann Gilreath traded their wagon and mules for two small houses and approximately 90 acres of land on Marsh Creek. The records at Whitley County Courthouse show that Matt purchased the land for $25.00. The original two-story house sat on a rise overlooking a small valley.   The front porch view included another mountain billowing up out of the creek bed. The land included half of that mountain in front of the house, and almost half of the mountain behind the house. With little money, their good health, and a vision of a better life, they managed to carve out an existence in the wilderness.

According to records at Pleasant Run Church in Holly Hill, Kentucky, Benjamin and Mary Gilreath settled in the valley. Their descendents donated property to build that church. The stones marking their graves at Pleasant Run Cemetery read, “Benjamin Gilreath, Mary Gilreath, The first Gilreaths who came to this country. They came from N.C. to Pleasant Run about 1810.”

Homers big house

Old Gilreath Homestead in Holly Hill

Their religion was self-reliance, innovation, and an innate desire to be free of government. Some claimed they were of the Methodist faith. This family persisted in the face of strip-mining, floods, disease, little formal education, and poverty. In the struggle to survive, learning how to “cipher” words held little priority. Consequently very little written information about these settlers in South Central Kentucky has survived.

Just a couple of miles down the road from Pleasant Run Cemetery on highway 92 in Marsh Creek lived a Gilreath whose ancestry dated back to the early days of Pleasant Run church. Their great grandson Homer Gilreath resided on the same 88-acre farm purchased by his grandfather William Matt Gilreath in 1865, and in the same house until his death in l997.

Two of his sisters Myrtle Gilreath Baird (1916-2004) and Mary Gilreath Selvidge (l922-2010) remember living on the mountain during the l920’s and l930’s. Myrtle stayed in the mountains and married a farmer. She lived on top of a mountain in Strunk, Kentucky. Neither she nor her deceased husband, Joe, never thought of learning how to drive. There was no need. In those days they could walk down the hill to the local store. Today, the closest grocery store is at least 8 miles away.

 Wishes Do Come True

Myrtle and Mary

Aunt Myrtle and my mom, Mary

The foundation for this book is built upon evidence discovered in the county court houses of Whitley and McCreary Counties, in the graveyards that know no boundaries, in scores of oral history tapes that were never transcribed and printed, in the collection of the McCreary County library, in the archives of the McCreary County Record, in the Stearns Museum, in the recollections of my “kin,” and in the lives of Mary Melvina Gilreath Selvidge and Myrtle Gilreath Baird. Along the way, as I tell the stories, I will gently open the door to the possibilities of “Life Everlasting.”

Pleasant Run Church

Take a walk with me up the hill to Pleasant Run Church and the Cemetery.

The Mountains and Me

There is a song that I have in my head that never goes away. It is a song of the pines and the wind coming through the valley. It pulls me south to the mountains, to Jellico and Marsh Creeks, to the voices and places that filled my childhood. There is quietness in those meandering waters and soulful people. I understand their mountain spirits.

I understand their pain, a pain born out of hope for a better life–a better tomorrow. It is a mystical sadness that finds itself at odds with the modern world that seems to have lost sight of its own humanity. For through the research for this book I have learned that people in McCreary County (Holly Hill, Strunk, Stearns, Whitley City, Pine Knot, and more) value each other above all else. And how do I know it? Because the first thing they ask you isn’t, “How much do you make?” or “Where do you live?” or “How big is your house?” or “What kind of car do you drive?” They ask, “Who are you, and who are your people?”

As always this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge