Alanna Nash

Writer Alanna Nash should need no introduction to readers of such popular periodicals as Entertainment Weekly, for which she covers country music. The Louisville native has also authored such volumes as Dolly: The Biography (a look at the peerless Ms. Parton) and Behind Closed Doors (a collection of country interviews), both recently reviewed in these pages. On July 15, Simon & Schuster will publish her latest book, The Colonel, which analyzes Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s controversial manager. By e-mail last month, Nash discussed that bio (on which further information appears at www.colonelparker.com) and related topics:

1. What inspired you to write this biography of Colonel Tom Parker?
I have been curious about him since I was a small child, ever since I saw a picture of him handing out Elvis pictures to kids who looked remarkably like me. Then in the ’90s, I had three meetings with him in Las Vegas, trying to get him to comment for a previous book I did, Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations From the Memphis Mafia, a collaboration with three members of Elvis’s entourage. In each of those meetings, I looked across the lunch table at him and wondered, “Just who are you? Who are you really?” When he died in ’97, I thought, “Now we’ll never know.” Then my agent convinced me to try to answer that question myself.

2. In brief—at the risk of using an almost ludicrous phrase—what did your six years of work on the biography entail?
I was on a quest to answer two larger questions: One, why did he make certain decisions in guiding Elvis’s career that didn’t really make a lot of sense, and two, why did he leave his native Holland without telling his family goodbye, and then never become a U.S. citizen? The ripple effect of that had enormous impact on the life and career of his most famous client. To answer those questions, I traveled to Holland, interviewed his family, met more of his family and friends here in the States, and was able to uncover several previously unseen documents that led me to believe that he got into some very big trouble in the Netherlands—trouble that made him either rewrite or attempt to obscure his past. The thing is, Elvis Presley paid almost as big a price as he did for whatever happened over there.

3. What distinguishes your book from earlier bios of Parker, like James L. Dickerson’s Colonel Tom Parker, Sean O’Neal’s My Boy Elvis, and Dirk Vellenga and Mick Farren’s Elvis and the Colonel?
I cannot pay enough homage to the Vellenga/Farren book. Both authors were helpful to me personally, especially Mick Farren, who is both a genius and a sweetheart. Any serious research into the life of Tom Parker has to start with their work. I just took Vellenga’s findings deeper. To my knowledge, Sean O’Neal didn’t do a lot of primary research, as he was under an extremely tight deadline to get his book out as soon as he could after Parker died; Jim Dickerson focused on different things than I did. I was searching for cause and effect, and attempting to construct a psychological profile of a very complex man.

4. Of all the bios of Elvis Presley, the man who made Parker famous and vice versa, which do you regard as the best—and why?
You can’t discredit the Peter Guralnick volumes [Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love] for thoroughness about Elvis, if not Parker, but there are other books which are essential to understanding the story: Elaine Dundy’s Elvis and Gladys, for one, Bill Burk’s numerous books [Early Elvis: The Sun Years, among many others] for “you are there” details, and more recently, Bobbie Ann Mason’s abbreviated look at Elvis as deep-dish Southerner [Elvis Presley].

5. If we lived in a time less supersaturated by media coverage, which contemporary musician or musicians could you see matching the impact of Elvis?
You’d have to name the Beatles for cultural significance and change, but after that, perhaps only Bruce Springsteen comes close. If we’re speaking of white artists, that is, in mainstream America. Black culture has its own super icons, and to their own audiences, they have been just as powerful as Elvis. In his heyday, of course, Presley bridged those two camps as never before. We need him back!

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