ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969
This is Chapter 23 (day 25):
Written by Mark James
Performed by Elvis Presley
Recorded at American Sound Studio, Memphis, Tennessee 1969
Drummer: Gene Chrisman
Birdie grabbed the last piece of bacon from the plate in the waitress’s hand. “Thank you, Dottie!”
Dottie stiffened. “We have customers waiting.”
“Right,” said Norman, his own embarrassment showing.
“Let me out!” Molly snapped.
“Whoa!” said Birdie, as she stood to let Molly by. “You and Mags would be great friends.”
Molly managed to get out of the booth without touching Birdie, who, she was convinced, had something living in her hair. She snatched the paper out of her cousin’s hand. “Give me the check, Norman. I’ll pay it.” She stalked to the register.
“I’ll pay for the Cokes,” said Margaret. “We’re not that broke.” She followed Molly to the register — but not before she said to Norman, “She’s not always like this.” Then she reconsidered. “Well, yes, she is.”
“Lucky you,” said Birdie. She trailed after Margaret, calling back over her shoulder, “Don’t just sit there, Norman!”
“Suspicious Minds” — that’s just where Molly and Norman are as they meet Margaret and Birdie at the Arcade Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee.
“What do you want?” asks Norman, and Birdie answers, “We want a ride to this address.” Which happens to be American Sound Studio, which was located at 827 Thomas Street, and where Elvis did record in the summer of 1969.
How to write about Memphis and American music in the Sixties without mentioning Elvis Presley? It can’t be done. So Elvis must make an appearance, no? We shall see…
Margaret and Birdie were first born as characters in a novel I started in 1995 called “Hang the Moon.” I’m still working on that novel, 25 years later. I put it away for long periods of time, haul it back out again (yesterday, as a matter of fact), and putter with it, play with it, try to figure out how to make it work.
In “Hang the Moon,” Margaret and Birdie are two 13-year-old cousins who don’t like each other and find themselves on a trip from Mississippi to Memphis — in 1966 — to find Elvis Presley, who one of them is convinced — with some reasonable proof — is her father.
I love “Hang the Moon.” I tried to use it as Book 2 of the Sixties Trilogy, but my editor didn’t like it — at all — and I was unwilling to make the changes he suggested. (The biggest change he requested was “Can the Tennessee Williams.” hahahaha!)
But I realized, as we talked it through, that this novel was not Book 2 of the Sixties Trilogy, after all, that “Hang the Moon” would need to be its own story one day (please), and that Book 2 of the Sixties Trilogy would need a whole new story… which became REVOLUTION.
And thank goodness. Sunny and Gillette and Ray’s story of Freedom Summer is the perfect one to represent the civil rights struggle of the Sixties, and REVOLUTION is the story that was meant to be born then.
But. When writing ANTHEM, I remembered that loud-mouthed, uncouth, big-feelings girl, Birdie June, and her cousin Margaret, and I thought… they would be three years older now. Did they ever get to Memphis? Did they ever find Elvis? IS Elvis Birdie’s father? How did that all play out after “Hang the Moon” ended?
So I gave them a walk-on in ANTHEM — and I laughed and laughed at their shenanigans as I wrote the Memphis section of this book. I hope they make you laugh as well. And sing along with some Elvis, in both this chapter and the next.
As Birdie puts it at the end of Chapter 23:
“Elvis and my mama had a thing, back in the day, I’m telling you, long story… but he is no longer available, of course, because of Priscilla, but he and my mama are friends again, and Priscilla is fine with it, and he invited me to come up anytime and I knew he’d be here today because he told Mama he would and so here I am.”