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 24 (day 24):
A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION
Written by Mac Davis and Billy Strange
Performed by Elvis Presley
Recorded at Western Recorders, Hollywood, California 1968
Drummer: Hal Blaine
“Vietnam is different,” said Norman, out of nowhere.
“You fight in the jungle. It’s dangerous.”
“Well, son,” said Elvis. He tapped the glass to signal the driver to return them to the studio. “Serving your country is always an honorable thing to do. I could have gotten the special treatment in the army, could have worked in an entertainment corps, but I wanted to be a real soldier. A soldier is one of this country’s highest callings. To serve with pride is a mark of distinction and high moral character.”
Above, Elvis singing “A Little Less Conversation” in the 1968 film “Live a Little, Love a Little.” I’m sure Birdie saw it multiple times. Here’s another take, updated, from Junkie XL, same song, still Elvis, just refreshed. I listened to it on repeat while writing Chapter 24.
Chapter 24 is all conversation. Constant conversation, between Elvis Presley and his four charges. I use the chapter specifically to reveal character (one of dialogue’s key strengths), to relay information, and to move the story forward internally. There will be a call-back to this chapter in future chapters, so stay tuned.
Some of the information I wanted to reveal was alternate opinions about military service, so Elvis talks about how important serving one’s country is, and he isn’t the first or only character to say so. In a country that was so divided by the Vietnam War, it felt important to give the reader as many viewpoints as possible, across America in 1969. And using Elvis as a sounding board for the good soldier gave me a way for him to double duty in the story.
Elvis’s time in the Army, from 1958 to 1960, was carefully scripted by Colonel Tom Parker, his manager. It wasn’t for purely patriotic reasons that Elvis became a “real soldier.”
Whereas Elvis might have been glad to have been in the “entertainment corps” during his army stint, Parker was savvy enough to know that Elvis entertaining army troops in Europe would have provided them with free entertainment, including photo ops and recordings of his shows, and would have diluted how much Elvis was missed by his fans in the two years he was absent from the music and film world.
More importantly, it meant that whatever Elvis did in those two years, from an entertainment perspective, belonged to the U.S. Army, and would not be under Parker’s control. So there was a lot going on to manage this particular career and its impact in those years.
For my story reasons, it was good to be able to show that being a soldier was an honorable profession, and that going to war was justified. This sentiment is echoed throughout ANTHEM, alongside the war protests, and the stories of those who were irreparably damaged by war.
In this way, I get to show the reader the struggle Norman and Molly are having with their feelings about the war — what are those feelings? How are they evolving? — and the fact that Barry has left home, is now “ordered to report” for his physical and be drafted, and that he is missing… are they doing the right thing, to go get him?
Plus, in this chapter, I get to write some killer dialogue. With Elvis Presley! I’ve been waiting for 25 years to make that happen, ever since I began writing “Hang the Moon.” The payoff was most definitely worth it.