Troubling Revelations about Elvis Costello

[Let me just say up-front that this post deals tangentially with Sarcastro. I know some of you–Sarcastro especially–live for my posts about him, so here we go.]

First, you must know that I have a high tolerance for convivial bullshit. I like good-natured teasing and stories told with a hint of “maybe it didn’t happen quite like this.” And probably anyone who knows me knows that there’s always an air of good-hearted dissimulation. In other words, if it doesn’t really matter and it’s easy enough to fake my way through it, I’m faking my way through it.

Second, Sarcastro and I have a friendship based on mutual admiration and the belief that we’re smarter than the other. I mean, Sarcastro thinks he’s just a tiny bit smarter than me and I think I’m just a tiny bit smarter than him, and on such pompousness and charity, our friendship is built.

Third, Sarcastro is obtuse. I can’t think of any specific examples of his obtuseness, but, in many ways, hanging out with Sarcastro is like boating on the Mississippi above Alton. You’re going along just fine down the middle of what you think is a deep and wide river, when all of a sudden, you’ve run aground. It’s one of the most startling things about him, because, he’s 95% of the time so astute that you just take for granted that the other times he must clearly get what’s going on.

And, you know, I’m not perfect. Since I was kept in a hermetically sealed tube for most of my life, lacking basic necessities like cable and access to a big city and good radio stations, there’s a lot of pop culture shit that I just don’t know–books I haven’t read, movies I haven’t seen, music I haven’t heard.

So, the other day, Sarcastro lends me Elvis Costello and the Imposters – Club Date – Live in Memphis, because he’s got this idea for a book that came to him while he was watching the extras on this DVD. And he sells it like this “Listen, I have this great idea for a book. Elvis Costello writes about Delta blues places…” and I’m totally like “Well, hmm, that sounds like a good idea but…” totally trying play it off like “Does Elvis Costello even want to write a book?”

But really, I’m thinking, Elvis Costello? Isn’t he the dude in the hat?

Yes, that was the extent of my Elvis Costello knowledge–he’s some dude in a hat. But I take the DVD anyway, because I’m not about to admit to Sarcastro that I wouldn’t know Elvis Costello if he were sitting across the table from me.

It turns out he’s British. And that he sings some songs that sound vaguely familiar. And he’s good, so that was a nice treat. But from watching the extras, it turns out that dude’s in his fifties.

How do I totally miss out on a long musical career like that? Are there other things I’m missing out on and don’t know it? The whole incident troubles me.

12 thoughts on “Troubling Revelations about Elvis Costello

  1. Elvis Costello is a person to whom I compose lengthy mental letters, sure in my heart that he’d totally understand whatever is personally weighing me down. Then, out of love and courtesy, I just don’t bother him.

    Although Sarcastro’s got a great idea (with a ready market of people like me who would buy it), EC had a much-publicized drunken dust-up about twenty years ago with Stephen Stills and his band in which he called Ray Charles “a blind ignorant nigger.” He’s a complicated self-sabotaging guy, in other words, and his appeal as an interpreter of Delta Blues places might be low for the core audience for such books.

    He seems more interested in exploring all forms of music (symphonic, jazz, chamber/art song) than prose. He’s the guy who said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” after all.

  2. From what I remember about the Ray Charles story, he called James Brown an ignorant nigger and Brother Ray a blind ignorant nigger, all in an attempt to piss off Bonnie Bramlett or some such tale.

    He has since expressed remorse, this happened in the eighties maybe, but could not bring himself to apologize to Ray directly due to the high level of shame and embarrassment.

  3. Yep, that’s the story I’m talking about. Bonnie Bramlett was traveling with the Stephen Stills Band at the time. EC did a sincere walk of shame to everyone but Ray (too embarassed), but Ray was courtly about the whole thing and said “Drunken words shouldn’t be printed in the paper.”

    While he can be an asshole when provoked (who among us can’t be?), I don’t think he’s a racist. (I don’t think the Dirty Dozen would have put up with him very long if he was.) I just wonder if he wouldn’t run like a turkey from the topic because of the inevitable exhumation of this minor incident. Seems to me that your idea has come about twenty years too late to catch him during his deep immersion in American pop, R&B, and soul. But a girl can hope she’s wrong

  4. Yeah, that might all be true, but the Devil wants to wear his Red Shoes.

    And knock off the ‘in the fifties’ shit. The Fifites are the New Thirties, haven’t you heard?

    Oh, never mind, I forgot. You’ve been hermetically sealed.

  5. Where is Tim Morgan when you need him? He could totally tell us if it’s possible to dance about architecture, and, if anyone has done it, it’s probably him. After all, he discovered architectural wrestling.

    I think the other problem is that this book is so good that any other guide, no matter who writes it, is going to pale in comparision.

  6. I had lunch today with my friend Scott at Cafe Nonna and they were playing Elvis Costello’s greatest hits which led me to go ‘DID YOU READ AUNT B’S POST ABOUT ELVIS COSTELLO TODAY? ISN’T THAT WEIRD?!’ He hadn’t though, and that’s why Scott sucks.

  7. Amanda, I am shocked SHOCKED that this Scott person is not hanging on my every word. I work and slave so that people can have things to read and folks like Scott can’t even do their part and read the things I put here for them. It’s just a shame.

    Bridgett, wow. Hmm.

  8. B,

    Elvis Costello is the greatest songwriter of our time, and possibly the greatest ever. Nobody else has ever consistently been good to great for a longer period of time, from 1977 to 2006, now 29 years. Not even Gershwin, or Berlin, or any of those old pop guys from the first part of the 20th century wrote as many great songs without putting out a lot of dreck.

    Oh, and he’s one of the best architecture dancers out there, too, as anybody who’s ever read his liner notes could tell you.

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