A fan is born.
1978: Elvis Costello’s first album, My Aim is True, is released—a musical eureka moment. Filled with anger, frustration, clever lyrics, great melodies, killer bridges*, and punchy, stripped down arrangements, it spoke to me and my friends in a profound and exciting way. We read about him in Trouser Press magazine and bought nose-bleed tickets for his show at the (former) Palladium on E. 14th St. Elvis played for maybe 30 minutes that night and stormed off the stage, we guessed ‘in character,’ and it really didn’t matter. I was hooked.
Over the course of many tours and many albums, I moved through Elvis’ prolific musical explorations with him. He immersed himself in musical history and mined every style for inspiration—R&B, country, classical, folk, art song, the American Songbook—and I grew along with him. He wrote/performed with Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, Aimee Mann, Anne Sofie Von Otter, the Roots, and many other great musicians, creating music that perfectly melded their respective talents. And the best part is, he’s still doing that and I’m still eager to hear every new record. That’s a rare pop music relationship.
It’s embarrassing to be a fanatic.
Early 90s: I’m working for a record company and attending a VH1 taping of a Randy Newman performance at a midtown studio. I see a journalist I know waving hello, sitting next to his friend, Elvis Costello. I take my seat next to him and from then on have no memory of the performance; I’m too nervous sitting one seat away from Elvis. We all engage in light conversation and I’m convinced that I sound like an idiot. It’s probably best to avoid direct contact with your idols.
Like any zealot, I believe if you don’t love Elvis’ music, it’s because you haven’t heard it. He now has such a wide catalog that you may feel overwhelmed and intimidated, and it may feel like a huge listening project you have no time to begin. So, if you name in the comments several different musicians whose work you love, I’ll suggest several Elvis tracks that might please you. (If you only listen to EDM, can't help you. Sorry.)
Elvis is coming to BAM on Nov 10 to celebrate the publication of his memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, in a discussion with the amazing Rosanne Cash. A terrific book, it’s a window not only into his creative life but also a personal look at the British music scene of the 60s/70s/80s. I’ll be wearing my Imperial Bedroom t-shirt.
*a musical "bridge” is that palate-cleansing middle section—a break from the original melody which sets up a satisfying musical return. Elvis, like the best songwriters, writes great bridges. Think of the part of “Oliver’s Army” that begins “Hong Kong is up for grabs…”