Elvis Costello charts unlikely rise to pop stardom

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES, Shaun Tandon- Over four decades, Elvis Costello has been a pop music icon famed for his literary wordplay, but he owes his career in part to a base stunt.
Frustrated that his music had not found a label in the United States, the British artist in 1977 took an electric guitar and battery-powered amplifier to the London hotel where CBS Records executives were holding a convention.

Enlisting a welcoming committee who waved placards advertising his gig, Costello played until hotel staff called the police. Hauling him to jail, an officer told him, "Why do you people have to push it so far?"
"It was as if they were always arresting 'people' for playing the electric guitar and singing rock and roll outside luxury hotels," Costello writes in a memoir released Tuesday.
Costello's gimmick won him press attention and within months he was signed to a US label, offering a springboard as he became one of the most critically respected artists of the New Wave and post-punk era.
The nearly 700-page memoir, "Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink," charts Costello's career as he created now classic albums such as "My Aim Is True" and "Armed Forces," known for their pithy lyricism but pop sensibility, and developed artistic partnerships with artists ranging from Beatles legend Paul McCartney to New Orleans R&B great Allen Toussaint.
Yet Costello voices surprise at the enduring success of a singer sporting nerdy glasses and a gap between his front teeth.
The son of a live musician of Irish heritage, Costello was born as Declan Patrick MacManus and raised in humble homes in London and Liverpool.
"The decision for me to adopt the 'Elvis' name had always seemed like a mad dare, a stunt conceived by my managers to grab people's attention long enough for the songs to penetrate, as my good looks and animal magnetism were certainly not going to do the job," he writes.
- Overcoming 'irony' scandal -
Costello's career in the United States came close to collapse in 1979 when he got into a shouting match about music with folk rocker Stephen Stills at the bar of a Holiday Inn hotel in Columbus, Ohio.
Costello faced a furor after he was overheard using racial slurs to refer to African American legends James Brown and Ray Charles.
In the memoir, Costello contends that, fueled by drinks, he sought only to provoke through "unspeakable slanders."
Costello -- who had played anti-racism rallies and later produced The Specials' song "Free Nelson Mandela" -- was incredulous about the reaction.
He describes a survival instinct that kicked in during the controversy and kept him going -- in what he would later describe as a turning point at a low time in his life.
"That Ohio evening may very well have saved my sorry life. I fear an obituary might have appeared not too much later, just a few short lines lamenting my unfulfilled promise on the occasion of a tawdry demise."
- 'Strange slights' -
While insisting his book is not meant to settle scores, Costello bristles at some interpretations of his songs, known for a greater literary bent than most pop fare.
Costello writes with astonishment that many listeners believed he intended violence to "Alison" -- the drab-living heroine of one of his best-known songs, in which he sings, "I know this world is killing you."
"Of all the strange slights and undeserved accolades attached to my name over the years, 'misogynist' is the one term that I find most bewildering," he writes.
Costello also writes of the indignities inflicted by Alzheimer's on his grandmother Molly -- whose Catholic confirmation name was Veronica.
"Veronica" became another of Costello's most recognized songs, in which he sings of an old woman in a care home -- "all of the time she laughs at those / who shout her name and steal her clothes."
Costello writes movingly of how his trumpet-playing father, who would never miss his son's shows in London, similarly dimmed from Parkinson's disease, dying in late 2011 just days after being widowed by his second wife.
Costello around the time declared himself to be finished recording albums, viewing them as a "vanity."
"The real reason was that I needed time to imagine how I could bear to write songs and not be able to play them for my father."

Wednesday, October 14th 2015
Shaun Tandon

New comment:

News | Politics | Features | Arts | Entertainment | Society | Sport

At a glance