Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello
by Graeme Thomson
From Publishers Weekly
The progeny of a trumpet player grandfather and a big band vocalist father, Costello was destined to be a star musician by osmosis, if not genetics. Born Declan Patrick MacManus in 1954, the future Buddy Holly clone was raised by a West London family understandably supportive of his early rock leanings. Though "gawky and comically knock-kneed," the young Brit was performing in Liverpool clubs by 18, honing his anti-establishment persona by 22 and on the verge of conquering America by 25-a lightning fast rise deftly recorded by freelance journalist Thomson. A knowledgeable critic, Thomson skillfully interweaves articulate criticism of Costello's musical evolution into his biographical narrative, and unsentimentally details the thrice-married lyricist's dips into infidelity, drug use and egomania (including the artist's infamous song switcheroo on Saturday Night Live in 1977 and his unceremonious firing of his back-up band, the Attractions, in 1987). And while Thomson assumes that readers will have a certain familiarity with the composer's oeuvre and influences, he also writes clearly enough for Costello novices. And he's not without a sense of humor; while discussing the heyday of glam rock, he explains that Elvis wasn't a believer because he had "neither the physique nor the eyelashes for that." In all, this is an engrossing and lively account of an equally animated personality.