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You ask the questions
Independent, 2002-08-22


Elvis Costello: you ask the questions

(Such as: so, Elvis Costello, why did you try to steal the name of the greatest performer ever? And, of the songs you've written, which is your favourite?)

22 August 2002

Elvis Costello was born Declan MacManus in London in 1954. He left school in 1972 to follow in his father's footsteps and become a musician. In 1977, he signed with Stiff Records and began using the stage name Elvis Costello, based on Elvis Presley and his mother's maiden name, Costello. While working as a computer operator, he recorded My Aim is True during his days off. The album, released in July 1977, made it to number 14 in the UK and became the biggest US import album of the decade. Since then, he has released more than 30 albums. His latest album, When I Was Cruel, was released in April.

How do you compare Blair with Thatcher? Do you want to tramp the dirt down on him too?
Bob Fisher, Bath
It would be like comparing blancmange with mustard gas. Nevertheless, something just as oozing and vaporous might seep up through any dirt thrown down on that craven and pious man. What a triumph for the advertising industry.

Of all the songs you've written, which is your personal favourite?
Emma Hart, Hove
Today's answer is: "Couldn't Call it Unexpected No 4". Yesterday's was "My Dark Life" and the day before it was "My Science Fiction Twin". Tomorrow, I might prefer "When I Was Cruel No 2". Actually, I never really think about it.

I often listen to your music while in the kitchen ironing or cooking. Do you cook or iron?
Mary Wright, by e-mail
Yes, but I find it risky to combine the two activities.

What five songs do you wish you'd written?
Sarah Beck, Lincoln
There are no songs that I wish I had written. Here are five songs chosen at random that make me glad that someone wrote them: "My Resistance is Low" – Hoagy Carmichael; "Kid" – Chrissie Hynde; "Alice" – Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan; "All the Things You Are" – Jerome Kern; "Every Grain of Sand" – Bob Dylan.

"And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anesthetise the way that you feel." Nothing much has changed in 25-odd years, then?
Ken Isherwood, Sheffield

Where do you get your suits?
Charlie Fletcher, by e-mail
Clayton Square in Liverpool.

Do you still see Huey Lewis?
Will Curtis, Oxford
The last time I saw Huey he was in Robert Altman's film Short Cuts, getting his willy out in the pursuit of art. Huey once played harmonica (and sang) with Clover, the band who provided the accompaniment on my first record. There is no harmonica on My Aim is True.

Over the years, you've performed with many and varied musicians (Jimmy Cliff, George Jones, Burt Bacharach, Anne Sofie von Otter and Glenn Tilbrook, to name but a few). Which collaboration have you most enjoyed and who would you still like to work with?
Emma Hart, Hove
I can honestly say that I have enjoyed and learnt from working with each of these people and would do so again in a heartbeat.

Do you think we can save the planet?
Barnaby Miles, Skipton
On recent evidence, I suspect our tenancy agreement is nearly up.

The intelligentsia love you for your cutting, reflective lyrics and your refusal to toe the line. Do you wish you'd been born in 1940 and witnessed the counter-culture of the 1960s at first hand?
Sean Perrott, Woodford Green
I was born in 1954 and consequently did witness it first-hand, but I had to stand on tiptoe to do so, as I was much shorter then.

Where does Declan MacManus finish and Elvis Costello begin?
Grace Hawthorne, Leamington Spa
Somewhere at the top of my inside leg.

Why did you decide to play V2002, the most commercial of the festivals? Do you think our music festivals have lost their sparkle?
Charlotte Varney, London
I had a spare weekend and the desire to engage in a humiliating activity that didn't involve anything contagious. Then someone pressed something into my hand bound in a rubber band and the deal was sealed. My personal experience of festivals dates back to a muddy field outside Wigan in 1972, so for me they never had any sparkle to lose.

Can a song change the world?
Jon Claypole, Brighton
A song can change your mind. Maybe your mind can change the world.

Surely there's only one Elvis – the King? Why did you try to steal the name of the greatest performer ever? And how do you view his contribution 25 years on?
Robin MacCartney, Cowes
I think you will find there is a figure skater called Elvis. My adoption of a stage name was something of a dare, the enduring nature of which is proven by the fact that I am still being asked dumb questions about it 25 years later. Elvis Presley, on the other hand, once made a supernatural recording of "Blue Moon" and another of "Blue Moon of Kentucky". I sense a theme.

Who should win the Mercury Music Prize this year?
Siobhan Jones, Newport
Life is not short enough.

During your recent concert in Liverpool, I was impressed by your remarks on Lee Bowyer's abandoned transfer to the Reds. If you were M Houllier with a spare hundred million, who would you bring into your team?
Amanda Timperley, Hove
I would give the money to the residents of the Anfield area, so they could choose to buy homes anywhere in the world and not have to worry about LFC moving the ground 100 yards up the road – a berserk idea and utter heresy. The team may be fine, only time will tell. Everyone is an "expert", but just once I'd like to see Diouf for Heskey with Owen up front and Litmanen behind the front two. I was sorry to see Wright leave, but then I still haven't got over Fowler going – blah, blah, blah.

Twenty-five years after My Aim is True, what advice would you give a young songwriter?
Colin Hill, Wells
In the words of Elvis Presley: "Don't."

Is Dublin the best place in the world to record music?
John Pritchard , York
No, but it is very close to my house.

Elvis Costello's new single '45' is out on 16 September on Mercury. Elvis Costello and the Imposters tour the UK from 3 to 13 September


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