Back Door Man, July 1978

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Back Door Man

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Elvis Costello

We're all creeps

D.D. Faye and Carol Williams

Writing about Elvis Costello is a problem. Such a problem that we head to the store for cigarettes. The 7-Eleven clerk seems taken by our attire.

Him: Where are you coming from?
DD: Huh?
Him: Is that the new style? Is that the style somewhere?
DD: It must be. I guess it is. New York, maybe. Maybe London. I don't know.
Him: Oh. Are you a stylist?
DD: Yes.
Him: When I get some money, I'm going to have you take me out styling. No, I'm serious! I mean it!
DD: How much are cigarettes here?
Him: A mere pittance. 70₵!
DD: Oh, then I guess I can't get a beefstick.
Carol: Yes, you can! Because I have 75₵, & I'm only spending 60₵.
DD: Oh, good.
Him: (to Carol) And what's that you're wearing? Oh, it's a white heart w/a little violet flower on it.
Carol: Yes.... it's very feminine, don't you think? But she still didn't get the job.
Him: Yes it's very pretty. Do you two live together, down the street?
Carol: No, I live w/the blonde girl.
DD: I'm visiting, & we're writing an article.
Him: For a magazine?
Us: Yes! BACK DOOR MAN!
DD: For hardcore rock'n'rollers only.
Him: Where does it stand?
Us: Huh?
Him: The ARTICLE! Where - does - it - stand?
Us: Oh ... it's Elvis Costello. This Year's Model.
DD: We think he's a creep, but we like his music.
Him: Well, we all have a little creep in us.

Yes we DO all have a little creep in us, don't we. But Universal Creepiness is not why this album is selling so well. In fact, he might as well be saying "Quaalude, Quaalude" instead of "Radio Radio" for all these numbos know as they wait in the record store line, clutching this year's Kansas and Journey 8-tracks alongside This Year's Model. The reason people buy this record (and they DO - A LOT) is because the music, the structure of the songs, and the band are unquestionably GREAT.

Fat Biker (of the sleaziest species) walks into Licorice Pizza while EC is playing and belches out in a slow drawl, “What am I listening to? It's not bad” Clerk hands him album cover. He studies it for a moment, gapes at it in abject horror, and then flings it away ¡n disgust and says indignantly “Ewe’!! I would never buy a record by someone who looks like that!” — and swaggers out to his bike, hairy stomach heaving and writhing out from under his greasy under-shirt. True story,

Well, that’s okay because I LIKE creepy boys. Like Pam always says sometimes. “Normal boys are boring.” Normal guys are too dull. They should be somewhere between Eno and Sal Mineo, y’know? Pure-out sleaze or pure-out crazy geeks. Or first-degree axe murderers, Elvis Costello is all of these things. And I love him for it.

Well, that’s okay too, because a lot of people who don’t like creepy boys are buying this record (the ones who aren’t as observant as our biker friend). And they’re taking it to their vans and in the middle of some magazine teen drama somewhere huddled around the tape deck, they will all of a sudden zone into What Is Being Said in these songs and will either not understand or be Very Offended. And it won’t matter! Because Elvis already has their $7.98 + tax.

Who Is this man w/the dynamic diatribe? Elvis Costello is CLEVER! He ushers in another era of pop music by writing & singing hate songs w/the ease that, in another time, love songs were penned & crooned. The songs don’t SOUND hateful, I mean like “I’m Sick of You;” they SOUND bouncy, melodic, quick, accomplished. You can whistle to them. They don’t SOUND like primal screams. But they are.

Elvis Costello appears to have been horribly frustrated for many, many years. If you were in any advanced math classes, he was there. . . somewhere. . a non-face, But 'neath that non-face beats a healthy HEAD and El & his type have suffered. Women are such bothersome creatures! They leave you stranded on the up-beat time & time again. Pump it up when you don’t really need it. I don’t want to be hung up. , . when you don’t call. I don’t think he has much use for flirting at all.

Costello’s got a list of gripes like the strangler’s victims. On the surface, he’s complaining about the magazine girls, but he’s just as angry about the music biz &, for that matter, all the politico-religioso-social STRUCTURES, which everybody knows are easily personified as women. Still, his lyrics are a lot more obscene than they first seem to be. Body language is everywhere — Costello uses the tongue of love. Lip Service! Little Triggers! Hand in Hand! Well. Pump It Up. Elvis. Sounds swell.

The songs on this album are so good that we’d be in trouble if we tried to convey in print just HOW GOOD they are. We knew we were in trouble when we wanted to quote every song. Here’s a FEW: “You Belong To Me.” A fish-eyed serenade made by a guy who wants to go All The Way. Also could be about Hitler recruiting troops. Costello went to Catholic school, y’know. Remember the girls at St. Philomena?

Your eyes are absent, your lips are silent
Pumpin' like a fire hydrant
The things you see are getting' hard to swallow
You're easily led but you're much too scared to follow

How can he get so serious & still end up w/a song as teen as this? The Attractions are overwhelming & Elvis is desperately imperative.

She’s been a bad girl
She's like a chemical
Though you try to stop it
She is like a narcotic

“Pump it Up" is an unhealthy exercise in mutual self-abuse. Like all the other songs on this lp it is rhythmic, obscene. enticing. and hateful. Quite catchy, too. Multi-faceted little wimp, ain’t he.

The man in the tortoise shells
Hates the world Hates himself
You make him puke You gotta pay
Gonna stick it in anyway
— From Subcutaneous Pukesex Blues
(DD & the Detractions)

Get sick. Get well. Kiss and tell, This is HELL. Poor Elvis. The pump don’t work ‘cause the damsel broke the handle. He was askin ' for it all the time. But in “The Beat" he really begs for it. Like a praying mantis, yes. Insectual rantings. What a GREAT singer! Real stinging vocals on this one:

I don’t wanna disease you
But I’m no good at machinery
I don’t wanna freeze you
Stop looking at the scenery

He is menacing. Deranged. And in practically the same breath, he whines in an appealingly submissive whimper:

I keep thinking about your mother
I don’t want to lick them
I don’t wanna be your lover
I just wanna be your victim

Real repulsive slimy sexuality. Elvis and the Attractions are a tight unit. They are hard to beat.

“Hand in Hand” is our unanimous favorite. How many songs ARE there in the world that still sound fresh & exciting after you’ve listened to them 75 times in a ROW (w/o drugs)? It expands into existence like a baby takin’ that long slide down mama’s canal. And then Costello’s magnificent tortured psyche speaks:

No, don’t ask me to apologize
I won‘t ask you to forgive me.
If I’m gonna go down
you’re gonna come with me!
Say, why don‘t you be a man about it
like they do in the grown-up movies.
But when it comes to the other way around
you say you just wanna use me!
Ooohhh, you sit and you wonder whether
it’s gonna be syndicated,
you sit with your knees together;
all the time your breath is bated,
HAND IN HAND.
No, don’t ask me to apologize...

This song is an honest-to-god ice-breakin’ Classic. Costello has managed to manipulate the narrative form into a snappy song. (Except for “Pump It Up”) he doesn’t Dylan-out to tell a story. Gets real cinematic w/o getting, as Danielle would say, “Heavy.” Well, I say he’s light-fantastic. And the Attractions wrap it up in cellophane sound, absolutely matrimonial! I mean, that organ sprays over the first chorus like rice over a bride. Hand in hand EC & his band haul through his tortuous ultimatum. Elvis has nothing to hide from the party he’s addressing — and he’s not even afraid of the quicksand. GOIN’ DOWN TOGETHER. “Don’t you know I’m an animal? Don’t you know I can’t stand up steady? You can’t show me any kind of hell that I don’t know already.” Wise man, This song is like one of Hamlet’s speeches. Costellar literature.

The packaging for This Year’s Model is a blend of art and science. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” & “Night Rally” are exclusive to Radar, the English label, but Columbia’s American release has “Radio, Radio” instead. The cover photos vary: on Radar he stands more above the camera & looks meaner; on Columbia he crouches behind the camera & looks meeker. The sardonic English feign error w/a color strip on the front cover. It says “Costello Costello Costello” around the outer edge of the record label where it usually says “Columbia Columbia. . .“ And as if this weren’t ENOUGH frolicking, scratched into the vinyl itself (where the press # usually is) the British lp also says “Special Pressing No. 003 Ring Moira on 434-3232 for your special prize”.. . and one day at the Wherehouse a girl comes in, spots EC’s mug, & more or less lunges at the lp sitting limply among the imports, and launches into a tirade. It seems her phone number is 434-3232, and she has been mercilessly besieged by calls since This Year’s Model made the scene. How thoroughly MEAN, Listen, she oughtta order herself an answering service and send the bill to Elvis Costello.

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Back Door Man, No. 15, July / August 1978


D.D. Faye and Carol Williams profile Elvis Costello.

Images

1978-07-00 Back Door Man page 12.jpg
Page scan.

Photos by Donna Santisi.
1978-07-00 Back Door Man photo 01 ds.jpg


1978-07-00 Back Door Man photo 02 ds.jpg


1978-07-00 Back Door Man photo 03 ds.jpg
Photos by Donna Santisi.


1978-07-00 Back Door Man page 13.jpg
Page scan.

1978-07-00 Back Door Man cover.jpg
Cover.

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