By day he was a mild-mannered computer operator, but at night his alter ego played nights with a London bluegrass band and plotted to get himself signed to a record company.
After pushing his demo on every label, Stiff Records took a chance on the wimpy-looking fellow with the name of Elvis Costello. Now that Stiff Records is owned by Columbia Records, his debut album, My Aim Is True, is getting the top priority push. But before the photos, bios and Elvis Costello buttons, the British singer was already tearing up the English charts, and without having done one interview, was turning away fans from his sold-out club dates.
In his incongruous outfit — a business jacket and jeans with turned-up cuffs — Elvis looks very little like a punk, which indeed he is not. He makes good old-fashioned, high-energy rock 'n' roll: stuff that makes Elvis the King proud. Yet in a country fueled by the punk movement he is enthusiastically embraced by the hardcore safety pin crowd, as well as the more traditional rock 'n' roll fans: which shouldn't surprise anyone since he claims (perhaps laughing behind his guitar) that his musical idols are Gram Parsons and George Jones. At the same time he has said that the main motivations behind his songs are revenge and guilt: "Those are the only emotions I know about and I know that I can feel." I can just hear George Jones singing, "I know a couple in the U.S.A. who traded in their baby for a Chevrolet" (from the song "Less Than Zero").
In one of the smartest maneuvers since Brian Epstein days, Costello's manager, Jake Riviera, has kept the hungry press away from his baby. At his recent concert here at the Old Waldorf, Riviera kicked out the journalists backstage with something less than polite insistence. Photographers were all right, though.
But even if we don't know how Costello is programmed we can still enjoy his fast-paced, highly enjoyable show. It wasn't very flashy: in fact, Elvis stays rooted to one spot most of the time, motionless except for one leg which seems to twitch uncontrollably. But those eyes! Behind the horn-rimmed glasses his glowering optics held the audience like a snake that hypnotizes its prey before striking.
Sweating silently, Costello ripped through tunes from the new LP, scoring a bullseye with every mini-length tune.
When the last song wound up to a close Jake Riviera sprang to the side of the stage and fiercely elbowed a path for his computer technician-turned-rock 'n' roll star, though it didn't seem to have occurred to anyone to grab at him.
Without a doubt, this guy won't need to punch out programs anymore.