Canberra Times, November 15, 1987

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Elvis's life is crammed full of experience


Stuart Coupe

Declan Patrick Aloysius McManus, better known as Elvis Costello, returns to Australia in a few weeks with an astoundingly talented entourage going under the banner of The Confederates.

One of the best songwriters of the last decade, Costello is backed by James Burton (guitar) and Jerry Scheff (bass), who were both key members of the other Elvis's (Mr Presley to you) band.

On keyboards is Benmont Tench, on leave from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Hitting the drums is West Coast session player Jim Keltner, who has played on records for everyone from B.B. King to John Lennon. Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder and several hundred others.

And the opening act/special guest for Costello's tour is none other than Nick Lowe, who produced Elvis's last album, Blood and Chocolate, the first time he'd assumed that role since the Get Happy album.

The bad news about this tour is that it hasn't got Canberra on the schedule — so the smart money is on getting oneself to the Sydney Entertainment Centre on Thursday, December 3, aiming to he there by 8pm!

Supposedly Costello has reverted to his real name, Declan Patrick — but this tour is still billed as Elvis Costello.

The name reversal came with the 1986 album, King Of America, which was attributed simply to The Costello Show.

"It's sort of a minor battle that I've been lighting over the years, to keep reminding people that there is a human being behind these funny glasses." Costello told Melody Maker in February last year.

"The Elvis Costello thing is a very effective device, but it does provoke certain preconceptions."

Back in 1974 the lad had billed himself as D.P. Costello. The Elvis bit came from his long-term manager, the volatile Jake Riviera. As Elvis explained to Rolling Stone a few years back. "It was 'How are we going to separate you from Johnny this and Johnny that?' He said: 'We'll call you Elvis.' I thought he was completely out of his mind."

Elvis's public launch under that monicker came in the same month that the real King exited to rock 'n' roll heaven. Near to the obituaries the then influential New Musical Express ran an article by Nick Kent titled: "D.P. Costello, of Whitton, Middlesex, It Is Your Turn To Be The Future of Rock and Roll."

Over the next decade Costello maintained an extraordinarily prolific output, and an equally impressive standard of creativity. It is safe to say that none of his 12 albums has been anything less than superb, and Costello has few peers in the world of contemporary rock 'n' roll songwriting.

Strangely enough, that's not an opinion shared by Mr Costello, who made some rather harsh observations on his ability in a recent interview.

"I probably wrote too many songs and made too many albums," he said. I think I've made 12 albums. Twelve albums is a lot in eight years. Inevitably a quarter of the songs must not be worth having written, let alone recorded. Just by the law of averages. Some people would tell you it's quite a hit more."

Never the less, Costello is flattered if not a little bemused at how important his lyrics are to some people.

"It's obviously very satisfying to find somebody's invented their own complete meaning for a song." Costello said. "Some have their own personal, emotional interpretations. That's great. That's what I always wanted.

"Then there's the people who hunt for hidden meanings. If people are searching these songs it shows how bad things are, 'cause some of them are just word games. Or they're really what they appear to be on the surface."

People close to Costello, such as T-Bone Burnett, who produced the King of America album, have observed that Costello writes songs extremely quickly. Lyrics that appear to have taken extensive work are apparently dashed off in a matter of minutes.

"It's like some people can do crosswords, some people can do anagrams." Costello said. "It's just a short circuit in the brain or something. The only album with squandered images that could have been made more of if I'd been in a more ordered state of mind is Trust.

"There are things in there I wish I could rescue. "Strict Time," which is one of those draggy, word-play songs, has the line. 'She was smoking the everlasting cigarette of chastity.' That's about that moment when you want to kiss the girt but she won't put the cigarette down. A lot of people would have written a whole song on just that one thing, but I was trying to cram too much in.

"There are four or five lines that precede it that are just gibberish."

When Costello started his career, legend had at that he had the words "hate" and "revenge" tattooed on his knuckles. Some people had criticised him over the years for romanticising pain and anger in his life purely for the sake of his songwriting.

"Around the time I made Trust, I felt I'd reached a cul-de-sac," Costello said. "I thought, 'Maybe I'm living all these things out' It wasn't so much romanticising, as I thought I was starting to deliberately do dangerous things — physically and emotionally — Just for the experience.

"I started to worry that maybe I was toying with people, with myself, just to see what happens, just so I'd have something to write about.

"I wrote one good line in 'The Imposter,'. which otherwise isn't a very good song: 'When I said that I was lying I might have been lying.' The minute I wrote it, it scared the hell out of me. It's like saying black is white. A very undermining thought, that. Doubting the things you know is the road to madness.

"Rock 'n' roll has a potential for evil — far beyond any conception of it as 'the Devil's music' — simply because it runs away, it belies any sort of responsibility. If you write from that perspective, you don't have any morality or responsibility."

Still, Costello has kept up the furious rate of songwriting. Some of the best will be paraded during the Australian tour — and it seems like there'll be plenty more to come. "In the meantime, I'll carry on writing songs for as long as I've got something to write about, and continue to make records until somebody puts a gun to my head and tells me I can't."

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Canberra Times, November 15, 1987


Stuart Coupe profiles Elvis Costello ahead of the 1987 Australia Tour.

Images

1987-11-15 Canberra Times page 11 clipping 01.jpg
Clipping.

1987-11-15 Canberra Times page 11.jpg
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