It started out as the Great Elvis Costello-Bonnie Bramlett Debate in the bar at a Holiday Inn in Columbus, Ohio. But as frequently happens during barroom debates, things got a trible out of hand.
After all, Elvis Costello is not known for subtlety in presenting his points of view on matters close to his heart, and no one has ever accused Bonnie Bramlett of being a genteel, fragile creature. So it could hardly come as a great surprise when the debate turned into a brawl.
The altercation took place recently after British rocker Costello and his band completed a show at the Agora, a Columbus night spot, and Stephen Stills and members of his troupe finished their show at Veterans Memorial Auditorium. The two units got together for some drinks and early morning conversation in the bar.
But, according to the account given by Miss Bramlett, a veteran rocker who started out with the Delaney and Bonnie duo and is now singing background in the Stills band, Costello's comments quickly turned rather nasty.
His observations about America and Americans were sharply critical, to put it mildly. "We hate you," he was quoted as saying at one point. "We just come here for the money." He allegedly summed up Americans as "just a bunch of greasers and niggers."
At this point, a member of the Stills crew pulled Costello out of his chair by the collar and advised the hot "new wave" star to cool it. The two men were separated and Stills left.
But Costello, according to Bramlett, was in no mood to cool it. His blast at America's contribution to pop music worked its way to James Brown and finally to Ray Charles, both of whom he put down with what were interpreted as blunt racial slurs.
When Bramlett protested, Costello reportedly replied --- Ray Charles, --- Niggers and --- you."
With this Bramlett slapped Costello. Costello responded by calling her a slut. With this, one of the Stills' roadies slugged Costello, knocking him to the floor. Both groups went at each other until hotel personnel brought the fight to a halt.
"He cursed in my face, my country, my money, and my mentors," Bramlett said. "He went crazy on me and he went crazy on the wrong chick."
Needless to say, those involved in promoting the Costello tour and his record company, Columbia, became somewhat nervous when accounts of the run-in began spreading last week. A press conference was called in New York so that Costello could give his side of the story.
Costello admitted making the statements. but denied being a racist. He said the quotes attributed to him were taken out of context.
He said that he was being verbally abused in the argument and resorted to the hard-nosed comments "because I wanted to say the most offensive, obnoxious thing I could think of to rid myself of those people and end it."
Costello added, "I don't want to leave America with the last thing in the minds of Americans being that I'm a racist. I want to be remembered for my songs,"
Costello declined to apologize for the comments, saying, "I have nothing to apologize for." He called the incident "ludicrous" and suggested that he was being exploited for publicity value.
A Columbia Records representative defended Costello by pointing out that h© had been a member of a British organization called Rock Against Racism, "He's not really a mean man," the Columbia spokesman added. "He means well ... he really does. It's just that he had a difficult time of it while growing up and this is his way of getting retribution."
It was also suggested that the American media was too eager to jump over Costello's case because of his unwillingness to talk with the press in this country. But Costello has done nothing to conceal his arrogance and contempt ever since reports labeling him the great hope of "new wave" began drifting to America from England about two years ago.