It remains to be seen if Elvis Costello is a Teletubbies fan, but the bag that he's carrying today is exactly like the one that Tinky Winky wears. Just one difference: the gay Teletubbie's bag is red, and Costello's is yellow. Joking, talking, and ironic, the great man (in both the artistic sense and currently the physical one: He's a bit on the chubby side) with black-rimmed glasses walks through the streets of Dublin with an almost child-like happiness. He's promoting "The Very Best of Elvis Costello," a collection of his songs, with the added enticement of "She", the current ballad and hit theme from the movie "Notting Hill."
Tentaciones: What's an Englishman doing living in Dublin?
Elvis Costello: Well, the principal reason is that in England there are lots of Englishmen, and I don't like Englishmen. In Dublin I'm much more comfortable. It's a cheap place, and everything's handy. Furthermore, I have Irish blood because my grandfather was born here.
T: And in Dublin there are 8,000 pubs.
EC: I don't have many vices. I don't drink. I don't smoke. My only vice is work. I'm an egoist when I start composing. Time passes and I don't even notice. There are times when I loose myself just sitting down at the piano. I forget everything that's going on around me.
T: After 20 years releasing great albums, it turns out that your greatest hit could be a little romantic number included on a soundtrack: "She" from "Notting Hill".
EC: Well that's fine by me. It is a romantic song that I'm not accustomed to doing, but I like the fact that people are discovering me through this song. Now maybe thanks to "She" they'll be interested in the rest of my discography.
T: Did you like "Notting Hill?"
EC: I saw it at the premiere with the director and the stars, Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. I thought it was a fun film. I laughed a lot. I suppose that I'll see it again on a plane. It's that kind of a movie.
T: What impressions do you get when you listen to your first albums?
EC: The truth is that I don't ever listen to them. It doesn't appeal to me. In order to make this greatest hits album I've had to listen to them and it took a little effort. I'm proud of all my records, but I don't like listening to them. They were recorded 20 years ago!
T: Accustomed to taking risks, is there something of a concession in releasing a conventional compilation of greatest hits?
EC: I don't think so. This is a business, isn't it? I'm in it to make money. "The Very Best of Elvis Costello" is a collection of my work and not a concession.
T: Is Elvis Costello too intellectual to be massive?
EC: It's stupid to think that I'm an intellectual. In fact, I have a pretty average education. Further, my stories are nothing elegant. I tell my experiences: nothing to do with intellectual themes. They're personal things, not literary.
T: A story from your early years.
EC: I was working in an office, and I had to play sick in order to go record. I had released the first three singles and I still kept working at the office. I was like Superman: I had a secret identity. At the office, no one knew that I had a pop group; and when I took the stage, no one suspected that in the morning I'd play the office worker. When the first album was released, "My Aim Is True" the record company advised me to quit the office job and become a professional musician. But I couldn't. The reality was that I had a wife and son, and I had to feed them.
T: When was your hardest time?
EC: I don't think I've had hard times. I'm still alive! Compared with what a miner does, my lot is pretty easy. The only thing I do is put into practice ideas that are in my head. It's not physical work, which really is hard. Everyone tries to dramatise their work to make it seem more important. I don't because I'm working at what I enjoy.
T: How is your work? Do you commit yourself to a strict schedule?
EC: No. Some days I can work long hours. Yesterday, for instance, I spent the entire afternoon playing the piano, trying to get some melodies for a project: the music for a television series. But I don't force myself to stick to a regimen. I put my mind to work on new projects and I hope that the things come out. Then I pick up the guitar and compose for a while. Later I can go out and chat with some friends or play some tennis.
T: How do you get along with rock these days?
EC: Rock. Yes, yes, some stones that are there on the ground that you have to break up with a sledgehammer. I hate the term "rock." I prefer saying "rock and roll," it sounds sexier. Rock is pompous, with no sense of humour, and no femininity. I don't like it. It's very macho. I was in the last Woodstock and there was a ton of rock. It was disgusting. Willie Nelson was the only person older than I was.
T: But you're regarded as a rock artist.
EC: I wouldn't like that at all. I prefer rhythm and blues, it's sweeter. No one has a sense of humour in rock. Yes, there are some good groups, like Radiohead or Supergrass, but it's very difficult for an album to come out without references to the past. When you listen to a current record, you always think you already heard this 20 years ago. I listen to all kinds of music and there are very few things that surprise me. Nirvana was a good band, but nothing but bad copies followed them. That is very typical of rock: copying whatever is successful
T: At the other extreme you find techno.
EC: Techno? What is Techno? It sounds horrible when you hear it in your car. It's music that's out of control. They're hits to dance to when it's hot. Like these Ibiza compilations. I saw an advertisement on MTV for this disc and there were a ton of Englishmen dancing. Everything very ridiculous. I suppose that it's music for young people. I don't know. If you go to Ibiza, you feel the heat and you dance with it, all the same fun. But if you listen to it in the car, you can't even drive. It sounds like a vacuum cleaner. It's not music for listening, just dancing.
T: In a recent interview, you commented that the only album from your career that would have a lasting effect was "Painted From Memory," recorded with Burt Bacharach.
EC: I didn't say that. It's not true. All of my albums have one or two songs that may have a lasting effect in the future. Certainly, there are songs on the record that I made with Burt Bacharach that I'm playing live, and I'm constantly changing them.
T: Let's talk about politics. What would you do if you were Prime Minister of your country, the United Kingdom?
EC: I know exactly what I'd do: I'd leave the curve on the banana.
T: Could you explain yourself better?
EC: Yes. The English have a saying these days: With all this European Union stuff, they're going to straighten the banana. They're afraid of the concept of Europe. They believe that all Europeans should be the same, with very strict rules. In other words, that everything's going to be very straight. That's why they think that bananas will loose their curve and become straight. It's a mistake to think that.
T: Do you have any complaints about the process of moving towards a unified Europe?
EC: I don't understand the money thing. This Euro. The Euro can't be the only currency. It's important that there be a union, but it's also important that we maintain the cultural flourishes. There should be a French Euro, an English Euro, a Spanish Euro.
T: Do you have a special formula for surviving the crisis of turning 40?
EC: I don't know. I'll tell you when I get there [laughter: He's 44]. When I turned 40, the truth is I didn't feel bad. But then my friends started to call me. They asked me, "So, how do you feel?" By the end of the day, I ended up in bed with my head under the sheets very depressed. But then they stopped calling, and now I don't even remember. I don't believe in midlife crisis.
T: What's your principal flaw?
EC: Probably starting too many things and then not finishing them. But I'm not the right person to ask about my defects. You'd have to ask the people that know me.
T: Before you mentioned that you don't drink, don't smoke, is there some vice that you can confess?
EC: Watching football on television. I'm from Liverpool and I'm a little mad with Real Madrid because they took our great player: Steve McManaman. He's a good guy. A few months ago I happened to meet up with him. He went to the same high school I did in Liverpool. They had a party and invited the most famous people that studied there. Well there weren't scientists, or writers, or politicians. Just a pop singer and a football player: McManaman and I (lots of laughter).
T: What player would you snag if you were Liverpool's manager?
EC: Well, everyone would name a Brazilian like Ronaldo or Rivaldo. But I'd go for the forward from Arsenal: the Nigerian Kanu and Suker.
T: It's come to this: Your famous black-rimmed glasses are in fashion. It's even to the point where people wear them without lenses.
EC: Really? I didn't know they were in style. How curious.