ElvisCostello.com, May 31, 2019

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Where the secrets are kept

Elvis Costello

The arrival of the Purse E.P. and the long-delayed delivery of the 45 RPM, 7" vinyl edition of Look Now concludes the release of material from these sessions.

Look Now was conceived as a twelve-track, two-sided vinyl album, although we concede that many of you will have heard this music via a streaming service, digital download or some other obsolete medium like the CD.

The Regarde Maintenant E.P. was added to this collection, completing a four-sided double-vinyl edition for people who wanted to hear a little more of the music from these sessions.

Purse is a collection of song-writing collaborations; a song composed with Burt Bacharach, another co-written with Paul McCartney and musical settings of words by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

For those of you who are curious to know more about these songs and their relationship to the music of Look Now, you should look no further than the first song, "Everyone's Playing House."

Astute listeners may detect a thematic musical link to the Look Now song, "Don't Look Now," this is because they were originally written to be successive numbers, in a stage adaptation of Painted From Memory. To carry the story forward I wrote a variation based on Burt Bacharach's open melody leading to a refrain of my own invention that had something of the schoolyard taunt about it.

I imagine that the hardest aspect of writing the script for this show was to find an agreement between a new dramatic narrative — by Chuck Lorre and Steven Sater — with the existing stories contained or implied by the songs from the original record album.

As their storyline developed, Burt Bacharach and I were called upon to turn the corners by writing new songs for specific characters rather than people I had imagined or the parts of my own experience found in the first folio of songs.

Burt and I worked together and independently to create this expanded score and the Look Now sessions saw the first recording of full-band arrangements for "Stripping Paper" — which I wrote alone and "Don't Look Now" and "Photographs Can Lie," for which I wrote lyrics to Burt's music.

Two more songs, which I instigated, were attempts to drive a developing plot in a new direction. A song of doubt and betrayal, "Why Won't Heaven Help Me?" and "He's Given Me Things," a song describing a drastic reversal of the initial fortunes in the story, in which the penniless model has become a woman of substantial means, whose tycoon husband hires the now disgraced artist to paint her portrait in humiliating circumstances.

Actually, none of this was to be found in Chuck and Steven's script (or "book" as it is called in the musical theatre) but I wrote the song anyway in an attempt to divert the tale in that direction and Burt helped me make sense of the music in the bridge, while he only changed one note of the vocal melody of "Why Won't Heaven Help Me?" and didn't regard this as a sufficient contribution to call it a co-write but this still left us ten new songs to augment the titles selected from the original album.

I won't try to tell you the entire story, as it was still a work-in-progress when the show seemed to run aground with proposed producers and theatrical houses, probably due to absence of opportunities for tap-dancing and a preponderance of slow, melancholic ballads. Broadway just isn't crying out for Eugene O'Neill On Ice or even on roller skates.

So back to Purse — "Where the secrets are kept" — you can now get yourself a cardboard box to act as the stage, one of those books of cut-out dolls and recreate the opening scene of Painted From Memory, if you so wish.

The show was to open on a young woman serving as a life model for an older, apparently respectable and successful society painter. Quite why he is painting an unknown, penurious woman is unknown but as "Don't Look Now" unfolds it is clear that the subject suspects that the painter's interest is not entirely artistic.

The song concludes with the observation, "I see you looking at me, looking at how you're looking at me" and the command, "Oh, don't look at me now," the young model would then cross to another part of the stage where a sumptuous dining table is set.

Two women — a wife and a daughter — sit in uneasy expectation. The painter re-enters and takes his place at the head of the table. They are frozen in the act of avoiding conversation or eye contact, perhaps a glass or fork is already raised in place, when the model and singer of "Don't Look Now" appears.

It is unclear how (or even if) she is clothed. Perhaps she is an apparition. The family do not register her presence or move at all, as she first examines the dishes on the table, stealing a taste of cream from a bowl, contrasting the unhappy domestic scene with darker memories of her own father that are not very pretty, aware that the hypocrite at the head of the table imagines a very different scene between them —

"Do you want to slap me?
Until I can say what for
Do you want to kiss me?
Just once and no more
You play the family man in the sad aftermath
Fingers for peeping right through, just like Daddies do.
My scent is on your breath
I'm going to make you a mess
He held the glass to my lips
I'm going to make you…"

As the song says, "Everyone's Playing House."

The other songs on Purse have less complex origins.

I've wanted to record "The Lovers That Never Were" for thirty years and have performed the song on occasions but found it hard to get out of the shadow of the demo Paul McCartney and I made shortly after writing the song at one of our first writing sessions in 1988.

I played piano on that cut, so when it came to working out this arrangement, I felt most at home on the Wurlitzer electric piano while leaving the more expansive, orchestral flourishes of grand piano in the more capable hands of Steve Nieve.

Sebastian Krys recorded and mixed this cut in "hard stereo," that is more radically panned than most other Look Now recordings, leaving space for the vocal parts and guitar figures that give our version a character and dream-like mood distinct from Paul's unbeatable one-man and his guitar, (with his mate playing piano) version or his later more elaborate rendition on the album Off The Ground.

"If You Love Me" was the second of two texts from the Forever Words collection of Johnny Cash poems and lyrics that I set to music. Knowing the range of musical styles of the artists who were to contribute to the Columbia Records collection of those Cash words, I elected to record a ballad unlike any other contribution, as the text put me in mind of the philosophical verses of Willard Robison — writer of "Guess I'll Go Back Home (This Summer)" and "A Cottage For Sale." Consequently, I put aside my guitar to arrange a small chamber orchestra around my own piano, mandolin and Pete Thomas' drums for the poem, "I'll Still Love You."

However, when we were in the final days of recording on Sunset Boulevard, I suggested that we do one live-on-the-floor performance (all of Look Now until then had demanded a more considered approach to each instrumental part in order to allow for orchestration and vocal arrangements without clutter) but The Imposters remain a band for whom you only have to count off a good song to get a great spontaneous performance.

I remembered my other Johnny Cash setting, "If You Love Me" and we cut the song in a single take, adding only Steve Nieve's Hammond organ and the electric guitar and background vocal parts which I dubbed in a small studio on Sullivan Street, NYC.

"Down On The Bottom" was one of a dozen Bob Dylan lyrics which I set to music for possible inclusion on the New Basement Tapes album, Lost On The River. If you've heard that album then you'll know that it leads off with a superb mid-tempo setting of this text by Jim James but then the impromptu band of songwriters and accompanists recorded some 42 pieces of music over the next twelve days, including multiple, contrasting settings of the same Dylan lyric by different participants.

Producer T Bone Burnett had the task of making an attractive, balanced programme of all these songwriting contributions and performances. On one session Rhiannon Giddens and I harmonized on my ballad setting of "Down On The Bottom" but we both had to be content with our very different approaches to the title text, "Lost On The River": being included while all of us saw some fine songs left in the can and a few titles such as "Virginia Gray" that couldn't be recorded, even at the extraordinary pace that we sustained.

I believe there may be a plan to release another 20-track album of the remaining songs but I think that this is scheduled for 47 years from now and will be called, The Basement Tapes Of The New Basement Tapes.

Nevertheless, my ballad setting of "Down On The Bottom" quickly became part of the repertoire for my "Detour" show, especially when I was joined by Rebecca and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe. We took the song from Cain's Ballroom, Tulsa to the Circus Krone in Munich, so it was only fitting that our friends should join Davey Faragher and I in the choruses of the cut which closes Purse, beamed into Hollywood from their lair in Nashville by the miracle of modern technology.

We hope to return to the studio on another occasion and bring you some more recordings to be heard on the medium of your choice but until then we leave you with Look Now, the E.P., Regarde Maintenant and this collection of songwriting collaborations, Purse.

For those of you who like to give gifts, there is also a Box-Set Edition of Look Now presented over eight 7" vinyl 45 RPM singles, each with its own picture sleeve and recalling a time in which music listeners were kept in fine fettle by getting out of their chair to turn the record over and perhaps stumbling upon an entirely different mood or narrative by playing a "B-" instead of an "A-Side" and find that this turns out to be your new favourite song.

Sadly, the Gods Of Manufacturing had different ideas and made the bewildering decision to punch a hole in each picture sleeve creating a most unfortunate and avoidable delay in these box-set editions reaching the purchaser for which I would apologize if I had been responsible for such an idiotic mistake.

I did my best to speed the process along, by asking the artist concerned if he might accept this accidental edit of his cover images and he responded that it would be just fine with him if the labels of the discs themselves were over-printed with the missing details of each illustration but this proved to be impossible.

Then there was the matter of the Special 10-disc Complete Works edition and it was at this point that Concord Records and I reached a fork in the road.

I could see no reason why we should not inform purchasers that the Disc Nine and Ten of the box-set contained the same songs to be found on the Purse E.P., after all some people simply like 7 inches, while others prefer 12 but my objection was overruled. This is certainly not the way we conduct business at Lupe-O-Tone.

To me, it seems a shame to have done this silly ducking and diving in hope of squeezing a pitiful rooker full of money out of what began with the intention of creating a beautiful object that one might give to the one you love. Oh well. Don't ask me what I think of you, I might not give the answer that you want me to, as someone once said.

Yours through music and daubs.
Elvis Costello and Eamon Singer

Tags: Look NowPurseLost On The River: The New Basement Tapes

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ElvisCostello.com, May 31, 2019

Elvis writes about the recording of Look Now and the Purse EP; collaborating with Burt Bacharach on the stage version of Painted From Memory; and the recording of Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes.


2019-05-31 ElvisCostello.com illustration.jpg
Painting by Eamon Singer.


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