Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, October 27, 1978
Elvis Costello is a true original
I wanna bite the hand that feeds me
Elvis Costello gives a writer obvious beginnings.
Costello is an artist for the ages, an unbiased Dylan, a street-wise Springsteen, a fiercer Jagger. Elvis Costello's music will be listened to attentively by kids in the 21st century with the same devotion-attention kids today listen to the music of Chuck Berry when they go in search of roots.
The reason is simple: As the Stones once sang "time is on (his) side." Elvis Costello is 23 years old and in those 23 years he seems to have lived life so fully, understood it so clearly and placed his priorities so accurately in place, that his writing is sharper than a stinging whip, clearer and more easily understood than a Billy Graham sermon.
Elvis doesn't just live; he breathes today as if on a mission. In "Radio, Radio," quoted above, he dares you to deny him and dares you to accept him. Heads he wins; tails you lose.
His real name is unimportant — Declan, or Delbert, depending on whom you talk to. MacManus as a last name seems well-accepted. He has a wife, a kid, perhaps two. For almost two years he was a computer operator at an Elizabeth Arden cosmetics plant; he would later write a song, and title his second album, This Year's Model.
Legend has him walking around London for two Years, banging on doors, with a master tape of his early songs, songs so full of venom no one took him seriously.
The little black book he is said to have kept of doors knocked on and doors slammed is currently making some of the top A & R men in Britain very, very nervous. For someone who dares proclaim he can't remember who Dylan was, Elvis Costello could be a very dangerous man.
Radio isn't there to be catered to, much less listened. The streets are not romantic; Springsteen is deceiving.
Comparisons with Dylan, or Van Morrison, or mate Graham Parker make him mad. "I don't need anyone to tell me that I'm good," he said to Allan Jones last year. "I know how good I am."
When he arrived at the door of Stiff, at the time the most progressive, wild label in the British Isles, he was carrying around such an attitude that Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson, the label's owners, were duly impressed, duly enough to sign him.
One shot. That was the original deal. A single, and if the single sells, Riviera said. And the single sold.
And another single was released. By this time, smack in the middle of Punk '77, Costello was trapped, or at least seemed trapped. Because while punk killed itself by over-kill, Costello prospered, made more records, came to America, released a second album with simultaneous British-American release, something at that time unheard of for a supposedly punk artist.
And by this time, thanks to a classic rock and roll stunt, Columbia, that giant among record companies, was paying attention. It was a great move, a monument to inspiration.
Columbia was having a record convention in London and Costello, armed with a portable amp and his trusty Gibson, set up shop outside after having been kicked out of the lobby. The racket he created not only got him arrested for disturbing the peace, it got him a recording contract with the label.
Costello was on his way. Overnight people forgot the name was pilfered; by this time Presley was dead. Jake Riviera became his manager, dropped Stiff, picked up Nick Lowe as producer, formed Riviera Global for the sole purpose of managing Costello and Lowe.
He's not anti-fame, Costello. He's anti-star. He's anti-soloing and anti-apathy because he's the product of a generation that saw what happens to old rockers, how depressing they can become, how pathetic. If there's something he's against it's copying himself; Elvis Costello intends to remain an original.
Allan Jones asked him last year if there was one person he would like to see become famous.
"Yes," he told Allan, "Me."
Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel, October 27, 1978
Ruben Betancourt profiles Elvis Costello.