GQ, December 1999

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Fahrenheit Dec

Why I wear what I wear: Elvis Costello

Jim Nelson

I don't imagine you're the sort of guy who obsesses about his eyeware, but you do have a sense of fashion. You have, for instance, cool glasses.

I'm just like anybody. I mean. I see clothes in a shop and say, "Oh, that looks good" or "Would I wear that?" It never occurs to me that that's the height of fashion or otherwise. I just wear what I'm comfortable with. I'm who I am now, and I'm not going to go around dressing the same way my whole life. That's only for people who are afraid to low their recognition factor. You know there are all these pop people who always stick in the same outfit, stupid same image, their whole career, because they're afraid if they don't they'll be forgotten. I've always put the emphasis on the music and trusted the music would be the thing that people would remember, and if accidentally people said, "Well, he has a sense of style that somehow matches that" — like the glasses — than that's just an accident.

It should be what you're comfortable in. You know, when you go somewhere like Woodstock, you realize that nearly everybody's wearing T-shirts and baggy jeans. Well, I don't wear those outfits; I don't feel right in them. I might clean the house wearing those clothes, but I don't perform in those clothes. I tend to wear jackets. That's just the way I feel right, but it doesn't really say any fashion to me. It just says, "Work clothes."

I've had my fashion-disaster moments like everybody else. You walk by something, you think it's going to look good, and then you put it on and people go, "Yeah, he's kidding."

Did any of those ever show up on an album cover?

They never got as far as an album cover, but there were a couple of disasters along the way. But you try something different, mainly because you get tired of looking at yourself the same way. Then it's like, "How do I change it?" At one point in the early '80s, I wanted the Attractions to adopt a Parliament/Funkadelic look. I wanted to get us in those big feathers and stacked-heel shoes and big headdresses. But I could never persuade them to do it.

Steve Nieve said no?

[Laughs] He might not have been the one who said no. But I definitely thought that look would have been very good for us.

We liked the look you had in that picture we shot for the GQ article on your project with Burt Bacharach — that short-brimmed hat with the glasses.

Well, I know this is going to sound like the beginning of a story, but it's true: My wife had gone up to work on this project where they count black bears in the Minnesota woods. They've got a lot of insects up there, so she shaved her head. And I said. "Hey, that looks good. I'll shave my head, too." Then I had to have my picture taken for the record. And I thought. Maybe being a skinhead doesn't really go with these romantic songs — I'd better wear a hat. So it sort of became a look.

I'm also thinking of Bacharach's style. Part of his appeal, apart from his music, is his style — there's something about him that's just cool and fun.

Younger people seem to relate to him through a slightly kitsch appeal. He has a great sense of style, and he's very laid-back. Rut I think a lot of his songs have been interpreted in sort of easy-listening ways. When you listen to the original compositions, I don't think they have a whole lot to do with that. They were quite a lot more passionate.

There are images of you that arc iconic, like the cover of Trust — again, with those black-framed glasses. The poster from that was an important image in Less Than Zero.

We recently had a compilation come out. It has a huge picture of me on the front from 1977. It's more or less like a logo rather than a real picture of me — a Warhol-style treatment. It's the strongest single image of me that's ever been made. The record [The Very Best of Elvis Costello] came out about nine weeks ago, and it's done remarkably well in England. It was outselling Ricky Martin. It was really great. We went in at number four. It was like, "What's going on?" I thought I'd entered an alternative universe.


GQ, December 1999

Jim Nelson interviews Elvis Costello.


1999-12-00 GQ page 64.jpg
Page scan.

1999-12-00 GQ photo 01.jpg

1999-12-00 GQ cover.jpg


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