"Having lived longer than is usual for pop singers, my very existence causes problems for some people, especially
music writers," says Elvis Costello, yanking his eyebrows skyward in a reproachful gesture of if-the-cap-fits. "A lot of the older writers resent me for making them feel older and refusing to just make the same record over and over again.
"They want me to do that magic thing that makes them feel young again. Well, I don't want to be young again. I'm quite happy the way I am. I love what I'm doing now. I like the chances I have. And I haven't finished yet. It's only getting started."
I don't mean to startle any of our older readers so early in the day, but 1997 will mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Elvis Costello's debut album, My Aim Is True. Recorded in a total of 24 hours spread over a period of 'sick days' from his job as a computer operator with the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics firm, the record hailed the emergence of a maverick, brilliant and uncontainable talent.
What was to happen over the following two decades provided conclusive evidence to back up the title's provocative boast. His aim has indeed remained unerringly true. There would seem to be much to celebrate.
However, Declan MacManus will be 42 on the 25th of August and is in no mood to get sentimental about the past. He's far too busy with the present. "I haven't really thought about the relevance of that date a lot," he insists. "I know some people really want to get nostalgic. I have very good memories of a lot of things, reasonably clear memories considering.
"When I hear the records, I don't hear the memories, I hear the records. I can separate out any feelings of what people usually call nostalgia, any sentiment for the memory of the time, from the music. Maybe I'm lucky in being able to do that. It's meant that the music isn't governed by the memories. They're separate. The memories are funny and good and daft and far from without regret. I think it was a great time to be around but I have no desire to re-live it.
"The records that I did 20 years ago are still in the racks, anybody can pick them up. Or they can come and see us play live and hear what we're doing to those songs now. And they can listen to the new stuff we're doing now as well. Why waste time with the past when the present offers far more and far better opportunities?"
Elvis Costello is one of rock's few above-the-titles writers, an artist of dizzying accomplishment and even more dizzying versatility, a versatility that has won him almost as many jeers as cheers.
We all know that Elvis can stroll the heights at his leisure, so why shouldn't he leap down occasionally and stretch his limbs? For some, it's the sheer diversity of his interests and output which is his most irksome quality.
The first stirrings of dissent can be dated to around 1986, after the recording of Blood And Chocolate, when Costello announced that he would no longer be working with The Attractions, (aka Pete Thomas, Bruce Thomas and Steve Nieve — perhaps the finest backing band ever to gaze at a frontman's back). True, subsequent to that rupture, he released King Of America, now widely considered to be among his most indispensable confections but even this was dismissed as some sort of fluke, the bounce of a dead cat.
Some years later, he served up Spike and then Mighty Like A Rose, a brace of albums which were dispatched with the swift and vicious contempt they deserved for not being what they never said they were.
In 1992, even those of us who thought we were keeping the faith, went into spasm with premature ejaculations of horror. Elvis had teamed up with the Brodsky Quartet to record The Juliet Letters, "a song sequence for string and voice" based on Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet.
The guy was washed up, went the cry, an ageing has-been rock star seeking shelter in the last refuge of the creatively-bankrupt: cultural respectability.
Worse was to come with news that Costello was working on further orchestral and classical compositions. Later, he accepted an offer to act as Artistic Director for something called The Meltdown Festival at London's South Bank Centre, where he would play and record with, among others, avant garde guitarist Bill Frisell.
His planned rock projects, we were informed, would include the first volume of a selection of obscure covers called Kojak Variety, some of which would date back to 1930. Tag his toe, went the now more shrill cry, it's mortuary time.
In retrospect, Costello claims that he finds the hysteria caused by his extra-curricular activities "more than a little amusing", yet it's clear that at least some of it rankled, and maybe even still does. As far as he's concerned, the minds of his critics were simply closed, and not for repairs.
"The charge against me was that I was squandering my energies, spreading myself too thin," he grins ruefully. "But that's a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of what I do. I don't see any divisions in the different types of music I play. I come back from all these things completely refreshed. Those divisions exist only in the heads of reviewers who have to come up with absurd judgements which don't exist because of their deadlines.
"Occasionally, it's funny. I've had journalists say all sorts of stuff to me. Some of the theories I've heard are preposterous, particularly in Germany for some reason. During a promotional tour for Mighty Like A Rose, I had one guy say to me (adopts German accent) 'You are trying to destroy pop music like Wagner destroyed symphonic music'. (laughs) The guy had a bee in his bonnet about something. I said he should go for a little lie down, he's worrying about this too much — it's a record.
"A record is always changing. It's changing while you're making it, writing it, mixing it and performing it. But the theory that someone has to have for a deadline, you're stuck with. Occasionally, you see somebody revise their opinion of something and admit they were wrong but very. very occasionally."
For the benefit of those who glibly underestimated the quality. richness and genuine soul of The Juliet Letters (and I have to include myself on the imprudent sceptics' list), Costello gleefully affirms its popularity and longevity, especially on the continent.
"I have an independent life in other parts of Europe where I am known mainly for The Juliet Letters." he asserts. "It has been produced in the Gothenburg opera house. for instance. I go on tours of regional Spain with it, to all sorts of little towns. There's an interest in the piece there. They like it a piece of classical music that isn't a piece of classical music but a piece of contemporary music.
"Kojak Variety and The Juliet Letters in their different ways connected with people who had never listened to me before. They went, 'Ah, I thought he was just this really spiteful kind of character but he actually likes this song. The tone of my other music was too harsh for some people. Suddenly, they hear me with the quartet and the humanity of the stuff surprises them.
"The idea of a pop singer singing with a classical quartet horrifies some people because they imagine that this is a lurch towards elitism. They use the dreaded p-word: pretentious! Whatever that means. The most idiotic criticism ever levelled at an artist is self-indulgent. Who are we supposed to indulge, you? If you don't like what I'm doing, do it yourself. Because you can make your own record. you know."
The mistake was to presume that just because he was trying on other suits he had any intention of torching his original wardrobe. With Costello, it has never been a question of either/or. In 1994, rejuvenated, renewed and reinvigorated, he re-united with The Attractions for Brutal Youth, which turned out to be one of the keenest and crispest salvos of their collective career. And now we have been bestowed with All This Useless Beauty, the most resounding retort to Costello's detractors imaginable, and arguably his best ever album with The Attractions. Reports of the death of Elvis have been greatly exaggerated.
"I probably work harder by choice than anyone I know," he insists. "I can't remember the last break I've had. I took my first holiday in 16 years about 18 months ago. We went to the Caribbean. I had real difficulty with sitting under a tree doing nothing. I actually wrote three songs while I was there, lyrically, in my head.
"I keep on putting out albums and there's lots of people very, very glad that I do. I have been more and more encouraged to do the things that some commentators regard as weirdo stuff because of that response. Some people will get it, some won't. Fuck it."
The location for my audience with Elvis is the canteen of The Factory rehearsal studio, on Dublin's Barrow Street, where The Attractions have been readying their pads, paws and claws in preparation for their European tour.
Costello and Steve Nieve have just returned from a short but intensive trek around the U.S. where they showcased All This Useless Beauty amid the comparative intimacy of venues such as the famous Fillmore Ballroom in San Francisco. Elvis' excitement about the aplomb and distinction with which the new album survived this rite of baptism is still palpable. The guy is ablaze with enthusiasm.
"I'm really, really proud of this record," he declares before we've even shaken heads. He continues to gush its praises while he crosses the room to buy us a pair of coffees.
"I wanted to make a record that changed. for anybody who wanted to listen, what they thought I did," he tells me over his shoulder. "Because of the way the band is used on it, the way it's sequenced, the virtues of this record are quite different from the virtues of any other record I've
"I was aware that Brutal Youth didn't have the power of a Blood And Chocolate because the band hadn't played together for eight years. What it did have was the sense of discovering one another's way of playing again. so there's a charm to that. Occasionally, that power would click and it's an awesome sound, The Attractions, when it clicks.
"I really like that record for having that nervy sound because it is, literally, a document of our getting to know one another again. Now, we've got the confidence to be able to take the foot off the gas and not be trying so hard. We've stopped to listen to one another again, because we're getting along.
"There's always the danger that we'd start to take each other for granted. But I started to listen to Bruce playing bass the other night and I nearly stopped playing in the middle of a live number, it was so amazing what he was doing. He's one of the greatest musicians on the planet. I know Nieve takes everybody's ear but the other two are just as good. I'm just the singer. I write the songs. I don't play great guitar. I make the right noise for this band but they are a really good band and they have never got the credit for how good they are.
"In a funny sort of way, this new album makes a better case for them than some of the more powerful, dramatic records that we have done."
There are many moments on All This Useless Beauty when The Attractions don't sound like the Attractions at all. This is an album unlike any other in the Costello canon. The instrumentation is as opulent as we've come to expect (The Brodsky Quartet even make an appearance) but it's also seasoned with odd tempo changes. dance loops, samples and editing techniques which sound like they were invented by a sushi chef with the shakes. One minute, the arrangements are as congested as Chinatown on dragon parade day. The next, the band are playing with a Spartan savagery that could split you from your navel to your nose in microseconds.
"The songs begged to be treated that way," Elvis contends. "To Attractionise them wouldn't have worked. We don't think of our sound as a stylised sound but sometimes it goes that way. We were really up on not sounding like ourselves. What The Attractions do is most effective when it illuminates a song like it does here on 'You Bowed Down' or 'It's Time'. The sound is used in a more descriptive way. It's more visual."
To Costello's disappointment, All This Useless Beauty has been characterised in certain quarters as some sort of "covers" album. Four of its twelve cuts were previously recorded by other artists ("You Bowed Down" by Roger McGuinn, "Complicated Shadows" by Johnny Cash, the title track by June Tabor, and the Costello/Aimee Mann collaboration, "The Other End Of The Telescope," by 'Til Tuesday) but this fact is incidental to the coherence, freshness and grandeur of the Elvis And The Attractions collection.
"I had put these particular songs to one side because I couldn't find the right home for them," Costello maintains. "As good as the versions may have been that were done, I wanted to do my own. Roger McGuinn's producer prevailed on him to straighten out the middle of 'You Bowed Down' and make it into 4/4 time which, to my mind, completely negated the whole point of that section of that song. Even though I loved everything else about his version, and I even sang on it, that disappointed me. I wanted to do that myself, to go off into space and do a little solo like he did in 'Chestnut Mare' with The Byrds. I just wanted to hear that, selfish really.
"There are many moments of self doubt in these songs. I try not to make any of the songs too absolute anymore. I listen to some of the older songs and I .... (laughs) They have the conviction of youth and of being drunk (laughs). I'm not saying that I think that was wrong. I'm really proud of those songs, I'm glad they're all still available. People can check them out. But you got to look at yourself. It's all very well to be critical of other people but, on the new album, I'm asking, 'Am I this vain person? Am I this hypocrite?'.
"I don't think I'm kidding myself about the quality of these songs. They contain many thoughts that I feel as much in sympathy with now as I did when I wrote them. They add up to a pretty good representation of my frame of mind at the moment, including the breaking of my nineteen year tradition of not having a title song (laughs)."
The album also features "Shallow Grave," yet another product of Costello's songwriting partnership with Paul McCartney. And the word is that this particular larder is still not bare. "Yeah, there are a few more songs from that collaboration." says Elvis. "It's just a question of finding the right time to do them. If they were all released at once, there's probably an album's worth. Whether they're all of the same standard is another question. Even good people writing together don't necessarily hit it every time. We tried lots of different ideas.
"The dark idea behind this song was his, the idea of the shallow grave image, which might surprise people. He's thought to be Mr. Sunny but he's got his dark moments, and I like that and really encouraged it. Predominantly, the ones that have been released so far are fairly dark. People might attribute that to me but he seems to be able to involve that darker side that's there. I haven't got my arm up his back when we're writing. Even 'My Brave Face', which was quite a bright-sounding pop song, is about a guy who's been left by his lover. 'Candy' is about the debris of a relationship. 'That Day Is Done' is about a funeral. 'Veronica' is about Alzheimer's Disease. Take them all together and they're not exactly a cheery bunch of songs.
"The collaboration with McCartney has never been said to be finished. We've always just left it open, 'til-the-next-time kind of thing. I think he's doing a record on his own now so he won't put any collaborative stuff on that. Anyway, I've got all my other collaborations to worry about."
The hinge song on All This Useless Beauty is the title track. Reclining on a luxurious musical bed, in which every note is fondled and plumped like a pillow at bedtime, Elvis ponders the futility of the artistic splendour which he has grown to cherish so much. It's a vintage Costello joke; half paradox, half conceit but whole in earnest.
There is a further irony. The idea for the track was sparked off four years ago during a period when he had purposefully taken time out to appreciate the kind of high art he had long felt he ought to be appreciating. He finally gets round to it and, then, what's his reaction? "What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?"
"I spent a month in Florence," he recalls. "My wife went to study and I went along. I went to study Italian, not that I remember any of it now. But it was a very enjoyable time. It's good to spend a month in another country, and to see the world in that way rather than just through the lens of a touring party.
"We'd go and sit in a gallery or a church every day, and look at something that was meant to be looked at for hours and hours or for a whole lifetime. I always knew that that was the way paintings are supposed to be looked at but, like everybody else, I never had the time. When I suddenly had this brief period in my life when I did have the time, it was quite frightening.
"There's so much beautiful stuff and we don't have time to enjoy it all. You realise exactly how fast everything is passing us by. No wonder nobody can put the right value on anything anymore. It's why everybody is shouting at the top of their lungs for attention in music. And it's why this record isn't doing that very often."
So, what shall we do with all this useless beauty? "Put it into the incinerator with all the mad cows!" he guffaws. "No, I really don't know. It's a bit banal, but maybe we should just try to fight the trends and enjoy as much of this stuff as we possibly can."
Elvis is doing more than his own bit for the war effort. He devours music and devotes the greater part of his life to records, whether that means playing, buying or making them.
"I have music on most all of the day, not constantly 'cause I have to do other work," he avers. "I manage myself now so I'm on the phone a lot. But yeah, I listen to music most of the day. I watch the football, do all the normal things, I'm not completely bonkers obsessed with it. I am pretty bankers obsessed with it, actually (laughs), but not to the literal point of not being able to think of anything else. You have to have some other life. Otherwise you can't see the value of it, if you're up too close to it."
As everybody must surely be aware by now, Costello is the music aficionado's music aficionado, the guy that other eclectics call The Big E. He still regularly haunts such famed record-collectors emporia as Probe in Liverpool, Potter's Music in Richmond, Rock On in Camden Town and. as often as possible, Village Music in Mill Valley, California. Ever since he first travelled across America, he has also been unable to resist the lure of those countless thrift stores and pawn shops which stock such cornucopias of vinyl curiosity.
In recent years, however, there has been an almost seismic shift in his personal tastes. "I listen to instrumental music predominantly now," he explains. "From classical to contemporary. Not really dance music, more the impressionistic stuff. I like picture-painting music. They call it 'ambient' but I don't like the word. I like mood-oriented stuff. I certainly don't like the hyperactive dance music. It just makes me nervous. I drink too much coffee as it is., I don't need to listen to techno.
"If I want to know about stuff that I don't have time to listen to myself, I'll ring up my son who's 21 now and who listens to a lot more of this stuff, and ask him about it. I'll ask him, 'Are these guys The Last Poets of this music or are they the Vanilla Ice of this music?'. It's not important to me whether it's fashionable. They might well be fashionable, but I'm not."
At the hub of Costello's growing ardour for instrumental music is an even faster growing suspicion of words. "I don't read very much anymore," he says. "I listen to music much more. I don't really trust words very much anymore. It's been going that way for about five years. The less words I use the less I like them. I like sound better than I like words.
"I don't read the newspapers, no matter where I am. I like to buy them but I don't really read them. I read the newspaper like my grandmother read the newspaper. I read the obituaries first, to see who's dead. I've always done that. I got it from her. She always did that. I never knew anyone who ever died. Now, I do, unfortunately."
I'd know that jaundice-yellow glimmer anywhere. Some of the most exquisite songs on All This Useless Beauty appear to be floodlit with Catholic guilt. It takes different guises. An Old Testament phrase here, a reminder of how the sky is said to darken on Good Friday there. I could elaborate, but Elvis starts to look at me like I'm an another German theory-meister. With a head-shake and a smirk, he warns against taking his words at face value.
"A song like 'Complicated Shadows' was written in this semi-Biblical language because it was written for Johnny Cash," he attests. "I could imagine him intoning these things with great gravity. But it's not indicative of a particular frame of mind on my part. The private language of the songs is often different from the public language of the songs. It's just the way I write. That Catholic thing is there in my head somewhere. And it's far from vague. I can't get it out, even with bleach.
"With 'Distorted Angel' I was really thinking about children. Not child abuse but about children being made to feel guilty about a very innocent curiosity about their body. I didn't want to write one of those greatly tortured Catholic songs. I don't feel that way about it. Its more of a hazy memory and it's confused with a slightly erotic memory. The image of the distorted angel seems to fit it. As a kid, I remember being shown those holy pictures with a white-sheeted, strange, blonde person invisibly lurking in my room. I still find it quite spooky.
"I call 'Poor Fractured Atlas' an 'epistle' because it rhymes with 'pistol' in a kind of way that I like. It doesn't really rhyme but it does when I sing it. I can make most words rhyme. I can make 'mopin' ' and 'Chopin' rhyme. People say I often make clunky rhymes, but there's humour in a bad rhyme. People often miss the point of humour in a bad rhyme."
What are Elvis Costello's religious beliefs? "None," he sighs. "None that are formed into any coherent philosophy. I just have feelings of ease and unease about different things. I wouldn't say that I can express it, really. I don't feel the need to go to services of any kind. I go to funerals. I went to a wedding recently. I do all those landmark things that people tend to do in the sight of something, you don't know what.
"You go to funerals to support people, to show to the living that you're thinking about them and trying to help. Not necessarily because you believe in anything."
Talk of funerals and the ritual of paying homage to the dead prompts Elvis to remember the late Bill Graham, one of the meagre coterie of rock writers for whom he had any respect and a man he obviously admired.
"It was terrible about Bill," says Costello, his speech pattern slowing for the first time in an hour. "I was away at the time. I came back and I was shocked to hear it. He was a good guy, one of the best. He knew things, you never had to explain stuff to him.
"What was great to see was the tremendous amount of affection there was for him. I didn't see the issue of Hot Press which I gather had his picture on the front. I saw the one after which had all the little anecdotes about him which I thought was great and very moving. Nobody disliked him. I've never met anyone who had a bad word to say about the guy. It was very sad."
Elvis is a fervent believer in the purgative powers of music, both in times of immediate grief and in those more difficult ensuing times when grief gives way to something empty and unnameable but no less distressing. At the aforementioned Meltdown Festival, he performed with an American gospel choir a version of 'That Day Is Done', the song co-written with Paul McCartney about the death of Costello's grandmother. It was, he says, oddly exhilarating experience.
"That was a rare song among the ones we wrote which had a lot of personal detail in it," Elvis explains. "It was about my grandmother's funeral. After I had written 'Veronica' about her, this song was about not being able to attend her funeral. It was a very sad song to write. And Paul was very good about helping me to write this thing which was really bugging me and in making what I think is a very beautiful song out of it. He made a great record of it but I always wanted to cut it.
"To do it with these gospel guys was the right way for me to do it. It added a gravity to it. without it being maudlin. When they sing it, because they believe in this stuff which I don't believe, it lifts you up to sing with them. They believe so much, and you're standing among them, all singing together, it's just fantastic. You are borne up by their belief.
"I have no problem listening to religious music of any kind, provided it isn't actually oppressing me. Or nobody's singing. like, 'Kill the woman!', and there are quite a few religious songs which have that kind of tone. Debussy wrote 'Le Martyre De Saint Sebastien' and he wasn't a believer. He was inspired by the intensity of the poet's words, and set those words very beautifully to music.
"That has happened quite a lot in the history of music. It's not like I'm being post-modern about it or detached from it. I'm completely emotional when singing it because it is about spiritual things.
"The gospel singers believe a coded thing, if you like. They believe their code, their doctrine, and I don't. But I'm completely in sympathy with them on the ground of music which is the language that we do share. And the idiom that that song was written is a sort of gospel idiom, even though it's not saying a gospel thing. It's an experience, which is what the best music should be."
Almost a decade ago now, I remember forking out the princely sum of £27 for three consecutive night's of music at Dublin's Olympia Theatre (and this was back when three consecutive night's of music at Dublin's Olympia Theatre was not to be sneezed at).
On the first night, it was Elvis Costello And The Attractions: on the second, it was Elvis Costello solo. On the third, it was Elvis And The Attractions again, only with a kicker. This time, the set list was decided by the arbitrary spinning of a gigantic wheel o' fortune on which were listed not only songs from the Costello catalogue but also wild cards such as numbers by ABBA and Prince. It was cabaret, but with enough chutzpah to light a small town.
Today, Elvis' vaudevillian spirit is still alive and well. Throughout our encounter, he emphasises the importance of "a spirit of adventure and fun" in what he does. This month, for instance, he's embarking on what he terms a "pop art project": the release every week of a different single from All This Useless Beauty which will include an original version of the track as well as remixes by the likes of DJ Food and new renditions by acts such as Sleeper. Lush and Tricky. Each single will be deleted at the end of the week of its release.
"It's like leaving trails everywhere," Elvis enthuses. "What it is it's fun. The danger of making a record, particularly one that reconsiders older material, is that it's too easy to define. Inside the easy definition, there's all this life, melodies, ideas, loads of things. There's a danger of putting music like this into a glass case, and I refuse to do that.
"I spoke to these DJ Food guys, the remix guys, and I thought they were great. I love people who paint pictures with mixing. It's become a real form of music. When people first did mixing, it was dismal. I had stuff remixed in the '80s and it was crap.
"I had a drink with Lush last evening. I'd never met them before. I've asked them to do 'All This Useless Beauty' because I felt that, if they applied the attitude of their last couple of singles to that song, there might be a really interesting collision.
"Tricky is doing 'Distorted Angel'. He's gonna strip the song away to leave an ambient track. Brilliant. The song's already been made. I've got complete confidence about my version. I want them to do a different version using our material. I want them to do what they want. Look at what the record's called, it's All This Useless Beauty. We can't go wrong."
Whether from boredom, artistic wanderlust or plain old-fashioned pride, Elvis Costello has always fancied the idea of working out with the guys in the next gym along. He certainly won't be deterred from engaging in such exercises by anything as tawdry as the fear of dropping a box-office dud. "I've done enough of this stuff now," he proclaims. "I've already been successful, I don't need to be successful again. But if I am, fine. I ain't going to stop either way."
As a cursory glance at the next six months of his impossibly busy schedule will confirm. Costello's first priority is to complete work on a number of co-compositions with Burt Bacharach for the soundtrack of the new Allison Anders film, Grace Of My Heart. He is also applying the finishing touches to Three Distracted Women, a piece written especially for The Brodsky Quartet and Anne Sofie von Otter ("a wonderful classical singer, my favourite singer in the world").
Then, there's his contribution to the forthcoming album by The Jazz Passengers (which includes a duet of "Baby. It's Cold Outside" with Deborah Harry). And there's a more substantial collaboration with John Hall, the classical saxophonist, based on re-compositions of songs from Twelfth Night.
As if that wasn't enough, he will have to find time to attend a performance in Cheltenham of Put Away Hidden Things, the composition for violins and counter tenor he originally penned for last year's commemoration of the tercentenary of the death of Henry Purcell.
"Yeah, I worry about running myself into the ground," he concedes. "I have to watch that as I get older but I'm pretty resilient. I don't feel too busy in terms of the quality, but in terms of being just physically able to do it all. But there's also the worry that I might do all of these things averagely. So far, that hasn't occurred. Everything feeds into everything else."
One of the most appetising outgrowths to sprout from the fertile seedbed of Costello's career is the burgeoning songwriting collaboration between himself and ivories-wizard Steve Nieve. "What we've done so far won't be for the Attractions," Elvis insists. "They're more for a different kind of sound. Steve is living in Paris now so they're kind of very French-sounding, that's all I can say. It sounds like they've been translated from French into English. They're story songs. The music is definitely very French in style.
"Steve is a pianist and there's a lot of French piano music which he's influenced by. He's classically trained, and he's got this funny musical language which is a mixture of all things. jazz doesn't come into and rock 'n' roll doesn't come into it. Classical and pop comes into it simultaneously but it's more than that."
The headquarters for what has become Elvis Costello Inc. is still Dublin, and that's the way he intends to keep it. "Dublin is my home," he states. Having said that, I've hardly been here at all this year. It would feel like home if I was ever here. The good thing about Dublin is there's lots of people here who are involved in music. It's not as neurotic as it is in London. It depends on what column you read and what paper you read, I suppose. It can either seem amazingly intrusive or else nobody gives a shit. Nobody bothers me here. It's great. I feel as home here as I've ever felt anywhere.
"I'm not seen anywhere. I don't go to things. I don't go to parties, I don't go to openings. I'm not interested in that. I've got other business. I prefer Dublin because I can be more selfish here and not get involved in things. I get involved if I need to get involved. I get called occasionally to do things. I got called at 24 hours notice to come and do the Yeats festival a couple of years ago. People can always call and I'm very happy to hear from them. It's not like I'm not involved in the musical life of Dublin at all. "I just don't want to hang out in the social places. That doesn't interest me but it never did in London either, apart from little spats here and there. I like having a bit of distance."
Is he happier now than he was 20 years ago?
"I don't really compare it," replies Elvis Costello. "I'm just doing it. Why worry? If you've got time to sit.around wondering if you're happy, you probably ain't happy. If you do that, you're just fucked up. I'm just doing it."