London Telegraph, October 17, 2015
Elvis Costello says his arrogance
Elvis Costello – on of Britain's most respected singer songwriters – has admitted to a string of casual sexual encounters which destroyed his first marriage.
Describing himself as having been "arrogant," "vain" and lacking in gratitude, the singer has admitted his behaviour broke his childhood sweetheart's heart.
Costello admits in his new autobiography that what has been described as his "formidable number of sexual encounters" — which took place after he found fame in the late Seventies — ultimately ended his marriage to Mary Burgoyne.
In one passage of the book, called Unfaithful Music in a biting reference to his promiscuity, he writes that he was an "arrogant bastard back then."
Costello goes on to imply that he subsequently persevered in a frequently unhappy 17-year relationship with Cait O'Riordan, the bass player in the Pogues, because "I wanted to punish myself for the things I'd done. For my lack of gratitude. For all my vanity."
He even suggests he deliberately inflicted problems on himself "so I could write stupid little songs about it."
However, Costello, 61, who now lives in Canada with his wife Diana Krall, the jazz pianist, and their eight-year-old twin boys, dismisses any suggestion he is either being too hard on himself or looking for sympathy.
In an interview with the Guardian, he says: "I wasn't interested in writing a book that said, ‘Aren't I great'. I'm not looking for pity. It's the way I see it. People who sit around honing their withering remarks have no idea how much harder on yourself you are than anybody else."
Neither does he try to justify the infamous episode in 1979 in which Costello – who had performed at Rock Against Racism events – used a deeply offensive racial slur to refer to James Brown and Ray Charles during a drunken argument in the bar of a Ohio Holiday Inn.
He writes in the book that "it took just five minutes to detach my tongue from my mind and my life from the rail it was on," and says in the interview: "I've never ducked it."
Costello, the writer of songs such as "Oliver's Army," inspired by a visit to Belfast; "Shipbuilding," a poignant evocation of the Falklands War and "Less Than Zero," about British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, rejects descriptions of him as a political or protest singer.
"I never really thought of myself like that," he says. "I am sceptical about the realistic expectations of change through a song. I think you can delude yourself: ‘Well, I've written that now, that's dealt with.' You could be self-satisfied, and I think there was a degree of that with the protest song."
Of "Shipbuilding" he says: "I didn't think it was going to stop the war."
But Costello, is not afraid to pass comment on the current British political landscape. "Corbyn can't actually change anything," he says. "Even inside his own party. So what are they so afraid of, if not another opinion? He's just expressing views that are different form theirs. I thought that was democracy."
The Daily Telegraph, October 17, 2015
Photo: Jason Sheldon.
Elvis Costello with Cait O'Riordan. Photo: Alan Davidson