When Jim Boyd, Daily Opinion Page editor, was asked his opinion on this man, he was left utterly speechless with awe. Finally composing himself, he said, "subtle" and "sublime." He concluded his utterances with, "probably the most talented artist to hit our shores since Pablo Picasso." He is Elvis Costello.
This legend is coming to Ann Arbor April 22nd at 8 p m. for the only Michigan appearance of a limited tour. Hill Auditorium will host both Elvis and warm-up T-Bone Burnett on a memorable musical night.
Declan McManus was born in London in 1955 and raised on such groups as The Who, the Kinks, the Beatles and a host of Motown artists. In a Rolling Stone interview he said, "I had something of an ambition to be a professional musician. I was already playing guitar in high school — playing in folk clubs on my own. I was writing my own songs — dreadful songs, performing them more or less religiously."
From this rather inauspicious beginning, McManus, whose manager dubbed Elvis in a marketing scheme, released My Aim Is True and his career took-off. Says interviewer Greil Marcus, "With My Aim Is True, recorded with the American country-rock band Clover and produced by Nick Lowe, Costello stepped out as a major figure in British new music." The release of Aim in the United States coupled with a successful Saturday Night Live appearance, brought a terrific response.
Now with such greats as This Year's Model, Armed Forces, Imperial Bedroom, and Punch The Clock, behind him, Costello can rightly be called the most important force in contemporary music.
He has long been known as an angry and difficult person — by the journalists whom he has traditionally shunned and the concert-goers he once disdained. Recently, as evidenced by a new-found openness to communication and a mellower tone on Imperial Bedroom and Punch The Clock, he has loosened-up a bit. He says about his image, in a Los Angeles Times article, "I think I was definitely beginning to lose control of things. It's too personal to go into all of it, but I will say I made several wrong turns in succession around the time of the Armed Forces album I found myself getting farther and farther from what I started out to be and moving toward all the things I hated."
Asked in the same article why he was doing interviews again he said, "I think it's just time. I've been making records for five years now, and certain things probably need some explanation."
For all his revealed temperence and garrulity, Elvis' songs continue to hold a vibrant bitterness, often centering around romantic rejection and betrayal. One senses from his lyrics a pent-up anger that must be released. No one who has heard the savage scream on side one of Imperial Bedroom can deny this rage; add to this, such lines as "There's no money-back guarantee on future happiness" and the image is one of a cynical man denigrating people and their society.
This portrayal, however, does not do justice to Costello's range and variety. He can combine the anger of Armed Forces with the vulnerability in the song "Human Hands," the fun jazziness of "Shabby Doll" and the sprightiness of "Tears Before Bedtime" — all three on Imperial Bedroom.
It remains to be seen what side Elvis will bring with him to his upcoming appearance, maybe we will see them all. He is performing solo, so his softer melodies may flow out when he is alone on stage. There will be, however, a piano appearing with Elvis, so maybe there will be some accompaniment.
T-Bone Burnette, one of the most intelligent new masters of poetic rock and folk, will join Elvis. His moving and thought-provoking lyrics will almost definitely prepare the mood for his successor.
$11.50 tickets are still available at all Ticket World Outlets. Yes, you have finals. I know schoolwork is terribly hard. Of course it's a bad time. But to see the most vibrant and original rock performers of the day in a limited solo engagement is an event which surely merits a study break.