Elvis Costello And The Attractions' American tour has been blazing its way across America amidst media controversy and public delirium reminiscent of the Stones' '72 tour and early mop-top visits. Costello himself has been verbally outrageous in public several times and is now counting the cost accordingly.
The first incident occurred in St. Louis last week where – after CBS had arranged for a prominent local radio station to sponsor his show there – Costello severely bad-mouthed the station at the introduction to "Radio Radio," resulting in all his music immediately being removed from their playlist.
But what must be seen as Elvis one big mistake took place only a few days later in Columbus, Ohio, where Costello and bassist Bruce Thomas were involved in a barroom brawl with Steve Stills, Bonnie Bramlett and their band.
Initially a heated conversation broke out when members of the Stills entourage started accusing Costello of stealing his licks from Ray Charles, James Brown and other seminal black artists. Elvis' retort soon became abusive, and developed into a venomous diatribe about blacks in general. Thomas chipped in "Fuck off steel nose" to Stills, and the whole thing degenerated into an O.K. Corral situation, with the two Englishmen coming off worse through sheer weight of numbers.
The implications of this affair became apparent the next day when every muck-raking newspaper on the East Coast ran a story branding Costello as a "racialist." From that point Costello started receiving abusive phone calls and death threats at an alarming rate.
By the time the tour reached New York last Friday these anonymous promises of Costello's impending downfall numbered over 150.
With gigs at the Capitol in New Jersey and Palladium in downtown New York ahead (neither venue known for the gentility of its audience) a hurried press conference was called at the CBS offices, which drew over 50 journalists at less than an hour's notice.
Elvis was anxious to set the record straight. He apologised about making racist remarks and put it down to having been wound up by the Stills crowd, who incidentally were responsible for leaking the story to the press.
"Well, you know how it is," he said. "One day I love America, the next day I hate it."
The press conference itself ran into trouble due to the presence of some black journalists who demanded more than the slender public retraction Elvis offered. But one way or another it seems to have done the trick, since at the time of writing Mr. Costello is still alive, albeit under a blanket of security.
With two weeks of shows in New England left to play, the mood of the Attractions' tour party must be described as one of heavy but deserved paranoia.
CBS, Costello's U.S. label, have been promoting the bespectacled one as an Urban Guerilla bad boy rock star, with a fair measure of success it seems. A lottery held over a New York radio station for twelve hundred Costello tickets drew a quarter of a million replies.
The lucky winners were picked up by "Armed Forces" jeeps provided by CBS and driven to three surprise gigs Elvis played in various small New York clubs at six o'clock, nine o'clock and midnight on April Fool's Day.
Those sort of tour schedules could make a man tired and irritable.