So there I was at Euston station, seated comfortably in the first class compartment waiting for the Inter City to speed me to my destination — Liverpool's Lime Street.
My thought processes revolved around whether to peruse a copy of the latest Rolling Stone or wade into a hefty-looking biography of John Coltrane.
Being a lazy sod, I chose the former. Amongst the usual grist, there was a lengthy and totally inconclusive article on one Elvis Costello. This piece of hard-hitting journalism turned out to be a lengthy account of how one of Rolling Stone's staffers had attempted — at no small expense — to procure an interview with the big El, only to be furnished with three quotes.
One was "Fuck off!"
The second was "Piss off!"
The third was "Stick it ..."
Anyway, I was digging into a piece on Steve Dunleavy, the blood and guts reporter for Rupert Murdoch's tabloids, when I felt a hand touch my shoulder. Looking up I was face to face with the most reclusive rock star media-wise currently in existence. He was wearing a polka dot shirt, like the one Bob Dylan used to wear. He was wearing shades very similar to the ones Bob Dylan used to wear. And he sported the ubiquitous Johnson & Johnson jacket. There he was, smiling, nay virtually beaming ... Elvis Costello!!
Not a sign of the cagey figure of our last encounter a few months back. This was not a man living on his nerve ends, but an amiable soul offering hospitality via the compartment it turned out he was sharing with his wife Mary, an extremely attractive, bright girl with sandy-coloured hair, and the couple's son Matthew, whose face was virtually hidden by a Fidel Castro cap. It goes without saying that a reconciliation had taken place, and throughout the three-hour journey, er, what's-her-name wasn't even mentioned.
Other matters however were discussed — topics ranging from Costello following the J. Geils Band around Europe (he'd been at the final stages of mixing Sanctuary, Geils' last album, got pally with the group and made the trip from France to London to watch them play, so enraptured was he with them) to animated impersonations of Robert De Niro in Mean Streets.
Inevitably the touchy incident when a drunken Elvis made the mistake of harassing Bonnie Bramlett and Steve Stills was broached — an encounter which involved Costello referring to Ray Charles and James Brown as "niggers."
"Well I though it would make for a more original exit than the usual motorcycle accident," he quipped.
"The thing is though, none of the fucking reports got it right. Not one single one."
Costello contends that yes it was he, in a drunken stupor, who started the whole thing off by referring to Stills as "old tin nose." Things quickly escalated, however, to the point where after Ms Bramlett had taken her swing — and missed, according to Costello — he was set upon by somewhere in the region of five Stills roadies.
"It was one of those ridiculous barroom fights where you're too pissed to know what's going on. It was more like slapstick than anything. I only remembered that the thing had even taken place when I returned to my hotel room and discovered that my arm hurt somewhat."
Not one to let bygones be bygones, Elvis considers the subsequent media fracas to be the work of a publicity famished Bonnie Bramlett.
"Yeah, I said at one point though it wasn't recorded as far as I know: 'That woman has made one reputation off one E.C. (Eric Clapton, whose impromptu gigging with Delaney and Bonnie helped break the pair initially). She's fuckin' well not going to get more publicity off of another one!"
The "racist" charge — which drew such negative reaction (including numerous death threats) that Costello was constantly accompanied by two plain clothes policemen — wasn't the only incident of consequence to happen to our El in the U.S. What with every rock star, new or old wave, making movies these days, the Elvis film — mentioned in the piece by yours truly earlier this year — was completed somewhere amidst the mayhem. Entitled Americathon — about a giant telethon held to save America from bankruptcy — it has Costello starring opposite Meatloaf, and playing an invented English rock star. It's a portrayal that caused our hero to dust off one of his golden — though — unused oldies for the final fitting touch.
Back when "Watching The Detectives" was conceived musically as a cop from Don Covay's "It's Better To Have (And Don't Need)" (before Steve Naive added his Bernard Herman touches, thus altering the arrangement totally), one of the songs written alongside "Lip Service" and "Lipstick Vogue" was "Crawling To The USA."
"When I checked out the part, I suddenly realised that that 'USA' song would fit perfectly."
Also featured is another song from that period, entitled "Hoover Factory," which Costello had intended to use as the B-side of "Oliver's Army" before the idea of doing "My Funny Valentine" took precedence.
("Hoover Factory" also turns up on the 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong bootleg which has lately been soiling certain hands. It was recorded when Jake Riviera sent El and the newly-formed Attractions to a make-shift four-track studio in Cornwall to make some demos. The title is, of course, a swipe from one of the original Elvis records, another of which, Girls, Girls, Girls, was once mooted as the title for This Year's Model. )
In between eluding the flack and making his screen debut, Elvis also found time whilst in the States to meet with country singer George Jones — one of Dave Edmunds' big heroes. Elvis and Jones dueted on Jim Reeves' "He'll Have To Go" at the Palomino, fabled haunt of the late Gram Parsons, and also cut a version of Costello's "Stranger In The House."
"He was in really excellent health," said Elvis of Jones. "I felt really uncomfortable being around such professionals."
Finally, Elvis revealed that before he exited from the land of Coca Cola he turned down the chance to appear on the covers of both Rolling Stone and Newsweek.
"Why make life easy for yourself?" he said, as he reached up to pull the communication cord. Minutes later Costello, wife, son and suitcase dropped stealthily out of sight behind the sidings. I decided to wade into John Coltrane after all.
Suddenly I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I looked up.
"Why, Bob!" l cried. (Cont. page 65.)