Performing Songwriter, January 1999

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The Distinctive Core of Elvis Costello


Robert Wilonsky

Elvis Costello (born Declan MacManus) has spent the better part of the 1990s trying to outrun his past, to escape those old photos of a pigeon-toed, knock-kneed punk staring down the world through Buddy Holly rims as he sang those old songs about "revenge and guilt." For a while, he refused to play the old favorites, deleted "Alison" and "Watching the Detectives" and "Pump It Up" and "Radio Radio" from his sets. Instead, he performed songs from 1989's Spike and '91's Mighty Like a Rose, and audiences found no pleasure in such claustrophobic, bitter songs as "So Like Candy", "All Grown Up", the cacophonous "Hurry Down Doomsday", even "Veronica," the closest thing he has had to a hit in the U.S. in a decade. They scoffed when he appeared on magazine covers with Jerry Garcia, looking so much like the Grateful Dead leader you couldn't tell the two apart. The faithful felt betrayed.

Which didn't bother Costello so much. He stopped playing rock and roll for a long while, recording in 1993 a strings-and-vocals album with the Brodsky Quartet; titled The Juliet Letters, it was a subtle, lovely triumph — and it remains among the poorest-selling of all his records, and the most reviled by even his staunchest admirers and apologists. He would also, in time, record a track with the Jazz Passengers, another with the gospel-singing angels of the Fairfield Four, and appear as vocalist on John Harle's classical gem Terror + Magnificence. He showed up on MTV singing George Gershwin with Tony Bennett, recorded a live import-only album with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell that featured a song by Charles Mingus and a cover of "Gigi," and joined mezzo-soprano Anne Sophie van Otter on a Swedish stage.

Oh, yes — and he would also write a song with Burt Bacharach for a movie that didn't really deserve such a special blessing.

Elvis reunited with his old band, the Attractions, and old pal and collaborator Nick Lowe for one complete rock and roll record, 1994's Brutal Youth. But the album — his first collaboration with Pete Thomas, Bruce Thomas, and Steve Nieve in almost a decade — seemed less a return to turned-up glory than simply a revisiting of old ghosts. In the end, it's not a great record, at least when held against the myriad of great records on Costello's discography, including such albums as his 1977 debut My Aim is True and its follow-up This Year's Model (his first with the Attractions). Indeed, both of those albums have become to his admirers like museum pieces, records best listened to behind glass; few performers could ever live up to those albums, or live them down. And Brutal Youth certainly looks out of place next to 1979's Armed Forces, 1982's Imperial Bedroom, 1983's Punch the Clock, and 1986's Blood and Chocolate.

And so, perhaps, it is a relief to hear from the man's own mouth that, for now, he is through with rock and roll; finished with trying to impress with his wicked, witty, intricate wordplay; fed up with strapping a guitar around his neck one more time and, yes, going through the motions.

Such a desire grew out of writing over the past two years with the 70-year-old Burt Bacharach, whom he ran into 10 years ago while Costello was in the studio recording Spike. Back then, they exchanged a few words, Costello apologized to Bacharach for "stealing" his arrangements, and that was it. Eight years later, they would wind up collaborating on a song for the 1996 film Grace of Heart without ever standing in the same room together. Eventually, they would record a full-length disc together featuring their music and Elvis' sparse words. The result is the recently released Painted From Memory, a record that sounds as though it has been in the racks for decades.

Perhaps their collaboration was inevitable. Costello, after all, had long been a fan of the music Bacharach had written with lyricist (and ex-journalist) Hal David during the 1950s and '60s. Twenty years ago, before Costello even had a deal with Columbia Records, he and the Attractions recorded Bacharach and David's "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" for the Live Stiffs collection. In 1984, he and Nick Lowe performed "Baby It's You," which appeared on the import odds-and-ends collection Out of Our Idiot and, subsequently, on Rykodisc's reissue of Goodbye Cruel World. In 1990, Costello also recorded the Bacharach-David classic "Please Stay" — though it too wouldn't be released until 1995's all-covers-disc Kojak Variety.

Now, instead of paying homage to Bacharach, Costello is his partner: They wrote each song on Painted From Memory together, performed them in the same room with an eight-piece ensemble, then invited a 24-piece pop orchestra to lay down the plush carpet that blankets each song. For the second time in his life, Costello has been given the opportunity to write and record with a childhood idol. A decade ago, he collaborated on a dozen tunes with Paul McCartney, whose band turned a young Declan MacManus onto the power of rock and roll. Now, he shares royalties with Burt Bacharach, whose music takes up several hundred pages in the pop dictionary.

Bacharach once seemed a thing of the past — a vestige of a time when pop music was opulent and untold, when Bacharach's cotton-candy strings swelled with misty-eyed grandeur and women named Dionne and Cilla and Dusty turned Hal David's stark lyrics about heartbreak and hurt into the stuff of adult poetry. Bacharach has of late been lionized by the lounge crowd, the sharkskin swingers who take their Bacharach with a little Martini & Rossi on ice; somewhere between the hit parade and royalty-rate retirement — between "The Look of Love" greatness and "That's What Friends Are For" detritus — Bacharach became the missing link, the long-lost influence, the hero cited by the alternarock crowd when its members seek to wrap themselves in the cred of Cool.

Which is why his collaboration with Costello is so significant. It offers proof that Bacharach is himself no museum exhibit frozen in time but rather a still-vital songwriter willing to take a risk by working with a man whose idea of romance was penning a lyric like, "I wish you luck with a capital F."

"He's a good risktaker, a serious risktaker," Bacharach says of Costello. "He takes his chances, like with the Brodsky Quartet. He's got a group of hardcore people who are his fans, and they're going to say, 'Damn it, Burt Bacharach? The king of the middle of the road writing with Elvis?' But it's an interesting thing. He's a brilliant lyricist — I won't even suggest a word to him, because he's one of the great, great writers — and musically, he brings to certain songs, more than others, a distinctly Elvis core."


It always seemed to me that you would have preferred to have been Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra...

Absolutely, if only you could be! What a sex life you would have had! But no, l don't ever want to be somebody else. But to be perfectly honest, and this may be a more fashionable thing to say but it hasn't been in the past, I certainly don't think music begins and ends with rock and roll. It never did.

It has always surprised me when people refer to you as a rock and roll artist, as though you're one thing and nothing else, forever locked in that cage. Certainly rock, punk, whatever, is part of your body of work, but with Almost Blue and the Brodsky Quartet album and the collaborations with John Harle and the Chieftains and Charles Brown and Chet Baker, it seems that your palette is as big as music itself.

It is a silly kind of definition. I heard somebody on the television last night saying, "Yeah, I'm a rock star." Is that a career? Can you train for that? It's like the idea of celebrity — celebrity is something that happens to you accidentally, by doing something else, whether you're a basketball player or a musician or a rocket scientist or astrophysicist or something. You will become celebrated, which is all it's derived from — pop is derived from popular. It's not just a game of semantics. It's true, and it becomes a distortion to say you are this thing and that embodies a definition — to say that you are rock. I've always hated that.

I like rock and roll, because it swings and rolls, but I don't like rock. Rock I associated with that really square, monolithic beat that doesn't have anything to commend it, really. The minute you start building temples to these things, which has been the impulse for a number of years now — to build a temple to rock and roll — the more kind of solid and static it gets. It just crumbles away and it stops moving.

Do you even have the desire to make a so-called rock record again, something like Brutal Youth or its many predecessors?

I didn't think Brutal Youth was like anything that had been done before. I was aware that the basic musical premise was those four guys playing in a studio together, using very little or no additional orchestration and just a few instruments we may not have had access to initially. There was a tremendous difference in age and experience that went between that record and Blood and Chocolate, and Blood and Chocolate and the first record we made together. It was like checking it out against the blueprint, going back and saying, "Let's have a look at the blueprint, let's see if we can get another sort of building out of it." And we did, and it's a good record. The good things about it were perhaps some of the more ambitious songs, and we carried that idea over into All This Useless Beauty.

And I would have liked to have seen that group make a very successful record. I thought that record could have been All This Useless Beauty, but the political climate in the record industry was such that there was more or less chaos, and there was no will on Warner Brothers' part to get behind it. And at that point, I just lost all confidence in them and extracted myself from the deal. Since then, I've given up managing myself. It's very tiring to be arguing with record executives about things you can't control, because they have a secret agenda and they have to answer to people who own them who run their company, who want the company to fit into a corporate plan that nobody understands — certainly nobody in the creative world of music understands.

What do you hope to get out of Painted from Memory? What are your expectations of it, for lack of a better word?

I don't have any particular illusions about it; it won't outsell Thriller. But I see no reason why it can't reach a wide audience. If people hear it, they generally like it. That's been the impression so far. But it's like, what's the problem? They're great songs, I'm singing well, it's got some great arrangements. It's just a matter of hearing it.

The degree to which there are other impulses in the business, where we know what good music is, and then there's impulse to sell a lot of things, things that are a lot more controllable and you can discard. You watch [The MTV Music Video Awards], and you can't find anything of consequence. If that's the best that the business can provide, then we're really in trouble. But we're not, because there's lots of great musicians all around. They're just not on that program. The agenda that they proposed on the award show really illustrated the redundancy of the agenda.

I particularly liked Madonna's impersonation of Cameron Diaz. You know when Cameron Diaz gets up to sing at the karaoke in My Best Friend's Wedding? Wasn't that what Madonna was doing in "Ray of Light?" It was fantastic. That was the most out of tune I've ever heard anybody on TV. But we shouldn't be slagging her off.

How long did it take you and Bacharach to record when you went to the studio?

The basic tracks were recorded in eight days. That was with the rhythm section, with Burt leading the band. The basic rhythm section on most days was Burt on piano, Steve Nieve on second keyboards or a track piano or whatever other keyboard you hear on the track, Greg Cohen on bass, and Jim Keltner on drums. Sometimes we had an interweaving thing with two guitars. Occasionally other players would come in and augment that basic lineup. And so I'm in the booth next to Burt, because there are some corners to negotiate in this music rhythmically that you've got to do with a lot of confidence, and that way they sound very natural and very connected to the voice.

All the time, Burt's very mindful of that. His big experience — other than as a songwriter, of course — is as a musical director for singers, whether it's Marlene Dietrich or Dionne Warwick or, in this case, myself. That means giving cues to the band to lay back, to hold back, to support me. We're trying to get an understanding, a rhythmic understanding.

It's always fascinating to watch Bacharach conduct the orchestra because he never sits down when he's playing the piano. He seems to be performing himself, even during a studio session.

This is the thing, this is the great myth about Burt Bacharach — that he's Mr. Laid Back and Cool. There is a very physical aspect. When you're not a singer and you don't play electric guitar and you don't have any of the more bombastic gestures of music at your disposal, what people assume is that somehow equates with a lack of emotional commitment. That, to my mind, is really crazy, because here's a man who can take the tiniest, most delicate gesture in music and turn it into a really thrilling crescendo, and he knows how to control the elements of the orchestra that are around. Therefore, I think if you go to see him in a performance, you see him kind of playing the orchestra as his instrument in a way.

Maybe it sounds a little melodramatic, but there is very much a connection, and all the time we were playing, even in the core band, I'd look over and I'd quite often get a sense of the nuance of the music from the way Burt was playing the piano to the attitude of his head, the way he was listening to what was going on. That gave me a lot of clues, other than the conception of the music I had instinctively, in my own mind, or that I'd worked out before. After all, we had worked on these songs for some time.

You two met, so to speak, working on the song "God Give Me Strength" for the film Grace of My Heart. Was it inevitable that you two keep working together?

After the Grace of My Heart song, there was a year, an interval when we were both working on other things, when we weren't able to make a really confident start on the writing. I had an album that was just about to come out. Burt was involved in other projects. We made a start, I suppose, a year last April, and just geographically, because we live so far apart, every two or three months we would get together either in Los Angeles or in New York in a hotel room, and we would have a very intense brainstorming session with whatever music we had written.

Initially, there were maybe like five beginnings of song, like maybe opening phrases, things that sounded like some sort of shape that would give you an idea of where to depart from. We would develop them together, and once those had reached a certain degree of completion in those first five days, I'd take them away with a few lyrical clues that I had initially and develop the words that would give them more personality.

At the next session, we would continue developing those first thoughts and then begin a few others that probably were more inspired by that first week, you know? The first week we were kind of shooting in the dark, sort of like, "Well, I wonder if this will appeal to him, or where will the joining be made musically?" In some cases, one or the other is the dominant musical partner; in other cases, it's a straight dialogue of composition. There are two songs on the record that are wholly Burt's composition, where I'm just the lyricist, the more conventional words and music split. But that's kind of the way we developed it, and over the year, until April, we were still putting the final touches to some of the songs.

What was that initial meeting like for you? Was it daunting to bring pieces of music to the table hoping Bacharach might like them. After all, here's a man whose music you've admired most of your life, someone whose works you've covered on and off throughout your career.

Well, of course it's a little daunting. I've had this experience twice now with very notable songwriters, and it's something where you have to remind yourself that you're there because you know what you're doing as well. In the case of Paul McCartney, I was 34 or 35, and now it's 10 years later. When Burt and I first started, I'm thinking, "He doesn't want to know from the 9-year-old, the person that first fell in love with 'Magic Moments' or 'Anyone Who Had a Heart'. He wants to hear from the grown-up guy who writes his own songs and has a degree of confidence in what he is doing."

The obvious choice I had to make was whether to try and impose elements of music that lay outside of the obvious sphere of Burt's musical language and repertoire — in other words, to make more of a Frankenstein's monster out of this piece. Or whether I would be completely confident about being able to express myself in a language which was more compatible with his. To write in a way that I felt he would respond to and even in my own way borrow gestures that I think of as his, but still obviously employ them in a way that is entirely mine. In other words, there is no rock and roll on the record. I didn't see the point in it really. I think Burt's been more into R&B people than what we might call rock and roll, don't you think? I mean, people like Aretha Franklin and Chuck Jackson.

Certainly, much of his earlier music is based in R&B, songs such as "Please Stay," "I Wake Up Crying," "Baby, It's You." I used to think that's what he was — an R&B songwriter.

A very, very kind of sophisticated R&B songwriter. I think his music is tremendously influential. You hear people trying to grab a little piece of that in so many different ways. I don't know what the dialogue between Brazilian music of the early '60s and Burt's music was, whether it was a two-way street or which comes first, [Antonio Carlos] Jobim or Burt, or maybe it's two people inventing the wheel separately in two parts of the world. But you hear little resonances between those two composers. But people like [Earth, Wind & Fire producer] Charles Stepney and [songwriter] Thom Bell I think have a real debt to Burt Bacharach.

What's funny is I don't think people realize the Beatles covered him.

Yes, and what about "It's For You", that Cilla Black performed and McCartney wrote. Where did that come from? It didn't come out of thin air. It's very obviously him synthesizing something he's heard just immediately before. l think that's related to it as well.

When it was first announced that you two were working together on "God Give Me Strength," I thought something like this was appropriate and maybe even inevitable. After all, not only had you covered "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" and other of his songs, but even a song like "Alison" sounds very much like a Burt and Hal David song.

Actually, I was trying to write "Ghetto Child." Musically, I was trying to write "Ghetto Child," and I've often got a blueprint of the song. I think the thing that's important when you do use a model or a blueprint or even just straight-out kind of borrow something — it's usually good if you've got a very contradicting idea. It's no good if I had written a song with the tune of "Alison" that was called "Slum Child', or something, and it was kind of almost the same lyrical idea as well. If you are going to borrow a nuance of music, you have to just use it as a blueprint and then use it to power a completely different thought, and that's something that has been lost on some of the more shameless magpies of today.

There's no doubt that over the years I have referred to him. There's always been different little references or just tiny suggestions of his influences that would be invisible to anybody without being tipped off to it, I'm sure. It's been in the background. I won't say it's a dominant thing, but it's been an underlying thread. I was very lucky. I'm 44, and I've grown up in a very rich time of music, and particularly in the 1960s. People romanticize it very much, particularly the latter few years, but the early few years were just an amazing sound coming at you all the time with all these different events and ideas.

But if you went back and listened very meticulously to each year's output, you'd find that there's just as much rubbish in 1966 or 1967 or any of these legendary years of music as there are today. And just as many good records. It's just that we remember them more fondly 'cause it's longer ago. It's the rosy glow of nostalgia, I suppose. It's not even nostalgia. It's just a faulty memory.

A few months ago, Bacharach and I were discussing what it was like to work with you. He mentioned how initially, the process was intriguing to him, because he was working for the first time with someone who wrote music as well as lyrics.

It never occurred to me that — with the few exceptions with Carole Bayer Sager and Neil Diamond — he hadn't really gotten into this in a really big way before. And that must have been strange. It didn't really occur to me, and I don't think it occurred to [music supervisor] Karen Rachtman and [director] Alison Anders, when they invited us to work together, that it would necessarily work out being a music collaboration as well as a music-and-words collaboration. They perhaps thought I would just act as lyricist to Burt's tune. But given the very, very tight deadline we had, whoever began "God Give Me Strength" was just whoever had the first idea. Bear in mind that I was already working on contributions to Grace of My Heart. I had already written a song, so I was perhaps in the rhythm of the film a bit more than Burt.

I had read the script some time before. He was still absorbing the materials when I had presented him with the first opening statement of the song. And his response to that was so instantaneous I think we found ourselves writing as music collaborators before we had time to think about whether that was a good idea or not. I just assumed we should write as musicians also. I didn't want to be limited to just words. I would have been proud to try and do that, but I felt that there was more to be had of it by trying to push one another in different ways, and I think it took until we got into the room to really explore that properly. I'm sure he must have said something along those lines.

He talked about how that immediately appealed to him and how he learned something musically from you, as well. He also suggested that perhaps you were changed by the experience.

I think I have taken away a huge amount. With regards to working with Burt, I learned to just trust his instinct for melodic shape and not allow the words to dictate the shape of the music quite so much. [I learned to] really, really work at editing the words and sometimes sacrifice an attractive-sounding line that will never fit the music and just find other words to say the same thing and hope that, in the long run, it's more effective if it's less florid in terms of words — that it actually sits on the music better, because you haven't added a grace note at the front of the line or you haven't crammed it to the end of the bar line.

I think it is apparent in the record — isn't it? — that it's very crucial to the development of the melodies and the harmony. He's very good at saying, "Stay away from that B-flat" when we're improvising a way out of a phrase, and I'll be going up to a note. He'll say, "Don't go to a B-flat yet, you're giving it away." He's all the time trying not to give away the blow that really gets your feelings going. He's trying to delay the moment, the release of the tension that builds up in music. That's his great talent — to delay and find ways to keep you waiting for that moment, or to deliver it in an unexpected way, which is why he's had all the mastery of the uneven meter and not all symmetrical shapes."

Certainly, these lyrics are some of the most sparse you've ever written.

Yes, it was a conscious decision that we would stay in one emotional area, that we would write lost-love songs. We took the key from "God Give Me Strength" and said, "What would it be like if we tried to write an album, a whole meditation on this, where you have a lot of variety?" It's not as if — with all the ways people treat each other and all the experiences you might have had which lead you to understand these things — it's not as if you can really run out of stories to tell. It's just finding some new ways of saying things. The challenge then became saying them simply enough to where they were immediately understandable, but stay away from clichés. I hope we've stayed away from clichés and maybe we've coined a few new phrases.

That was a very definite conscious decision, and of course that caused me all kinds of problems. Burt writes very sparsely. A good example would be the bridge of "Toledo." It's so staccato. There are so few time values to put any sustaining thought on. The words have got to be very spaced out and yet they still have to be very coherent. And with me, I would have a tumble of words coming out in some songs without as much consideration of melodic shape. And the drive of the words and the drive of the rhythm would take your ear, but if somebody else were to sing it, would sound very plain. In other words, you would be motivated very much by my vocal style and lyrical idea, so there's a difference in the approach of a lyric-driven songwriter and a melodic-driven songwriter. I'm somewhere between the two now.

I'm less driven by lyrics than before. I think the music has the ability to suggest things to you if it is handled properly, and words just reinforce that feeling, and that was what I went for in some cases. I wasn't so concerned to dazzle people with my wit. Who cares? Wouldn't it be better to touch you with something, that you're feeling it before it's explained to you?

But certainly you've been headed in that direction for a while. I think of the record you made with the Brodsky Quartet as the beginning of that notion — it's lyrically dense, but driven less by the words than the music surrounding the lyrics.

It's been coming for a while. Obviously, I've experimented a lot in the early part of this decade with some very experimental ways to construct records, where the drums came on last and all these different funny combinations of instruments were combined to create all sorts of dramatic effects l thought — I hoped dramatically — sometimes successfully, sometimes chaotically, and sometimes leaving very little room for the voice. It consequently gave the impression of claustrophobia and confusion to people in a few instances.

But it is a necessary part of just finding out what you want or what you're capable of. I have no sense of apology or regret about any of those records. There are some great things on Spike and Mighty Like a Rose, and some things I can entirely understand why they bewildered people. More the kind of cumulative effect of all of them together on one album is the thing. The Brodsky Quartet record was a big surprise, because it lacked any of the sounds people were used to hearing around my voice, and some people from the classical world that came to it from the quartet playing may have found difficulty accepting the quality of my voice in that context. Even some people who knew me from pop records perhaps agree with that (laughs).

They were human stories that were just shaped unusually. They didn't have to obey consistent beats, and I learned a lot about what I could do with my voice in different contexts and how to blend with other kinds of sounds. Since then, I have worked with a number of different ensembles — Mingus Big Band, the Jazz Passengers, John Harle, and all the time singing in conjunction with all kinds of instruments. Although this record with Burt is much more of a pop record, because it does have consistent rhythm — albeit a very subtle use of rhythm most of the time — the blending of the voice with natural instruments as opposed to cacophonous, willfully distorted sounds and combining that with clear, quite sparse lyrics is a different world to a lot of things I started out with. I'm not saying it's better or that it's a new religion — it's just different. At another time I may favor the more deliberately oblique because there are great effects to be achieved with those ways to proceed. It just really depends on what you're trying to do. There are so many different ways to skin a cat, as they say.

It seems that with these two projects — first the songs written with McCartney, now this album with Bacharach — that in some ways, you're sort of the lost collaborator these guys have been missing for a while. You most often work alone, whereas these two men are best known for what they've done with partners: McCartney with Lennon, Bacharach with Hal David. Do you think you provided them with the "other half" they had been missing for a while?

Funny enough, with Burt I don't think we ever discussed motivation at all. The only time I ever heard him talk about it was the times he would illustrate a point about something with an anecdote. He's not a great one for reminiscence. I think I heard more about his musical career in the course of being interviewed together. I don't think he mentioned Dietrich but once maybe in the whole time we were working together until we were interviewed by German Rolling Stone, and then we were obliged to talk about her for 45 minutes and then really answer the questions. I don't know. That's a question you would have to ask them.

I don't get a sense that that's what I'm bringing. I don't think that there's this gaping hole in their lives that has to be filled by a collaborator any more than I feel like my life is now complete by working with them. I have written with a number of different people, some of them really, really famous songwriters. For that matter, I wrote with Carole King last year. It sounds like I'm going through my favorite songwriters. But we just met and wrote this lovely song, and we're just looking for the occasion to put it out, and it would be somewhat confusing for it to come out in the midst of me working with Burt Bacharach.

What they forget is, whether it's Paul McCartney or whether it's Steve Nieve, who I'm writing with as well, nobody's fixed in time. Although they're living in the moment now, when Burt talks about his old songs — apart from his most famous songs that are a part of his repertoire — he talks about it like...Well, for instance, if I mention a song that he's discarded, that's no longer part of his current musical scene, he sort of goes, "It's in another language, from another time. I don't even remember that!"

Is that a sentiment you're familiar with? After all, there was also a time when you, too, wouldn't perform many of the older fan favorites during concerts.

I just do it all the time, and then I go back and I find a new way of doing an old song. I have these two things going on: One is this quite grand-scale accompaniment of this album, at its peak and at the crescendo, and the second is the more intimate form of performance with Steve Nieve. We are in an ongoing collaboration, both writing and performing together, since the Attractions no longer exists. Steve and I toured for All This Useless Beauty, and we've played in Japan, in Norway, in the Dominican Republic just this year, plus we did a tour of Italian classical venues. We happened to be booked by a classical promoter, who was looking to expand beyond classical repertoire. We were put into opera houses and very beautiful halls, and the great virtue of them was that we wanted to sing songs that usually get left out of the rock set, because they are too delicate to stand that kind of dynamic.

And we were singing some nights without amplification some parts of the show. We could sing things like "O Mistress Mine" from the John Harle record, "Birds Will Still Be Singing" from The Juliet Letters, and still have "Watching the Detectives" but have it done in a kind of very bare way. It was kind of an art-song set, truthfully, but it had a lot of humor, it had a lot of heart to it, and it was closer to the mix of devices and feelings that were in The Juliet Letters and that l think is in these records with Burt. It's kind of more grown up, not just going for effect all the time, trying to dig into the songs and really interpret them. I find it much easier to do older songs that way. Since going back to the stage with Steve in that format, and of course with no agenda, we range all over the place, from 1977 to the year 2007, when we do our song cycle about Mars.

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Performing Songwriter, January / February 1999


Robert Wilonsky interviews Elvis Costello.

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