Phonographic Memory

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"We have come not so much to a fork in the road
As a fork on the plate
Scraping the last lick off the gravy train of history"
There was nervous laughter from the dais
That rolled outwards through the crowd
On a breeze that rustled flags and banners
It was the voice of Orson Welles
His baritone coming to us over decades of dead silence
Through a metallic tannoy
Each word meticulously tape spliced
From various soundtracks and radio broadcasts
In the Library of Congress
It wowed the crowd
Before it fluttered and faltered
As the powder of lost oxide
Caused a catch in his voice
Just as the spool ran out
Curiously, the simulated address
Seemed to be delivered in the same strange stage-Irish accent
That Welles had possibly purloined from the actor Micheál Mac Liammóir
When he had bluffed his way on to the Dublin stage as a teenager
Now it was just one in a queue of immigrant inflections
That might have taken the day
It was also the voice that Orson had used in "Lady From Shanghai"
You know, the one with the shootout amidst the shattered reflections of funhouse mirrors
Few remembered that motion picture now
One man in the third row remarked to his wife
That he seemed to remember this voice selling him sweet sherry in his youth
But there were many in the crowd who knew nothing of this Citizen
And the Kane he had once raised
Back when the worst one could imagine was an invasion from another sphere
After the peace was negotiated
And the Internet switched off
Knowledge returned to its mediaeval cloister
In this and that illuminated volume
The jealous possession of the pious and the superstitious
Who might have once again wielded ignorance like a scythe
There were but dimly remembered facsimiles
After many of the public libraries had been torched
Untouched books now went for the price of a Vuitton handbag
Ever since the US Mint was sucked dry and spat out
Bookworms paid for rare tomes with wheelbarrows full of bank notes
Some of them worthless Confederate money
Stashed in plinths in various toppled statues
None of it helped the healing
Yet in the absence of a noble woman
Or a statesman equal to the task
A tireless engineer had magically assembled random words of Welles' oration
Into a speech worthy of the occasion
From the depths of the National Archive
President Swift gave a slight shy smile of pearl and pillarbox red
And began to sing a plainsong of her acceptance

Phonographic Memory
Written byElvis Costello
Performed byElvis Costello
Produced byElvis Costello
MusiciansElvis Costello - speech & guitar
ReleasedAugust 28, 2020 (download/stream)
October 30, 2020 (CD)
AlbumsHey Clockface (Japan CD bonus track), 2020
SinglesWe Are All Cowards Now (digital b-side), 2020
Length4:05

First known performance:
     (0 known performances)


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“[It] is a very strange story about a presidential inauguration some time in the future, after a civil war, in which the internet has been switched off and all the books have been burnt or locked in a university. And they can’t find anybody sufficiently dignified to give the inauguration speech, so they send an engineer into the national archive to chop up words from soundtracks and spoken word pieces by Orson Welles because he sounds serious. When he’s speaking his voice sounded very like, ‘Pay attention’.

So somebody writes the speech, but they can’t find anybody dignified enough to say it. So they cut together individual words and this sort of mechanical assembly of words gives the speech, announcing the inauguration of a new president. Who is a young woman who sings this song, called President Swift. So I’ll leave it to you to decide who that is. But a fanciful idea, you can imagine the times we’re living in. It sort of came to me in a moment and I thought I should write it down. That was enjoyable to do you know, because that one is sort of the a shaggy dog story.”
Rolling Stone Australia, October 30, 2020

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Hey ClockfaceHey Clockface album cover.jpg


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