Prince George Citizen, March 20, 1989

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Prince George Citizen

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Elvis Costello digs in to the serious stuff

Mark Bastien

His made-up moniker conjures up all that is kitschy and kooky in American pop culture, but singer Elvis Costello is anything but light-hearted and zany when he talks about his music.

Instead, he's serious.

So serious.

Serious enough to believe that no singer-songwriter with anything even mildly provocative to say has broken into the pop music world since he did in 1977 with his debut album My Aim is True.

Serious enough to lash out at anyone who suggests his music — especially on his wildly diverse new album, Spike — is eclectic, political or remotely autobiographical.

And serious enough to warrant a name change to something more, well, SERIOUS.

So just for fun, let's rename the British singer Garbo Bergman for a few minutes and listen to him explain in winning Swedish-art-film-angst style exactly what's wrong with the music business and the world.

For added ironic pleasure, let's keep in mind what Bergman looks like as he sulkily answers a reporter's questions: he's wearing his trademark oversize black-rimmed spectacles, a lawn-green shirt sprouting red blossoms, a glittery bolo tie, a tent-like black sports jacket and black pants.

His socks are dotted with tiny guitars and his black shoes look built for kicking.

A serious look for a serious man.

Mr. Bergman, you write so many different types of songs and yet you don't like your music to be described as eclectic. Why?

"It's the easiest review in the world to say my album is eclectic. You can fill out the rest of it with a thumbnail sketch of who I'm supposed to be and a little bit of amateur psychoanalysis as to why I keep changing my name and you've got the damned article. We don't even need to do the interview."

How would you rather your music be described? After all, on Spike you have gritty rock tunes like "Let Him Dangle," boppy ditties like "Veronica" and even a music hall song such as "God's Comic."

"Why does music have to be categorized? Categories are really just a convenience, don't you think, so you don't go into a shop and accidentally buy a Barry Manilow album because you found him in the hard-core bin."

But Mr. Bergman, haven't you often categorized yourself by assuming such weird personas as Napoleon Dynamite, The Imposter and even your real self, Declan McManus, over the years?

"I know why I use different aliases from time to time. They're quite obviously to me theatrical devices to present different parts of the work in a slightly different light."

You mean like on your last concert-parodying concert tour when you played a game-show host. But that doesn't help explain who Elvis Costello is.

"Well, it's a brand name, isn't it? I really can't answer these questions, they don't make sense to me. You're concentrating on the wrong thing."

But you don't want to talk about your music or your image, Mr. Bergman, which makes interviewing you difficult. And you don't seem to have much regard for other musicians or music critics.

"Critics don't know anything. (They) have to listen to the good, bad and indifferent. Some of the cynicism and neuroses that build up in critics is due to too much exposure to bad music. It's like some records should come with health warnings on them."

Or explanations about the content. Because your Almost Blue album was country while Blood and Chocolate was vicious rock. And although you've said you don't write them, Spike includes some political songs.

"What songs are political? Which ones?"

Well, in "Tramp the Dirt Down" you say England is the world's whore and Margaret is its madam. As in Thatcher. That's political, isn't it?


And in "God's Comic" the Almighty drinks cola, sleeps on a waterbed and wonders if he should have given the world to monkeys rather than humans.


Well, Mr. Bergman, I'll try something else. You're 34 now. Are there any young musicians out there ready to shake up the music world as you did a dozen years ago?

"The likelihood of a 17-year-old turning the music biz on its head just by his brilliance is really very remote now, because I just don't think he would get through. A really, really original person would get shown the door."

That wasn't your experience.

"Yes it was."

But you came through anyway.

"That's because I'm tougher than the rest."

Who's to say there aren't other tough young musicians out there?

"Well, where are they then? I'm still waiting for them to arrive. There haven't been any for a while. Just me. I mean, I haven't really come through, have I? I didn't change anything."

What did you do?

"Nothing. I just exist in contrast to the mainstream."


Prince George Citizen, March 20, 1989

Mark Bastien interviews Elvis Costello


1989-03-20 Prince George Citizen page 11 clipping 01.jpg

1989-03-20 Prince George Citizen photo 01.jpg

1989-03-20 Prince George Citizen page 11.jpg
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