Public Enemy, December 1978

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Public Enemy



Elvis Costello

Pop artist or public enemy?

Mike Hammered

Elvis Costello: real name, Declan McManus, also went by several aliases before settling upon current identity. Age 22. Married, one child. Medium height, slight build. Identifying features: dark, close cropped hair, wears non-descript, apparently thrift store clothes — second hand suits, narrow ties etc. Outstanding features: large, black framed glasses, large electric guitar.

Background: Father a band leader in 40s and 50s. Irish stock.

Previous occupation: computer operator for Elizabeth Arden.

Current occupation: musician.

I glanced up from Costello's meagre file and stared at the calendar hanging lopsidedly on my wall. I'd circled November 17th, the day Costello was due to hit town, to play something called the Concert Bowl at the Coliseum. Not much time to crack this thing. Was Costello as pernicious as his detractors claimed, was he a threat, a public enemy? Or, and here I was basing my postulation upon the evidence that he was playing a hockey rink. domain of big time rock and roll stars, was he really an emerging pop hero masquerading as an evil little man?

The term "new wave" kept coming to mind. Better than punk, I thought, or was it? Punks wear safety pins, encourage anarchy, are suffering from an overabundance of inarticulate, unfocused, rabid frenzy. Or so said the reports my clipping service had sent me. (I made a mental note to send them a cheque as soon as my fee for the Boston/Foreigner case came through; it was merely routine but even less interesting). New Wave seemed to have more appeal. It suggested artistic credibility and seemed far less menacing; the music was more intricate, thought through, and it definitely drew upon more influences than punk which was an angry reaction from the heart more than a collaboration with the head. New wave and punk still seemed to operate together and seemed a product of many young and a few old who were rebellious to the status quo. Just when we thought we had complete control, there's always this disruptive element. I decided to let the problem of either squashing the movement or co-opting it be decided by the higher ups in the industry, and got to the matter at hand.

Costello's albums bad lots to recommend them, I remembered, but I had to be amused by the way everyone at CBC Records seemed intent on promoting him as basically a huggable eccentric; don't take his venom seriously, they said, he doesn't really mean it. They also seemed to keep their distance and not venture anything that might upset him or especially his hired protection, Jake Rivera. Maybe there was more bite there than they were willing to say. Of course, the label wanted to sell records which meant soft peddling Costello's to the controlling interests in radio who were intimidated by these new wave toughs because passive research obviously would have shown that the blank generation would have drawn a blank with the electric blanket generation. And yet the new wave kept on demanding attention. They at CBS played up Costello's resemblance to Buddy Holly — in fashion this year, I observed — and the tender (ironically tender), melodic side of his music. Buddy Holly was also marketed in a similar way; but the music held up. Would Costello's?

I put on the second album, This Year's Model, and noted that it sounded nothing like Buddy [lolly; wonder what Costello thinks of that line of bullshit.

It all came down to what he really wanted to settle for, I guessed. Signing to CBS could have been a marriage of convenience; a quick way to the top. He obviously wanted whatever both corporate power and new wave credibility could offer. Ultimately the songs were his strongest weapon; without them there was no threat whatsoever.

"No Action" spoke of this new generation's restlessness; "You Belong To Me's" rolling organ convinced me that he was drawing from a considerable pool of musical resources and references that he understood intuitively. "Lip Service," "Lipstick Vogue" "This Year's Girl" uttered his disdain for society in general, something I felt strongly after listening to the first lp, My Aim Is True. I recognized that here was a man who was singing and writing of things that matter and things that had substance. He was also capable of speaking directly, provocatively, intensely. This made him different more than a mere malcontent and damn, if the songs weren't really catchy. Perhaps, this is what made him so sinister; the fact that he made music that made you think and in a way that stuck in the brain. His popularity is growing; he has captured the imagination of a society slowly being prodded into action.

Indoctrination. Of course! A trick, but whose trick? Whose strategy? For what purpose? And if Costello came first, how many more would follow, and how radical would their message be, and where would it end?

Shuddering, I put down the lp covers and the Costello file, and fixed my glare again on the calendar. November 17th. I would be there at the Concert Bowl. This had to be investigated; put down if necessary. Pop artist or public enemy, Elvis Costello was one or the other but he couldn't be both. I needed to know more...


Public Enemy, No. 1, December 1978

Mike Hammered profiles Elvis Costello ahead of his concert, Friday, November 17, 1978, Pacific Coliseum Concert Bowl, Vancouver, BC.


1978-12-00 Public Enemy page 04.jpg
Page scan.

1978-12-00 Public Enemy cover.jpg


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