Q, June 1996

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Elvis Costello questionnaire


Tom Doyle

We can do this the hard way, or we can do it the easy way. Then again, we can do it the Q way: 25 questions guaranteed to lift the lid, spill the beans and generally blow the whole case wide open. So, let's be having this month's suspect.

How the devil are you?

I'm a ball of fire.

What was the first gig you went to?

Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates and Cilla Black at the Kingston Granada in 1963. I liked Cilla, she was actually very good. I can remember everyone booing Johnny Kidd & The Pirates because it was a NEMS package and they were kind of old-fashioned. Then Billy J. Kramer walked on, sang "You'll never know how much I really love you..." and all the girls went, Waaaaaah! You never heard another note after that, it was just screaming.

If you weren't a rock 'n' roll star what would you be?

Probably a gardener. I'm not particularly green fingered, but I could learn. Either that or a lion tamer.

What is your most treasured material possession?

I have lots of records and nice guitars and a nice house, but to say they're treasured is like asking for something bad to happen to them. If you're asking what I value the most, it's my hearing. Probably my senses generally.

What's the worst record you've ever made?

Without doubt, "Party Party." Fucking terrible. It's conspicuous by its absence from all of my reissues.

When did you last cry and why?

Watching Rex Harrison sing "I've Grown Accustomed To Your Face" in My Fair Lady. It gets me every time and I don't know why. I don't think it's even the story, I think it's actually the music. The changes seem to have a very strange effect on me.

What's your poison?

I don't really have any vices. I drink sometimes and it's a poison or a pleasure, depending on the day and the amount.

Who was the last person you punched?

I can't remember. I've probably felt like punching someone at some traffic light somewhere. I get angry quite quickly, but I try to avoid hitting people.

What characteristics do you think you've inherited from your parents?

My love of the gramophone. And a big nose. There's a face in my family that's very strong, and I suppose there's a temperamental streak I've inherited to a certain degree. But I mean. love of the gramophone is pretty good — my background in music is completely from my parents. Certain things like being stubborn. but I suppose also being imaginative, if that's the right word font. Having a sense of fantasy.

What's in your pockets right now?

My keys and my money. I always carry a few thousand around in unmarked bills and different currencies.

What is the last record you bought?

I bought about 80 records when I was in America last week because they have a lot of things that are harder to get over here. I bought a lot of things on impulse — a couple of Mingus records that I didn't have and lots of other stuff I can't remember.

Do you like reggae?

Yeah. particular kinds of it I do. When I went to teenage parties, the records were always Motown Chartbusters Volume 3 and the Tighten Up compilation. I also got into the early dub records that were around in the late '70s. I haven't really paid much attention to ragga. I like some of the more pop end of it, but I wouldn't pretend to know anything about the rest. Some of what's being said in it I understand I probably wouldn't dig.

What are you most likely to complain about in a hotel?

I don't like hotel rooms if they're too hot and you can't ventilate them, so if it was unbearable, I would complain about that. On tour, you're trying to do your job, and so you expect the service you pay for. I don't like places that pretend that they offer more than they're actually prepared to offer Particularly when they're pompous with it, I hate it when the jacuzzi's too cold...

What's your culinary specialty?

I don't really have one, except that I'm quite good at being able to throw the odds and ends in the cupboard into a pot and turn it into something. It's really great about 75 per cent of the time — you just want to watch out for the 25 per cent of the time it goes wrong. I'm a bit heavy-handed sometimes with the spice.

Pick five words to describe yourself.

My state of mind is well summed-up by a line from one of the songs on the new record: "Lost dog pondering a signpost." That's five words.

Have you ever been arrested?

Yeah. I managed to secure the attention of the US executives of Columbia Records who were over for a convention by busking outside the Park Lane Hilton, but I was arrested in the process. We planned it as a stunt, there were people with placards and stuff, so they thought it was a demonstration and turned up with three squad cars. I think they were pissed off by the amount of people it took to arrest me because I just kept playing. They didn't put me in the cells, but they took away my belt and my tie in preparation for it, just in case I hung myself in shame. I said. You can't arrest me, I've got to play Dingwall's tonight, and one of them said, Not if we keep you in. sonny.

Happiness is...

a big kiss and a bag of rubbish.

What's the punchline to your favourite joke?

"Give us a song, Roy"

What is your greatest fear?

A sudden and foolish death. Like being run down by a golf kart.

What is your most unpleasant characteristic?

I forgive nothing. And I'm a liar.

What is the greatest film ever made?

All About Eve. Dr Strangelove. There are a lot.

Can you recite a line of poetry?

No. I can't remember poetry, though I can remember songs. Someone once asked me for the most profound line from a song and I said. "Use your mentality / Wake up to reality". They said, Who's that by? Some punk singer? and I said, No, it's Cole Porter.

What music would you have played at your funeral?

"Everything Happens To Me" followed by "Happy Days Are Here Again".

What turns you on?

A switch on the back of my neck.

Where are you off to now?

I'm going to Wembley to finish a record and then after that, of course, to the moon.

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Q, No. 117, June 1996


Tom Doyle interviews Elvis Costello.


John Aizlewood reviews All This Useless Beauty.

Images

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Page scan and clipping.


Lonesome

Elvis Costello / All This Useless Beauty

John Aizlewood

After the hits, it's time for Elvis Costello's collection of moments.

Surely, it was "The Other Side Of Summer" that did it. A bright, brassy song, helped along by an extravagant video which seemingly (perhaps with irony, perhaps not) aspired to make Elvis Costello sexy It reached Number 43 in 1991 and since then he's given up on what, from the outside, still seems to be his vocation as a rock star, settling instead for talent-diluting dilettantism (organising silly festivals on the South Bank; a middling collaboration with Bill Frisell; the still-tremendous The Juliet Letters; and Kojak Variety which would have been a career nadir for Joe Longthorne. let alone one who once covered "Don't Let Me Misunderstood" with such elan). Today, Elvis Costello could co-write a single with Ian Broudie and Noel Gallagher, get Jim Steinman in as producer and hire Enya on backing vocals. It still wouldn't get past 27 on the charts.

Once a new Elvis Costello album was A Big Thing. Today it's just another Elvis Costello album. Perhaps, in the face of increasing apathy, he's given up on proper new albums completely. All This Useless Beauty. newly recorded with an uncredited Attractions (currently Tasmin Archer's backing band, so low have they sunk) comprises three new songs and nine other Costello originals once offered to (and usually — if stupidly — rejected by) other artists. It has all the thematic cohesion of an edition of The Girlie Show but in spite of everything, it's Costello's most satisfying work since King Of America.

This lack of unity and flow means All This Useless Beauty is a collection of moments, flung together seemingly ad hoc, but what moments they can sometimes be. There isn't a bad song here: "Why Can't A Man Stand Alone" (not recorded by Sam Moore, the fool) climaxes magnificently in a swathe of backing vocals, with Costello remembering that sneering isn't everything for the first time since "I Want You"; "You Bowed Down" (from Roger McGuinn's splendid comeback and farewell album, Back From Rio) apes The Byrds' high lonesome sound more accurately and with a sharper wit than Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty could manage in a month of Rickenbacker workshops; the brand new "Little Atoms" feels like "Green Shirt"'s baby brother and, for once, Costello doesn't sound defeated as he snarls "There's still some pretty insults left"; and why on earth Johnny Cash never bothered to record the brooding "Complicated Shadows" ("Take the law into your own hands and you will soon get tired of killing") is something only his doctors must know.

Ultimately, though, All This Useless Beauty is the musical equivalent of poor people going to The Algarve for a fortnight: when they get home, there's still a lot of mundane bills outstanding. It's a fine record, dandy even, but ifs a long long time since "Oliver's Army."

★★★★



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Photo by Ken Sharp.


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Photo by .


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Cover and contents page.

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