London — In less than six months and without anyone mentioning the word "hype," a fellow with the unlikely name of Elvis Costello has made the jump from total anonymity to the British Top-Twenty album charts. And, in the process, he has collected a demonstrative cult following.
In the prevailing British musical climate, where the punk phenomenon seemingly spawns new heroes overnight, Costello's success has been all the more remarkable because his music smart, snappy, good-time rock songs places him well beyond the conventions of punk. And, with his horn-rimmed glasses, business suit and slim-Jim tie, Costello resembles nothing less than a computer operator which is exactly what he was until four months ago.
Costello has achieved the unlikely feat of becoming the most talked about new performer in Britain without anyone really knowing who he is. In the best of legend-building traditions, he has managed to remain an enigma, declining to reveal his true name or talk about himself at any great length. Costello claims to have been born in London twenty-two years ago and raised in Liverpool. While playing part time in a London bluegrass band, Costello hawked a demo tape of his songs to virtually every British record company before eventually signing with the small independent label, Stiff, some nine months ago.
His first single, "Less Than Zero," was released in April and won critical plaudits but few sales. However, with the release of Costello's debut album, My Aim Is True, Stiff began to put some promotional muscle behind him: Costello himself celebrated the album's release by being arrested after playing an impromptu set outside the London Hilton Hotel for CBS Record executives gathered for the label's annual convention. Two weeks later, at Costello's third-ever London club appearance, more than a thousand fans were turned away.
Costello, who sounds like a sweet Bruce Springsteen, says his musical idols are George Jones and Gram Parsons and claims that the main motivations behind his songs are revenge and guilt. "Those are the only emotions I know about and that I know I can feel," he says. "Love? I dunno what it means, really, and it doesn't exist in my songs.