Elvis Costello could be forgiven for spending at least some of his time contemplating his legacy.
Across a career of 24 albums and nearly 25 years, the Liverpudlian iconoclast has done it all. Songwriter, performer and producer. Rock, pop, jazz, classical and country. Even a cameo in the film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It's not a stretch nay, it's closer to understatement to say that he is one of the most influential musicians of the rock era.
Although Costello would be entitled to cop an attitude, musical latitude is still what matters most to him. "I don't have a great yearning for a place in history," he says cheerfully, calling from France.
"I don't ever think like that. First, it's kind of arrogant, and second, I don't think I've had that much influence. "It's not in my nature to ponder those things. I'll be dead and it won't matter."
From his first album, My Aim Is True (1977), right up through his recent recording project with Burt Bacharach, Costello's creativity has known few boundaries.
It's nothing for him to hook up with a symphony in Stockholm one day, then to be playing to an open field in New Zealand 10 days later. "It's really satisfying to have songs that stand up to that kind of journey," he says, the sense of wonder perceptible in his voice.
He's much too busy with the journey to pause for self-flattery. "One day, maybe I'll write a memoir of my music experiences," he says.
"I wouldn't want to stop to write, 'I was born Who cares?' I don't know if writing songs qualifies you to be a writer of other things. I have a job already and it's fun to do. A biography doesn't interest me. I like the ones with a real fascination or affection for the subject, or a critical view of their work."
Most of what has been written about Costello doesn't qualify, in his estimation. That includes a just-released book by Tony Clayton-Lea, an Irish journalist who cobbled together assorted interviews for a fairly balanced treatise on the star.
"I wouldn't need to read it," Costello says of the book. They are dedicated to
the accurate version, and I don't think that one has been written. (These books) are an assignment and they're written for money. They're not written out of a feeling for what I do, or the person I am."
His work with Bacharach affords a much better glimpse of that, as he sees it. Fans can expect to hear plenty from their pairing in Costello's show with Steve Nieve, his keyboardist from the Attractions. There also are "the songs people want to hear, and others that have been overlooked for one reason or another," Costello promises.
Last year's 12-song Painted From Memory, done with a 24-piece orchestra conducted by Bacharach, continues to be a source of delight to Costello. "The shows have those songs central to the repertoire," he says.
"It's presenting them as they were written. They're perfectly suited to the piano. "One thing I like is that maybe my personality comes through more in the piano-and-voice version than in the orchestral version. Steve heightens the Costello part. I hope people don't think we're distorting the songs to make them sound more like me."
But then, sounding "more like me" has never been easily defined with Costello and he's not planning to make it any easier on us. "I have a few sounds in my head that I haven't quite realized yet," he says when asked what's left for him to accomplish.
"I've written a lot of ballads in the last few years, and the dominant aspect has been melody and harmony. The rhythmic aspect has been subtly and gently expressed."
What's ahead, he says, might be "driven more by rhythm... while still keeping the advances I've made in color, instrumentation and harmony."
Clearly, Costello takes this seriously but not so much that he didn't get a kick out of appearing in the new Austin Powers flick with Bacharach.
"When you get to guest on these things, they make a big fuss over you," he says. "They're like a holiday from your real life."