There's a 29-year-old former meter reader and current supervisor of the Washington Gas Light Co on the end of the long-distance telephone call.
Michael O'Malley, of Germantown, Maryland, is a self-confessed Elvis Costello fanatic. He even looks like his idol. Since 1977 he has collected 174 Costello singles and about 50 albums, many of which are rare pressings.
For the past six months he has flooded Costello's record company in Sydney, WEA, with letters asking for and receiving Australian-cut singles of Elvis Costello. He wants to know if "From a Whisper to a Scream" was ever released in Australia.
He has just paid $50 for a Spanish promotional copy of that single. Last year he paid $80 — a discounted price as the same record was being sold in the US for $200 — for a rare pressing of "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down."
Michael O'Malley has Elvis Costello memorabilia from 21 countries. His rarest acquisition is a cassette-tape album of Get Happy, from Zambia. Africa.
At the beginning of 1977 Elvis Costello, a 22-year-old computer operator from Hounslow, was an unknown with nothing going for him except suburban Buddy Holly looks. At the end of 1977 the Observer magazine in London was writing about a "superstar."
At the end of 1978 he toured Australia. After a short show at the Regent Theatre and a refusal to come back on to the stage for an encore, the audience of 2,100 ripped out scats and hurled them on to the stage, together with cans and broken chairs.
He is about to tour Australia again. He will arrive in Perth next week and will give two concerts at Sydney's Capitol Theatre on June 1 and 2. One can only hope he will perform for more than 50 minutes.
"He is a lot more friendly than he used to he," Michael O'Malley declared. But he has not been friendly enough either to have phone interviews before he arrives or press interviews when he arrives. The last time he consented to an interview was 15 months ago, for the Observer. Before that he had refused all interviews for two years.
When he was last here, the press seemed confused as to his category. The afternoon papers called him a punk rocker, Another paper called him "Britain's angry young man of rock." The Herald referred to him as a British singer.
He was, in fact, the consummate New Wave artist. Now he is something else. Always with a predilection for country music, he confounded his fans last year when he released Almost Blue, an album of exquisitely wrought country music, recorded at Nashville. Tennessee.
To coincide with his Australian tour, WEA is about to release Almost New, a collection of not so new Elvis songs, including "Accidents Will Happen," "Pump It Up" and "I'm Your Toy."
Elvis Costello still wears heavy-rimmed spectacles. He still favours functional drainpipe suits of the low-budget, ill-fitting variety and swept back hair of bodgie persuasion. He has put on weight.
Elvis Costello was moulded by the hatchet man of British music, Jake Riviera (real name Andrew Jackman). Riviera had less success moulding Wreckless Eric but more success as manager to Ian Dury.
Riviera changed Costello's name to Elvis and like a Colonel Parker to a less handsome Elvis, developed Costello into star material and handled his finances.
Costello, who has admitted to being "a weed with glasses." became entranced with rock and roll with the first record he ever owned, "Please Please Me" by The Beatles. Since then he has written more than 400 songs, including the definitive 1970s rock hit, "Watching the Detectives," and the extraordinary "Red Shoes," composed in 10 minutes on the train between Lime Street and Runcorn.
At that time his music stood, like much of the British New Wave, for a return to simplicity and accessibility. Costello helped to blow away much of the complacency and respectability which had transfixed music in the 1970s.
"With any collection, just having all those songs is not enough," Michael O'Malley said. "You want to get as many as you can from different countries, and the rarer the record the more satisfying it is."