The Word, November 2010

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The Word


Elvis Costello

Tirelessly prolific music machine, woodcut enthusiast,
library dodger, eternally beloved entertainer

Kate Mossman


Truthfully, I don't read much. I don't have the lifestyle to concentrate on great works of literature. People don't believe me when I say that and they think it's an affectation. The two books I've chosen are both pictorial. The first is called The Wonderful World Of Albert Kahn, which is a compendium of colour plates commissioned by this man, Khan, a French industrialist. In 1908 he set out with his chauffeur — I love that part of it, his chauffeur — to take colour frames, which was then a very new process. He went on to try and make a kind of inventory of mankind. He had connections in China and Japan, all over the world; he took pictures of French soldiers at leisure behind the lines; he sent a woman to the west of Ireland and photographed people in the Arens, a way of life that has completely disappeared. He also put a camera on the Champs-Elysees and took pictures of people just walking around — the idea of not posing for a photo was completely new. These pictures are really shocking — they're from a time when you don't expect colours to be revealed, except in paintings. The shades of people's clothes are so much more extreme than you'd imagine.

The other book is a collection of graphic novels made in woodcuts in the 1930s by a man called Lynd Ward. It's called Vertigo — three stories interlocking, set in 1937 in the Great Depression, about the lives and fates of a young girl, an industrialist and a young boy. Ward was very much of the left of that time; you might say his books are social and spiritual comment and he has a lot in common with other kinds of pictorial storytelling like William Blake. The beauty of the individual woodcuts is such that tiny details continue to reveal themselves every time you look.


At the moment I really like "I Like My Mice (Dead)" by Mildred, a single on Third Man Records. I still like the idea of singles, when you just have that one record and that's as far as it goes. Mildred is a person, it would appear from the picture on the cover, and that's all I know. Jack White produced it; it sounds immediate and it sounds beautiful. I love Mildred. I also love the album En Couleurs by a group called Feufollet — the track I like in particular is "Au Fond Du Lac." They're from, I believe, Abbeville, Louisiana; I met a couple of them at a show this spring when I was playing Jazz Fest in New Orleans. There's quite a lot of traditional music down there — Cajun music — but what's interesting is they're young kids, so they've got a sense of the tradition but they've also got their own ideas. This sounds like a new kind of rock and roll. They sing everything in French — great melodies, three singers, accordion and everything-but there's also electric guitar. There's an artistry to it that enables them to step out from time and place and tradition. It's one of the most beautifully melodic records I've heard all year.


I really love A Canterbury Tale by Powell and Pressburger. It's a wartime film about a group of people who end up on a pilgrimage to Canterbury — a very, very loose connection to the Chaucer. It's a parable about loyalty and place, with Dennis Price in it and a number of other actors who were in all Powell's films. I love all their stuff — this one's in black and white, so it isn't as psychedelic as The Red Shoes or Colonel Blimp. In the story these soldiers are passing through an English town and there's this mystery crime going on — there's a man called The Glue Man who's putting glue in girls' hair during the blackouts, apparently to punish them for fraternising with soldiers. There's another really bizarre film I love too, called Color Me Kubrick, which I saw by accident one day, and I still can't make up my mind whether it's brilliant or awful. It's about a conman, I think it's a true story, who passes himself off as Stanley Kubrick — John Malkovich plays him. Because Kubrick was so reclusive not many people knew him personally, so this guy was able to ingratiate himself with various desperate show business types. There's some hilarious scenes, not least — and this is the most bizarre, I watched it like "this isn't really happening" — when they go to a very camp and ornate party at a singer's house and the singer comes down the stairs serenading his guests in a white suit, this outrageously camp character... and when the camera closes in, it's Jim Davidson! I have, to say the least, never been a fan. Perhaps there had been some sudden bolt of self-awareness about some of the homophobic lines he has uttered in his career, but I really couldn't have been more surprised if he'd come down the stairs in blackface. He's not playing it for laughs, either — he's playing it with real vulnerability.


The Word, No. 93, November 2010

Kate Mossman asks EC about recently read books, new music, and films watched.

Also includes a review of National Ransom.


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Page scan.

Elvis Costello

National Ransom HEAR MUSIC

Kate Mossman

Like Robert Plant, Costello has a musicologist's love of Americana and the pick of Nashville at his fingertips. He is also, as the Tony Millionaire cover art of National Ransom and the Word of Mouth on page 40 would suggest, heavily into old-fashioned US counterculture. Put that all together and you get a colourful comic strip of a record full of rock and roll, music hall and storytelling - see the doleful hobo lament Jimmie Standing In The Rain or the beautiful Bullets For The Newborn King. Costello's energy, and his dramatic way with a rhyme, are far better suited to this theatrical music than the classical lines of The Brodsky Quartet or the strict rules of bluegrass he experimented with last year.

page 88
Page scan.

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Cover and contents page.


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