Would you pay $8.95 for a good Elvis Costello discography and a bunch of photographs? If so, you won't mind that Elvis Costello also comes with a text that almost makes one doubt the irony in its subtitle: A Completely False Biography Based on Rumor, Innuendo and Lies.
Any Costello "biography" has to be something of a joke, of course; the singer is infuriatingly successful at eluding public scrutiny. Even journalists stymied in their interview attempts have to admire how Costello generally dictates to the media rather than vice versa. There have been landmark concessions here and there, and Krista Reese doesn't seem to have missed any in her acknowledgments (actually a bibliography, and Elvis Costello's only other valid contribution). Too bad, then, that she has produced such an overpowering compendium of misinformation, inanities, muddleheaded thinking and downright bad writing.
Open this book to any page and revel in its glories. "The Bay City Rollers play[ed] to the United States's [sic] disco craze" (from a chapter on the rise of new wave — gotta pad a Costello bio with something); "KSAN, the area's leading radio station, interviewed him, and Costello told him his name really was Elvis"; Rolling Stone is "the major American mag"; the Brixton race riots were "a sign of things to come unless Britain accepted the ancestors of the conquered lands of the Empire as the native-born English citizens they were." The force of such observations is cumulative. Elvis Costello must be read to be disbelieved.
When she isn't getting her years wrong, misattributing songs from one Costello album to another or spelling Malcolm McLaren's name two different ways, Reese does sneak in facts taken from other people's articles. Her only flesh-and-blood contact appears to be Jo Marshall, a New York singer with hazy recollections of catching Costello's interest, being flown to London and then dumped unceremoniously.
Reese is obviously a dedicated fan, and there certainly hasn't been a prior Costello biography. This volume, though, raises the question of a publisher's responsibility to the public. What Reese presumes the reader already knows obviates the need for her book. A letter from Costello's manager Jake Riviera (reproduced as an introduction, and the only wit between the covers) states he "will do everything in my power to prevent you from writing a book about Elvis Costello." For once, our sympathies are with Jake.