From those devoted to nervous, modern rock to lovers of sweeping, classical-infused melodies, from lyricists to critics, hipsters, and Gen X fans who caught the buzz in the days of “Watching the Detectives” and “Alison,” Elvis Costello has found many audiences. He has always had a lot to say. This year he’s written a lot of it down in an autobiography, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink (Blue Rider Press/Penguin Random House, 2015). I am a longtime fan of Elvis Costello, but based on the strength of the prolific career of the artist alone, this book would make a great gift for those into his work specifically, or into literate rock and its permutations, in general.
Catching Up with Elvis Costello
Costello’s first album release, My Aim Is True (1977), got attention out of the gate. It was edgy and angry, with a clever approach to words mixing with a sound that appealed to punk and new wave sensibilities. His fame got a big boost when on December 17, 1977 he and his band, The Attractions, were scheduled to perform the single, “Less Than Zero,” on Saturday Night Live. Costello stopped the music and instead they launched into “Radio, Radio,” then forthcoming from This Year’s Model (1978). The song was deeply critical of the broadcast and entertainment industry, and he’d been told by the SNL executives not to play it. The stunt got him banned from the show for over a decade, and galvanized a new, eager audience.
The ways in which the creative capabilities and the career of Elvis Costello have expanded since the angry young man days is profound. There is the upbeat, soul-infused Get Happy!! (1980). There is the intricate, expansive songwriting and storytelling of Imperial Bedroom (1982) and Blood & Chocolate (1986). He’s recorded with The Brodsky String Quartet (The Juliet Letters, 1993), and collaborated with Burt Bacharach (Painted from Memory, 1998), as well as with the late Allen Toussaint (The River In Reverse, 2006). There has been radio airplay with hits including “Pump it Up,” “Everyday I Write the Book,” and “Veronica.” These credits only scratch the surface, and the Unfaithful Music autobiography tells the stories behind making the music and the legendary artists he’s admired, worked with, and sometimes clashed with along the way.
Getting to Know Declan MacManus
Elvis Costello hails from London and was born Declan Patrick MacManus. He was inspired by his father, jazz trumpeter and singer Ross MacManus, and formed his first band while living with his Liverpool-born mother, Lilian Alda Ablett, in 1971. He remembers childhood fondly and shows a deep interest in his heritage, while outlining the beginnings of his career starting from the British pub rock scene. He keeps tales of his former marriage to Cait O’Riordan of The Pogues to a minimum, but shares more willingly about his relationship with jazz singer Diana Krall, to whom he’s been married since 2003.
For those who are not yet familiar with the work of Elvis Costello, have only caught small cross-sections of his catalogue, or who would just appreciate the sonic backdrop while reading about EC’s trials and tribulations, Unfaithful Music & Soundtrack Album is a perfect companion piece to the memoir. It spans from a live version of early song, “Accidents Will Happen,” to “Wise Up Ghost” by Elvis Costello and The Roots (2013). There are two unreleased tracks, “I Can’t Turn It Off” and “April 5th,” performed with Roseanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson. So if you’ve got music lovers on your shopping list or want to introduce loved ones to one of rock’s most brilliant songwriters who’s undoubtedly got many stories to tell, consider giving the gift of Elvis with Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.
A freelance writer and performing songwriter, Robin Renee‘s work has appeared in many publications including PanGaia, Blessed Bi Spirit, Big Hammer #12, The New York Quarterly, Songwriter’s Market, and That Takes Ovaries – Bold Females and their Brazen Acts (Random House). Her recordings include In Progress, All Six Senses, Live Devotion, spirit.rocks.sexy, and This. She is one of the co-hosts of the Audacious Eleven podcast, part of the Biff Bam Pop! Podcast Network.