Friday, January 8, 2016

"Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink" by Elvis Costello

The first Elvis Costello song I remember hearing wasn't even sung by Elvis -- it was a cover of "Alison" by way of Linda Ronstadt, from her 1978 "Living in the USA" album. (She also covered "Party Girl" on 1980's "Mad Love.")  

I liked what I heard enough to eventually check out the originals, by which time I had also been exposed to "Pump it Up" and "What's so Funny 'bout Peace, Love & Understanding?" on video and at university parties.  Eventually, I owned several of Elvis's early albums.

In more recent years, I loved watching "Spectacle," the television show where he interviews and sings with all manner of musical guests. (Clips & some full shows can be found on YouTube and elsewhere online.) And of course, he's married to jazz pianist Diana Krall and now lives most of the year in Vancouver, which makes him an honorary Canadian of sorts. ;) 

All this by way of preamble to explain that I'm a longtime fan, and snapped up his new memoir, "Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink," the moment I saw it in the bookstore (fortunately, it was on sale).

I loved it, and I think you will too -- especially if you're already a fan of Elvis's, of music generally, and/or of great writing, with a strong dose of self-deprecating British/Beatlesque humour. ;)  (He has roots in Liverpool and spent part of his growing up years in nearby Birkenhead.)  It's not perfect -- it's a long read (almost 700 pages!) & the narrative does ramble, going back & forth in time. Song lyrics are quoted at length, although sometimes I wasn't sure whether they were Elvis's or someone else's.  It's all a tad self-indulgent, perhaps -- but you forgive the guy (at least, I did), because he's such a great writer and storyteller. There are some stories he refrains from telling or glosses over -- for example, I can't remember if he even names Wife #2? -- Cait O'Riordan of the Pogues -- and while it lasted 16 years (!), he says very little about that marriage, although we gather that it was not a happy time in his life, particularly toward the end. 

While I was familiar with Elvis & his music, particularly the early stuff, there was a lot I didn't know about him personally.  His dad, Ross MacManus, was a versatile big band singer who also recorded knock-off covers of current hits. He even played a Royal Command performance on the same bill with a hot new band called the Beatles (the very same show where John Lennon infamously instructed the audience, "Those of you in the cheaper seats, clap your hands... the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry..."). His grandfather, Patrick MacManus, played in an orchestra aboard ships for the White Star line.

So music is clearly in Elvis's bones & blood:  he's a walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge and appreciation that spans genres and decades. Beyond the stuff we're all familiar with, he's recorded country, soul and jazz music, scored films and plays, and collaborated with everyone from Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach to Loretta Lynn and Allen Toussaint. Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash, George Jones, Levon Helm, Joni Mitchell, Tony Bennett, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan are just a few of the other musicians who make memorable appearances in the pages of this book.  Reading it was a great way to spend Christmas holidays & start off the new year. :)

I'll leave you with one more Elvis video -- appropriately for this post, "Every Day I Write the Book."  This song & video came out in 1983, when everyone still believed in royal fairy tales & happily ever afters... in retrospect, it's kind of eerie to watch (what did he see back then that we didn't?) & sad, in light of how everything turned out...

This is book #1 to kick off my 2016 reading. :) 

1 comment:

  1. I am a massive (well, I was) Elvis fan. And up until a few years ago, I went to every concert I could and bought every album as it came out. But once he became a vocal proponent of the BDS movement, I could no longer support his art. It breaks my heart because I love his music so much. But we no longer listen to it.