Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book Report: Love it All

"What are standards?"

That's one question - of many, many posed - raised by Mr. Elvis Costello (seen above looking roguish, which is usual, and almost cheerful, which seems to be a little less so) in his remarkable memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.  It's kind of a must-read, it turns out, if you have any interest at all in (in no particular order) music history, pop culture, New Wave, British music halls and variety, drinking, bad behavior, or funny stories about June Carter Cash.

Since these are all just about my favorite things, I'm hooked.

Costello is encyclopedically knowledgeable about all things musical, and he writes about music (his own and others') - as he does his own life, the story of his parents, and British politics (to choose a few) - with passion, enormous verve, and, I'm happy to say, a sense for sentence structure almost as baroque, at times, as my own.

"What are standards? Forgotten vaudeville songs and show tunes rescued from the sheet music ile by great singers and the masters of jazz.

There is no superior. There is no high and low. The beautiful thing is, you don't have to choose, you can love it all.

Those songs are there to help you when you need them most.

You can stumble into them anytime, like the noise and benediction of any basement dive."

He writes with elegance and vast discernment about the music he loves, and since that ranges from Peggy Lee to Richard Hell and the Voidoids (and I'm only about two-thirds through the book), that cuts a wide swath.  His love for it is contagious; it makes you want to run out and buy records, and meet musicians (he's a great one for meeting his idols, and does it more smoothly than most), and write songs, and just luxuriate in that feeling you get when you first hear The Song or when one that was for a while The Song comes on and you remember.

And on top of that he's had a really interesting life, one as steeped in the show business as anyone this side of Frances Gumm.  I may have known that his father, Ross McManus, was a mildly popular band singer in the UK, but Costello brings his long and spotty career to life, and with it the eccentric and utterly vanished milieu in which he moved.  Of his own career, he's especially effective conveying the very special hell that is touring, in all its joys and agonies.  He's also unsparingly honest about his own shortcomings and excesses, and while it's nice, reading about falling-down-drunk episodes in dank Midlands hotels, to know that he's come out on the other side and is in his way a grand old man of pop, it's still harrowing.

In short, get someone to get this for you for Christmas.

As for me, by the bye, I'm just mad for pearls. But maybe I'll settle for a skinny tie and a pair of red shoes.


  1. In many ways, kitten, we are all filing our nails while they're dragging the lake...Holiday hugs to you and your mister, and of course, to the beautiful doglings.

    1. Even so, I'm still mystified about the Mystery Dance.

      And right back atcha as we careen toward the New Year, carissima...

  2. I used to like a couple of his songs in the punk era. Since then - and since his "Ray Charles is nothing but a blind n***er" comment - I think he's just a pain. Not as much of a pain as Morrissey, but... Jx

    1. He writes scathingly and unsparingly about that incident (and other misbehavior) and makes a convincing case for forgiving him. As for his work, it can be an acquired taste, but his sense for language is remarkable.

  3. I have always loved his sarcastic lyrics.

  4. I adore him. With Talking Heads and B-52s making up a kind of trinity for my long, long lost youth.

    1. Time swindle us all.

  5. Read it and recommend it.

    I particularly enjoyed reading about his musical father.

    I wish he'd gone into detail about how he likes living in Canada.