PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

The Creator and Creation in Elvis Costello's 'Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink'

Costello on Costello is a joy for those already in the cult and another arrow in the quiver for those who think he should just shut up already.


Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink

Publisher: Blue Rider
Length: 688 pages
Author: Elvis Costello
Price: $30.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2015-10
Amazon

In 2001, Rhino Records began reissuing Elvis Costello’s back catalog, packaging each album with an additional disc of live material, demos, and outtakes. In some instances the number of tracks on the bonus discs eclipsed the original albums, and the effect was like looking into an alternate world where things felt both familiar and yet vastly different.

To add another layer of context to the music, Costello wrote extensive liner notes for these reissues. Read in order they form a 60,000 word examination of the man’s career as a performer and, if only peripherally, the person buried behind the pop. Writing in Slate in 2012, John Lingan called these assembled liner notes one of the best rockstar memoirs ever, and he’s not far off the mark.

Costello’s new book, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, is a sequel of sorts to those liner notes, and it occasionally even reaches the same heights as its predecessor. It’s nearly 700 pages of Costello on Costello, a joy for those already in the cult and another arrow in the quiver for those who think he should just shut up already. Of course he’s been saying a lot over the last four decades: he’s released 30 albums, a handful of live recordings, and several compilations in that time, including a two-disc companion to this book.

Costello is both a crafty lyricist and talk show raconteur, and those talents translate well to page. Of course the requisite biographical data is here: he was born in London, lived in Liverpool, his father was a singer in a radio orchestra, his mother worked in a record shop. He did data entry at an Elizabeth Arden factory before filtering an infinite variety of influences through the lens of British pub rock and punk rock with the help of Nick Lowe on My Aim Is True. There are also stories of being teased on tour by the Clash and writing songs with Paul McCartney, as well as allusions to the self-destructive and emotionally devastating effects of the rock 'n' roll life.

While Costello is the primary star of his liner notes, here he often shares the spotlight with his father, Ross MacManus. Costello is at his most unguarded when talking about his father, a man who looms large over both his life and career. The stories of Costello watching his father from the balcony of the Hammersmith Palais, or watching him on TV on the same show as the Beatles, are vivid and compelling. The contrast of Costello’s career with his father’s shows the work of a musician as both an indulgence in the creative impulse as well as simply a job, a view not often shared in your average rock 'n' roll memoir.

Costello talks about his own work with both clarity and deception, detailing song origins, inspirations, and meanings without fully revealing the man behind the curtain. In what’s perhaps the book’s most telling line, he writes of his early experiences as an interview subject, ““I was inclined to be talkative, yet confidential.” The book’s length is a testament to the former.

Those confidential instincts lead to a number of passages about “holding another man’s daughter” in his arms, or sly digs at former Attraction Bruce Thomas, but Costello is anything but reserved when covering the most infamous incident of his career. The details are well known: in March, 1979, Costello and his band were in Columbus, Ohio, where they butted heads with another group of touring musicians, including Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett. After tensions between the groups reached a fever pitch, Costello used racial epithets to denigrate two giants of American music: James Brown and Ray Charles.

There’ve been plenty of excuses and reasons given for this behavior over the years, both from Costello and even Ray Charles, who chalked it up to “drunken talk”. Here, nearly 37 years later, Costello wonders if every person he meets knows about the incident, that if years of apology and explanation can ever erase the stain. His performance at a Rock Against Racism concert the previous year and a peek inside his record collection offer only a superficial glimpse of what’s in the man’s heart, so in an attempt to atone he puts those feelings on the page.

Early in the book Costello recalls going to see the Band play and hopes they’ll play his favorite song, “The Unfaithful Servant”, but doubting they will. He writes that it’s the fan’s right to hope a band will play a favorite song, but the performer’s prerogative to play whatever they please. That’s another way of saying the work speaks for itself, and that creator and creation don’t always share the same point of view.

In any memoir there’s deception and sleight of hand. For Costello, there’s the frequent insistence that the “I” in a song is not necessarily a “me”. As a result, the picture of the man isn’t always as clear as the picture of the artist. It’s not as if those are two completely separate beings, but for a public person, even a celebrity with sub-Kardashian tabloid wattage like Costello, it’s an important distinction.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.