Elvis Costello Insults His Audience And Shows His True Nature In Current Memoir

Written by | December 22, 2015 9:30 am | 28 responses


I am a very slow reader, I just don’t have the time really and tend to just read on the subway to and from work or at concerts waiting for the main act, so while rock nyc writer Steve Crawford read, reviewed and panned Elvis Costello’s memoir “Unfinished Music And Invisible Ink” in something like three days, I am still reading two months later. Unlike Steve (here), I’ve enjoyed it except for the occasional gnomic aside -a Wreckless Eric slap down was unnecessary.

Until the other day, when while discussing his country covers album Almost Blue, Costello wrote: “I’d slipped out of those tricky bitter songs that only appealed to a certain kind of creep.”

This is so insulting to the people who made him what he is, it is a little baffling that Elvis thought it, let alone wrote it.

I understand precisely who Costello’s target is: Teenage and college guys who never got the girl, like yours truly. Guys who through a mix of misreading and misleading, thought Costello was the patron saint of the loveless. It was, indeed, with something like excitement and joy that we heard songs like “Two Little Hitler” and “Big Boys” for the first time. Listening to a line like “You want to throw me away, well I’m not broken”, was the voice of empathy. Ugly, fat, socially maladroit, boys don’t get laid. we are shy, hurt, we have no self esteem, and we know a big brain is no replacement for a big penis.

But what we had was Elvis. As early as “I’d like to get right through the way I feel for you” and as late as “there’s a hand on a wire that leads to my mouth”, the man understood rejection. We, the boys he sung for, weren’t bitter or creepy or even misogynistic. It wasn’t us who wrote “You can’t stand it when I throw punch lines you can feel” and any way, we were listening for “You’re upstairs with your boyfriend, well I’m not here to listen”.

There is a subtext to the entire memoir that comes through in that “certain creeps”: Costello was not us and don’t mistake him for us. That’s all he says, over and over again, I am not one of you, I am pop music royalty, my birth was announced in the NME. You think you knew me but I wasn’t one of you hopeless wretches, I was sleeping with woman after woman after woman, palling with the God’s Of Pop, and I was never part of you, or a member of your bad breath, pimply, masturbation addicted sub-strata of humanity. No Blacks, Irish, Or 20 Year Old Male Virgins.

Alright, we  got it Elvis, but let’s take a look at your pre-Almost Blue albums…

My Aim Is True – A

This Year’s Model – A

Armed Forces – B+

Get Happy!! – A+

Trust – B+

When you go to Costello concerts, this is the heart of the matter, and when you think of Costello this is, more or less, what you think. For the sake of completion, here are the rest of his “A” list

Imperial Bedroom – A+

King Of America – A

The latter one was 1986.

So, look, it was those bitter songs people love, it was those bitter songs people care about. And we “certain kind of creeps”, by which he means, we the unloved who finally had a rock star who was smart enough to articulate our pain with perfect pop rock songs and dynamic lyricism, were right. We loved what he was great at. We saw in his sense of rejection everything we never had before in pop. What did “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” have to do with me being turned down for a dance at a disco? Who cares about “I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are” when you have “You come here looking for the ride to glory, go back home with a hard luck story.”?

I  don’t know when I’ve resented a rock star more.


28 Responses to “Elvis Costello Insults His Audience And Shows His True Nature In Current Memoir”

  1. Robert Nevin

    Wow! Back in the day, you were always hitting me with Costello lyrics and I KNEW they were special to you. Though he’s revealed himself to be a complete prick, your feelings were no less genuine, Iman. This isn’t the Elvis you’re looking for. Stick with the one you (thought you) knew.

    • Ernie Burns

      His songs still resonate with that dark wonderful emptiness that Elvis Costello captured so sweetly. We are the creeps. Why do we find it offensive to be exposed as such? Creepdom is always self inflicted. We know we cannot compete in the bullshit sexual bazaar nor do we really want to, we see it for how shallow it is,, but we still revel in a that self loathing sadness. We are victims comfortable in our misery.
      Here’s a poem I wrote many years ago. With the same feeling of disillusionment. When my love life always ended up mirroring his songs.

      Elvis Costello
      Stole all my ideas
      Proceeded to muck them around
      I never had a chance
      I discovered
      I was victim to his bitter romance
      Bound to Hades
      That’s latest
      And while the ladies
      Come in handy
      I never got their knickers in a shandy

  2. Ade

    WHAT A COMPLETE LOAD OF JOURNALISTIC WANK…… Get a life chap, or better still get yourself a proper job and stop trying to show how clever you are (NOT).

  3. Liam

    Wow. You should reread your bitter review, and consider how accurate the one sentence Elvis wrote about creeps was.

    Elvis changed and matures through the years, and this book reflects that. That is also worth considering.

  4. Charles

    Well, I never had a problem with the ladies but I loved Elvis because his songs were clever, the tunes upbeat and his costume/identity was funny. I never read what musicians or artists have to say because it always ends up ruining the music for me.

  5. Jude Iscariot

    Really? Armed Forces better than Get Happy!!???

    Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe you only like him for the songs you talk about here, of which there are many more on Get Happy!!

    Meanwhile, Armed Forces is a much better album over all.

  6. Kathryn

    Makes me glad I didn’t read it. Trust and imperial bedroom were the soundtracks for my sophomore and junior years in high school. Oh to be too good for your own fans…

  7. Jimmy crankie

    Is this bloke serious? Elvis is an entertainer. Why bring your own baggage to a book review? This writer admits to being a pimply msturbator! We all are at times! Hahaha. Move on! It’s not Elvis Costellos fault he got laid and you didn’t! This reviewer reminds me of the DeNiro character in king of comedy. Watch out Elvis!!

  8. JP

    Wow! My reaction was pretty much the opposite of yours. And I was also one of those fat shy pimply fellows who never got the girl. Until i did, of course. Maybe it was when I realised that I wasn’t a creep and never had been. Or maybe it was when i realised that Elvis was writing songs for himself, and not for me.
    I thought that the book was brilliant.

  9. Johnny B

    I agree with Scott S.’s comment: I also took EC’s sentence to be self-deprecating and tongue in cheek. This reviewer is presumptuous to be so sure that: (1) he personally knew EC just from listening to his music; (2) he knew precisely who EC’s target audience was (I, for one, never thought it was “Teenage and college guys who never got the girl”); and (3) he now knows the true EC based on one smoking gun sentence in his autobiography. Maybe the reviewer’s opinions are correct and I’m wrong. Maybe my opinions are correct and the reviewer is wrong. Maybe the truth is shades of gray and falls somewhere in between. But to take one sentence from a book and viewing it as the key to understanding another human being’s entire life seems a little too precious.

  10. lawrence

    Aw,diddums get feelings hurt? I’m one of those creeps and I understood the irony in Costello’s comment. You may have heard but it seems you didn’t listen.

  11. Patrick

    I also took the “creeps” comment as self-deprecating.

    Oh, and I suggest you take a look at Eric Goulden’s (AKA Wreckless Eric) memoir A Dysfunctional Success–he doesn’t exactly have warm words for Elvis.

  12. biff

    “I am a very slow reader, I just don’t have the time really.”

    Well, there’s a shock.

  13. Benny

    I haven’t read the book, but as the quote is presented here, “I’d slipped out of those tricky bitter songs that only appealed to a certain kind of creep” could also mean that on Almost Blue, he tried to avoid such songs (prevalent in the country genre).

  14. Steve

    ‘A certain kind of creep’ is 100% a self-reference. The book is absolutely littered with them. I loved it, read it in a week and even despite the though humblebrag’s I appreciated how Elvis was able to stand back from himself and make sense of the past. Think of all the dirt he could have dished (e.g. Bruce Thomas) and chose not to.

    I’m not sure why this reviewer has reacted so – Elvis’s targets have never been his fans, especially ‘teenage and college guys who never got the girl’. His lyrics have always hit home – but they’re just songs, and this is just a book.

  15. Ian Sax

    I have not read the book but I grew up listening to his records thou the one time I saw him live, I walked out.. was it something he said ? I can’t remember, he was just bland & boring, I was not the first person to leave and in sure I wasn’t the last. Elvis has left the building !

  16. Jojo

    Letting Iman Lababedi review Elvis Costello’s memoirs is one step short of having Mark David Chapman review John Lennon’s last album.

    • admin

      I wasn’t going to post this comment because it was too ignorant to be useful but then I thought, hey, why not share a good laugh at this fool -IL

  17. Paul Harvey

    So many words without necessarily much real meaning. Go back right to the start and check the vinyl and it reads “help us hype elvis “. I do not think for one moment that some of these views have no substance, but flaunting talent to occasionally test and probe the market can work both ways. I personally found solace with the longing lyrics to “Jack of all Parades”. I also recall the dig at John Lennon in Veronica. So a shocking comment and it’s response just goes to prove that we are still listening. This might have been the desired outcome? But I agree with previous comments that you just need to take what you need or want. If the words reached you at the time, then they did their job.

  18. Deano

    Unfinished Music And Invisible Ink????? Jeez at least get the title of the book right, Lazy Journalism at it’s worst, or are you just trying to be fashionably sarcastic? Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink for the record!!

  19. Mike Windgren

    His gloomy songs are sweet poison to the soul, it’s a celebration of nihilism. His successful life stands in stark contrast with the lives of the sad individuals his music was aiming at. I once read someone quoted his song in a suicide letter (‘The Finest Hour’), as an artist I would find that fact hard to live with.

  20. Rowe

    He’s a douch, Costello, that is!
    Tom Petty once said many years ago, “there is only one Elvis, and I won’t call him Elvis” (sic) but really, Costello tires the SEX (man/woman or any gender either way) out of me because he has become Paul McCartney. But he does have a beautiful voice, as boring as good old, good old Jardin/Love/Wilson/McCartney etc.
    Because, really a song is a story!
    Elvis lost the story, just as all “the old folk” did, trying to let their expertise in music ( McCartney, Young, etc get past their beautiful stories.
    Tom Waits still tells a crazy story with a broken bottle voice.
    BUT…. I don’t like Rod Stewart doing a Tom Waits song !! or old Rod doing young young Rod songs.
    Elvis is now old. I don’t like him…. I loved “…Detectives”,, and “Chelsea” but that was with the grace of the “”Attractions”, but after that he was really …..old. I’m old. But i don’t want to listen to old man songs.

    • Rowdy

      I don’t even think I read the main story properly, I really just wanted to gush…


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