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One Song: "B Movie" By Elvis Costello And The Attractions

filled with punch and lines

filled with punch and lines

“I found America in the corner of my wallet…” Elvis Costello at his most controversial, speeding and drinking and drugging his way round the United States, a rock supernova near to the flames and the flame out courting controversy, courting death threats, courting women and being courted. “Everybodies on the make, it’s not your heart I want to take.” Elvis Costello a twenty five year old superstar spinning crazily out of control.

This song, “B Movie”, tucked three tracks into side two where no one can see it on Get Happy!! is the musical manifestation of the mindset. Has anybody been so despicable and yet tender, loathsome and yet overly sensitive, paranoid, disjointed, drunken and violent.

Of all the things I loved about early Elvis what I loved most was his complex relationships with women because they seemed to mirror my own. The failures were endless, the successes disastrous, and always there was a sense of how do you show your value to women? Do you, indeed, have any value to women. On the face of it, being turned down and turned down, the “don’t you know that walking on water won’t make me a miracle man”.

By “B Movie” he has a different set of problems, on “B Movie” there is more things you can’t cover up with lipstick and powder and one is the sense of disharmony on this Steve Nieve Stax pumped song. The punchline is “You can’t stand it when I throw punchlines you can feel”. The feminists and for good reason were up in arms over this and for good reason, never has violence against women felt more appealing, indeed, smarter. It is a puns pun, it jumps out the song to comment on the claims Costello was a clever clogs, it stays on the page as the smartest pun imaginable, and it batters in the frustration men feel about women.

Hitting women, men hating, is a subject almost impossible to discuss. Because it is so obviously wrong it has hard to explain that men are violent and communicate through violence; denounce it? Who doesn’t. But is the verge of anger a woman can drive a man to not real? Obviously it is.

Costello’s problem here is his disbelief in the woman, ” don’t want some fool asking me why when I find you’re finally making me cry.” His problem appears to be the woman’s infidelity or the woman’s close to the flameness of his success. Unable to deal with her, or deal with his life or himself or his fame, or press conference, he resorts to violence.

It’s not just the superb bass lick finger picked all the way through through that makes it sound like a boxer bobbing on the toes of his feet, it is the waving Costello delivery till the knocked out “You can feel” at the end of the song.

Obviously, a song this personal gets an impression just as personal. It was released months after I moved to New York City, somewhere between hiding in and being ignored by the USA, I’d changed countries but still women were all mess and heartache and that was the best of them. The crushing weight of humiliation, the stymied mid-20s (I was 23 year olds) unsettled loneliness. I was drinking as much as Costello at the time and probably drugging much much more. I was lost and while things never got that much better, I learnt how to deal with diminished expectations. The entire Get Happy!! album and absolutely “B Movie” was the unabashed sound of a mental breakdown and that mental breakdown was never recovered from. I became something else, something less, but I learnt to live with this.

Get Happy!! made me feel less alone. It was the sound of complete terror in the face of life inescapable and all downhill. “B Movie” was the sound of me breaking up with Ruth and losing every single penny I had in the world and every single friend.

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