Thursday, November 5, 2015

I just finished reading Elvis Costello's memoir, "Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink." He dies at the end.

Okay, he doesn't.

I liked the book but I didn't love the book and yet I could not put it down. It felt more like a race to see what would come next. The man is a fantastic writer and at no time did I feel bored. I just wish he was as funny as he thinks he is. (As one friend put it, "He was a lot funnier before he wore the hat.") And again, like with the Keith book and the Townshend book, there were specifics I was hoping to find and did not.

Still, I highly recommend this tome to any fan of the man, as you will find out more than you've known before, about his childhood, his lyrics and music in general.

One of the things I learned was that the song "April 5th," originally premiered during a "guitar pull" on the show "Spectacle" that Costello hosted, was written by producer John Leventhal, with each verse written by the vocalist who sings it. In this case it would be Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash and Elvis. According to El, a bunch of songs had been written and recorded by this super trio for a proposed album called KCC, which may still see the light of the day at some point.

This song knocked me flat when I first saw it performed by this trio and now the recorded version appears as part of the accompanying CD soundtrack to the book. I love many things about "April 5th," but I am particularly moved by the Costello's falsetto, which quite frankly, I had no idea he possessed.

Beautifully haunting, "April 5th" is my Song Of The Week.

If you plan on reading the book, avoid the comments section.


dogbreath said...

Have not yet read the book but I did find the dustjacket entertaining & amusing when I read it in the book store. Not having heard the song "April 5th" and as this date is the UK income tax fiscal year end, by any chance is the song written from the perspective of a UK tax inspector? (There's the door - Ed). Anyway, if it had been it would be the British "5th April" and not "April 5th"! Flippancy aside, I take on board your critique of the song & look forward to giving it a listen later.

William Repsher said...

I'm bored. 90% through and bored stiff at this point.

It starts out great. His recollections of growing up in Liverpool and London, the wanderings of his musical father, how he felt his way first into performing live, then making those first huge steps, then losing control once he made it.

He avoids too much, while going on endlessly about stuff that might seem gigantic to him, but is mostly irrelevant to the reader, i.e., the detailed chapters on his celebrity collaborations, for all of which nothing notable happens ... save they work together on a project.

Meanwhile, two marriages go up in flames (granted, he at least touches in why this was so with the first, but doesn't really get into it), he has kids (who seemed to have raised themselves?). He hints that Cait O'Riordan was a huge pain in the ass, roundly disliked by his family ... yet he leaves those 15 years blank, save to note he got some really hard-edged songs form those experiences. His work with The Pogues goes mostly unmentioned, ditto The Specials (those recordings are far more interesting than any celebrity pairing he's done). His band breaks up at least two or three times, which go completely unexamined, save for a great one liner: "You know that song by Neil Sedaka? It isn't true."

He reads like a Jim Jones who started drinking his own Kool Aid. Much as his music has turned in on itself, grown far too precious, too much horseshit, too much preening, too many words describing too little real emotions. That's what was great about those first albums ... they were emotionally honest, if not always pretty, and he got right into it, like Mike Tyson going straight for the knock out. There was a brilliant immediacy there that he's spent the rest of his career missing, catching in a song or two here and there, but mostly vomiting out an endless stream of clever lyrics that really don't add up to anything mentally, emotionally or spiritually. (Every now and then, he gets it right ... he used to get it right most of the time.)

Ultimately, I'm disappointed. The first half of the book had me thinking, this is great, I'm learning so much about he came to be and defined himself. But once he started in with the name dropping and recording musical styles just because he could (but wasn't really that good at them), it just got so deadly dull. About the only respite was him writing openly about his father's passing, which stands out like a beacon in those last few chapters of Sundance Channel hobnobbing. He is a good writer, and he wastes about 60% of the book on stuff that doesn't matter and no one cares about. I'm sure they were afraid to edit him. Much like Ray Davies, a man in dire need of an editor, who will never get one!

Shriner said...

William completely nailed what I'm thinking about the book (I'm about 80% of the way through it -- I don't have a problem putting it down and picking it up a couple of days later -- it's not a page-turner like Chrissie Hynde's most-excellent memoir is.)

I've reread what William said above a couple of times -- can I can't add a single additional thought that he didn't cover -- and that never happens. Other than I completely agree that it's what he *didn't talk about* that was what I missed most of all from the book and was hoping to see here.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I loved "My Aim Is True", but starting with "This Year's Model", each album less and less. Years ago I bought "Delivery Man" from Sal because he was playing it in the store, and the opener knocked me out. As a result I bought almost all the reissues as they turned up used and listened to them all once. There are songs throughout I really like. "Spooky Girlfriend" from "When I was Cruel" comes to mind. I read all the tiny liner notes, so I'm not sure I need to read the book, unless I find it at a yardsale for $1.

I'm kind of sorry I read Keith's "Life", because he's not that interesting.
After the horrible time-waste of "Under The Influence", and "Crosseyed Heart", I'd cross the street to avoid meeting him.

vanwoert said...

I don't know man, I think I would cross an interstate just to thank him for Tumbling Dice and Gimmee Shelter

cmealha said...

Looking forward to reading it as he's one of my favorite songwriters of all time. Also, thanks for turning me on to "April 5th". The play count is through the roof on that one.

Anonymous said...

I read most of the book on an 18-hour trip to Asia and enjoyed it a lot. Elvis writes vividly about being a son, a songwriter, a rock star, a music fan and a drunk. I even enjoyed the "how I met Johnny Cash"-type of anecdotes. It can't be a surprise that he doesn't spend much time kissing-and-telling about Bebe Beull or Cait O'Riordan, or for that matter Bruce Thomas. After having read three earlier biographies of EC of varying quality as they came out, reading about his experiences from the inside was very interesting and sometimes moving.

One thing I found interesting was how little overlap there was with the extensive liner notes he wrote for the Rhino rereleases of his back catalog. For those who are interested, these can be read in their entirety at, starting here: