I'm a working travelling musician, but just on a bigger scale.
Elvis Costello, musician, singer, song writer
Declan Patrick MacManus turned 60 today. You and I know him as Elvis Costello. The man has an impressive body of work. I first heard of him in the early '80s singing "Watching the Detectives" and "Radio, Radio." His lyrics were what drew me to his music that I have grown to love over the years. I have seen him in concert three or four times and I am going to see him in a couple of weeks at the Hollywood Bowl.
I wrote this little piece because I saw a post that it was his birthday and they listed 10 songs that they thought were his best. When someone has a body of articulate work as Costello does picking 10 songs or even 20 as the best is a fool’s errand.
Depending on my mood or life’s circumstances certain songs rise to the top. When I was going through my divorce and everything I had worked hard toward was disintegrating before my eyes the song, “This is Hell” resonated for a while.
Here are some of my favorites in no particular order:
Veronica – I only found out a couple of years ago from my daughter that this song was about Costello’s grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s. This was a big hit, but I am sure not many knew the story behind it. This was co-written by Costello with Paul McCartney. McCartney plays on his Höfner bass.
Just about Glad – I love the lyrics and especially the chorus: Just about glad we didn't do that thing / Just about glad we didn't have that fling / Just about glad we didn't give it a try / Just about glad, is that a tear in your eye? I dedicated this song to relationships that never developed or went too far.
Episode of Blonde – Once again his words are biting and so on target: A tornado dropped a funnel cloud with twenty tons of rain / Though she had the attention span of warm cellophane / Her lovers fell like Skittles in a 10-pin bowling lane / But nothing could compare with the explosion of fame.
Let Him Dangle – I always felt that there was a short story in this song and there was certainly a real life true story behind this song: As the hangman shook Bentley's hand to calculate his weight / Let him dangle, let him dangle / Let him dangle, let him dangle…From a welfare state to society murder / Bring back the noose is always heard / Whenever those swine are under attack / But it won't make you even, it won't bring him back / Let him dangle, let him dangle / String him up.
Deep Dark Truthful Mirror – This has a wonderful jazzy piano sound and according to Costello’s website it is just bizarre lines regarding butterflys and monkeys, which mean nothing. In a BBC interview EC said he lifted them from a nature program he was watching as they sounded cool. He has also said that the idea was to give the impression the main character in the song is hallucinating.
Psycho – When I first heard this song on the highway to Laughlin probably 15 years ago, I got goose bumps from it. I listened to it so much that it has lost its shock, but still you should hear it once or twice. We were sitting on a bench. Mama / Thinking up a game to play / Seems I was holding a wrench. Mama / And then my mind just walked away.
This is Hell – This is a song that can always come in handy: My Favourite Things" are playing again and again / But it's by Julie Andrews and not by John Coltrane / Endless balmy breezes and perfect sunsets framed / Vintage wine for breakfast and naked starlets floating in Champagne / All the passions of your youth are tranquillised and tamed / You may think it looks familiar, though you may know it by another name / This is hell (this is hell), this is hell (this is hell) I am sorry to tell you / It never gets better or worse (it never gets better or worse) / But you'll get used to it after a spell / For heaven is hell in reverse / This is hell, this is hell.
Costello also has amazing jazz and classical CDs
My Flame Burns Blue – It consists of recordings from the North Sea Jazz Festival in July 2004, made with Steve Nieve and The Metropole Orkest, with Vince Mendoza conducting. It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Jazz albums chart.
Il Sogno – This is performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Music albums chart.