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Elvis Costello

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Back to the Basement.

“Thinking he might get them set to music, Burnett contacted a group of sympathetic songwriters – [Elvis] Costello, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes – and set them to work, with a plan to…concoct an album or two out of the results. The first of them will be released later this year, under the title Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes Vol 1.”

The Guardian‘s Richard Williams offers a preview of the “new” “Bob Dylan” album, created along the lines of Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Woody Guthrie records — old Basement Tapes-era lyrics, new music. ‘Everybody brought their A game,’ he said. ‘But you don’t record all 44 versions of these songs in 12 days by being precious about it.'”

Trust Elvis…Except in Bed.

History repeats the old conceits, the glib replies, the same defeats (except in bed): A tumblr of Elvis Costello lyrics turned into fortune cookies. Your science-fiction twin probably got a better one.

Oh Maggie, what did we do?

“Well I hope I don’t die too soon, I pray the lord my soul to save. Because there’s one thing I know, I’d like to live long enough to savor. That’s when they finally put you in the ground, Ill stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.” The soundtrack for today was written decades ago: I went with Elvis (who talks about this song here), but could just as easily have gone with Morrissey or Pink Floyd or Sinead O’Connor or a whole host of others.

In any case, Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013. As I said when Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms passed, I’m of the Hunter Thompson on Nixon school when it comes to political obits. Let’s not diminish what Thatcher passionately stood for throughout her life by engaging in ridiculous happy talk at the moment of her death.

This Prime Minister has lot to answer for, from bringing free market absolutism and trickle-down voodoo economics to England, with all the readily preventable inequality it generated, to supporting dictators and tyrants around the world — Pinochet, Botha, the Khmer Rouge — to, of course, the Falklands War.

Much as with Reagan here in America, England still lives under Thatcher’s shadow. To quote today’s Guardian, “her legacy is of public division, private selfishness and a cult of greed, which together shackle far more of the human spirit than they ever set free.” But to her credit, at least Thatcher (a chemist by training) was very vocal about the threat of climate change in the last years of her life.

Update: Salon‘s Alex Pareene has more evidence for the prosecution, including graphs of the rise of inequality and poverty on Thatcher’s watch:

“Britain no longer ‘makes’ much of anything, and when those lost jobs were replaced, they were replaced with low-wage, no-security service industry work…Really, it’s hard to argue with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who remembered Thatcher on Sky News yesterday: ‘She created today’s housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefits crisis…In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong.'” (Last quote also birddogged by Dangerous Meta.)

The Biggest Wheel of Industry.

Grabbing a microphone and cane while donning a black top hat, the evening’s ringleader, Napoleon Dynamite, announces to the audience: ‘We’ll perform songs about love! Songs about sex! Songs about death and songs about dancing! But not necessarily in that order.’

Notify your next-of-kin: This wheel will explode! Elvis Costello and the Imposter’s Spinning Wheel Tour was in the area this week, and I got the chance to catch my third Elvis show. Here’s the setlist, as half-determined by random spins of Elvis’s big carnival wheel:

I Hope You’re Happy Now | Heart Of The City | Mystery Dance | Uncomplicated | Radio Radio | Spin 1: Pump It Up/Busted | Spin 2: Alison | Spin 3: This Year’s Girl/Party Girl/Girl | Spin 5: Everyday I Write The Book | Spin 4: The Spell That You Cast/Indoor Fireworks/Brilliant Mistake/National Ransom | Spin 6: Roxanne/I Want You | Spin 7: And Your Bird Can Sing | (I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea | Beyond Belief | Waiting for the End of the World | Spin 8: So Like Candy | Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood

Encore 1 (acoustic): A Slow Drag With Josephine | Jimmie Standing in the Rain | Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Encore 2: Spin 9: Greenshirt/(Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes/Purple Rain | Honey Are You Straight Or Are You Blind? | What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?

So, as you can see, over thirty songs in there, and Elvis was in his usual top form. I could see “the wheel of songs” being more fun in theory than in practice, if luck hadn’t been such a lady to those of us at Wolf Trap — Granted no “Almost Blue,” “Man Out of Time,” or “Shipbuilding,” but any night you hear Elvis sing “Beyond Belief, “Indoor Fireworks,” “Alison,” “So Like Candy,” and especially “I Want You” (chosen by a contestant on a pick-any-song-you-want joker spin, and bless her for it) is a good night. If the wheel rolls ’round your way, definitely think about going. (Pic via here.)

National / Collapse.

I’m very proud of this record. I think it may be the best record I’ve made in terms of the latter part of my career. Where it goes and what it means to who I am? I will carry on for as long as I feel I want to do this.Vanity Fair catches up with Elvis Costello on the eve of a new album, National Ransom. “I can’t put up with bad gigs or wasted opportunities. It has to count, because there’s somewhere I’d rather actually be.

And, speaking of new albums, R.E.M. has named their upcoming 15th one: Collapse Into Now, due out this Spring. As some who’s come to prefer Around the Sun over Accelerate, here’s hoping it’s more like the former.

Pieces of Eight.

Friend and colleague Liam of Sententiae et Clamores has tagged me with a meme of eights. And since GitM recently turned 8 and Berk‘s nearing that age himself, the theme seems apropos anyway…So, without further ado:

8 Passions in my life: film, history, politics, science-fiction, civic progressivism, Berkeley, Guinness/Jamesons, basketball.

8 Things to do before I die: finish the dissertation; conduct a Great American Road Trip; get immersed in the world’s Great Cities; have kid(s); write a truly memorable speech; hit the buzzer-beater 3; attend my own book reading; see an Earthrise.

8 Things I often say: “One ticket please.”; “Sit!”; “Ok, let’s go!”; “Want to go outside?”; “Get on the couch!”; “If you bark again, you’re going in the crate.”; “Get in the crate!”; “G’night, little buddy.”

8 Books I read (or reread) recently: An Aristocracy of Everyone, Benjamin Barber; The Final Solution, Michael Chabon; The Dissident, Nell Freudenberger; Confessions of a Reformer, Frederic Howe; Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann; Paris 1919, Margaret MacMillan; Watchmen, Alan Moore; Villa Incognito, Tom Robbins.

8 Films that mean something to me: Amadeus, Brazil, Miller’s Crossing, Annie Hall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, High Fidelity, The Empire Strikes Back, Fellowship of the Ring.

8 Songs that mean something to me:Almost Blue,” Elvis Costello; “Get the Balance Right,” Depeche Mode; “Romeo and Juliet,” Dire Straits; “Visions of Johanna,” Bob Dylan; “The Beast in Me,” Nick Lowe; “Country Feedback,” R.E.M.; “If You Wear That Velvet Dress“, U2; “Make it Rain,” Tom Waits.

8 Living people I’d like to have as dinner guests: The Coens, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Russ Feingold, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Barack Obama, Camille Paglia, Stephanie Zacharek.

8 People I’m passing this on to: This gets tricky, so I’ll just pass it on to whomever feels like partaking…enjoy.

Where is the harmony, sweet harmony? (Pst…in Conn!)

So where are the strong? And who are the trusted?> Why, Bob and Elvis, of course, and they’re in the Nutmeg State, or at least they were last night. As promised, I caught the traveling Dylan-Costello tour over the weekend in (relatively) nearby Bridgeport, CT. The setlists:

Elvis: (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes | Either Side of the Same Town | Veronica | The River in Reverse | Down Among the Wine and Spirits | Bedlam | From Sulfur to Sugar Cane | Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said | (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding? | The Scarlet Tide

Bob: Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat | It Aint Me, Babe | I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight | You’re a Big Girl Now | Rollin’ and Tumblin’ | Workingman’s Blues #2 | ‘Til I Fell In Love With You | When the Deal Goes Down | Honest With Me | Spirit on the Water | Highway 61 Revisited | Nettie Moore | Summer Days | I Shall Be Released

Encore: Thunder on the Mountain | Like a Rolling Stone

Taking the second act first (well, third — as in Bob’s Beacon stand in 2005, Amos Lee was the *real* opener), Bob’s set — as you can see — was heavy on the Modern Times, which is an album I never really listened to all that much. (It came out just before I was kicked to the curb last year, at which point it just got consigned to the iPod shuffle dustbin.) And, as I’ve said before, when it comes to new Bob, I prefer the looming darkness of Time Out of Mind to the rockabilly antics of Love & Theft, which was also represented here a few times. Still, there were a few gems interspersed throughout the set. Bob’s post-apocalyptic croak these days doesn’t really suit tender ditties like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” and on “I Shall Be Released” I was thinking it might even be time to go the Leonard Cohen backup-singer route. But he still got a fair amount of mileage out of “Like a Rolling Stone” and the raucous opener, “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat,” and he looked spry as ever while playing most of the new stuff. Plus on this, my eighth Dylan show (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), I happily got to scratch off “You’re a Big Girl Now” on my own mental checklist of songs to hear the man play live. And, while I’m not sure last night’s version quite did the song justice — A line like “I’m going out of my mind with a pain that stops and starts!” needs the plaintive howl of 1975, not the world-weary rasp of 2007 — I was glad to hear it made the list regardless.

If I’m being a bit harder on Dylan than usual, it may be because Elvis had just left the building, and he pretty much tore the roof off the place in his set. When I heard he was on the bill, I was wondering who his back-up band might be: The Attractions, The Imposters, or some other permutation thereof. Well, as it turned out, this was a solo stand: just Elvis in black, a few guitars, a spotlight, a microphone, ten chords, and the truth. He played more of his standards when I saw him at the Beacon, but that wasn’t a problem here; His too-brief set included a few well-known hits (“Veronica,” “PLU”), some golden oldies (“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”, “Radio Sweetheart”), some as-yet-unreleased songs (“Down Among the Wine and Spirits,” “From Sulfur to Sugar Cane”), and even a cover of Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said,” and each one burned with clarity and conviction. Among the highlights for me were “Either Side of the Same Town,” my favorite song from The Delivery Man, “The River in Reverse” (from his album with Alan Toussaint — it was a blistering call-and-response number last night), and the anti-war lament “The Scarlet Tide” (also from Delivery Man.) (To his credit, Costello also had a remarkable amount of Bridgeport-specific stage patter last night, from name-dropping the old arena there to paying respect to the father of show business, Bridgeport native P.T. Barnum. Somebody had done his homework.)


A tour to look out for: The freewheeling Bob Dylan is, as ever, on the road, but this September and October he’s bringing along Elvis Costello to boot. I’ve seen Bob a lot, and I’ve seen Elvis, but seeing ’em back-to-back should be more fun than you can shake a stick at. (I’m definitely going to the Bridgeport, CT show…undecided about Albany.)

Love Songs.

I’m off early this morning to catch up with college friends for one of our semi-annual reunions, so I expect it’ll be quiet around here until next week. But, since it’s a holiday weekend of sorts, and since I’ve been perusing a number of MP3 blogs lately, I figured I wouldn’t leave on a jet plane before regaling you, my dear readers, with the Valentine’s gift of music. (The usual mp3blog rules apply: the files will be up this weekend and this weekend only, and please do not link to them.) So, without further ado:

You’ll be given love
You have to trust it,
Maybe not from the sources
you have poured yours
maybe not from the directions
you are staring at,

Twist your head around
it’s all around you

As y’all know, iconography from the stunning video to Bjork’s “All is Full of Love” has graced this site for years now, so it seemed a logical choice for GitM‘s Valentine. It’d be hard for me to introduce the song any better than Bjork did herself: “That song’s from a moment when I’d had a pretty rough winter and then it was a spring morning and I walked outside and the birds were singing: Spring is here! I wrote the song and recorded in half a day. It just clicked – you know: you’re being too stubborn, don’t be so silly, there is love everywhere. The feeling, the emotion of the song was like completely melting and loving everything and feeling like everything loved you, after a long time of not having that. The song, in essence, is actually about believing in love.

Strangely enough, I experienced a very similar revelatory moment, traipsing around outside after a blizzard several years ago, while listening to this “Plaid” version of the song. It’s missing the languorous beat that’s so memorable in the single version, but I adore the fugue-like intro and textured, contrapuntal rhythms of this mix — They lend it a timeless, ethereal beauty that perfectly matches the celestial coo and growl of its Icelandic muse. I don’t want to hate on Love, Actually for too many posts in a row, but to my mind this song brilliantly encapsulates what that movie tried and failed to get at — Even in our loneliest moments, love surrounds us and binds us.

All is Full of Love (Plaid Mix) — Bjork (5.88MB, 4:17)
(song removed)
Original version on Homogenic.



I want you
I’m not ashamed to say I cried for you
I want you
I want to know the things you did that we do too
I want you
I want to hear he pleases you more than I do
I want you
I might as well be useless for all it means to you…

Bjork too sappy? Well, if, on the other hand, you prefer to spend Valentine’s Day prodding scars and excavating the thin line between love and hate, then here’s a streetlight serenade for you — a blistering-hot live version of Elvis Costello’s most savage, searing slow burn. Much of the resonance of the original “I Want You” lies in how what starts off as a run-of-the-mill torch song slowly degenerates into something much more complicated and sinister. This spooky, haunted-house version from the 2002 tour skips the set-up, but it’s nevertheless a poisonous mirrorball of rage and regret, bitterness and betrayal, loss and (self-)loathing…all those quintessential consequences of a love implosion that they just don’t seem to make Hallmark cards for (and it’s all topped off with a brief twinge of Yankee Power.) Our man Costello may be enthralled with Diana Krall these days, but as this song makes emphatically clear, there are still some things you just don’t wanna know about his dark life.

I Want You (Live in Nashville 2002) — Elvis Costello (15.1MB, 8:15)
(song removed)
Original version on Blood and Chocolate.


Either path you choose, have a safe and happy weekend, and I’ll catch y’all next week.

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