Tuesday, December 25, 2012

He's more than just an abbott - he might be the pope.

There's something about the music of Declan Patrick MacManus that I can't get out of my head.

The son of a jazz trumpeter, Ross MacManus (who performed under the stage name "Day Costello"), Declan took his manager's suggestion and formed his own stage name by combining Elvis Presley's first name with his father's stage name, and Elvis Costello was born.

His voice, which is admittedly harsh and slightly nasal, throws off a lot of people, but I have no problem with it. He has spanned the entire range of musical styles in various songs: jazz, pop, punk/New Wave, classical, country. He's mostly avoided metal, probably for a good reason.

I'll admit that I died a little inside when he worked with Burt Bacharach in the late 90s, but I might forgive him for that eventually. (And yes, I do own a copy of his album of country and western murder ballads.)

I actually started listening to him in the 80s, which remains my favorite era in his musical library. Several of his songs during this period are carefully layered, wall-of-sound style romps, layered with some of the most amazing lyrics, filled with amazing imagery and wordplay: he once self-mockingly described himself as "rock and roll's Scrabble champion," but his early lyrics are probably what attracted me to his music in the first place.

He has always been stubbornly anti-authoritarian, both politically and in his own life and career. He started with Stiff Records, which were only distributed in the UK. Protesting the fact that he could't get distributed in America, he was arrested for busking outside of a convention of CBS executives. It seemed to have worked - within months, he had a contract with CBS.

But then, on his first appearance on US television, the record executives wanted him to perform the first single that had been released off of My Aim is True, called "Less than Zero." It was a song about Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, and Costello felt it would have no bearing on the American audience. So he famously stopped a few bars into the song and said "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here." He then burst into "Radio Radio," which skewers the power of music executives.

(If you're interested, you can see that here - somewhere between Warner and NBC, it's a pain to find an embeddable version.)

Elvis Costello has literally worked with all of the greats in music - Paul McCartney compared their collaborations with his time with John Lennon. There are few voices in music who have moved me as much as Mr MacManus.


Full disclosure - I wrote this under the influence of Imperial Bedroom, one of the two Costello albums I got for Christmas.

1 comment:

Grung_e_Gene said...

Hmm, I've never listened to Elvis Costello (can't name a single song).

Here I was hoping this was going to be about David Bawden who was elected Pope by his mom and dad in Kansas.

Maybe I'll browse ebay for some cheap cds...