Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Every Day I Read The Book

I just finished Elvis Costello's memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.  That's quite an accomplishment, as the book is almost 700 pages long.  Its style is a lot like Costello's songwriting--a lot of beautiful phrases but very wordy.

I'm glad he wrote it, but I think a strong editor could have gotten it down to around 400 pages, and also could have made it more strictly chronological.  But Elvis is an artist, so I suppose he had to have it his way.

There's a lot here, so you better be a fan before you start.  Plenty about his childhood, with a father who was a professional singer and covered all the hits of the day.  He'd get the latest recordings and hand them off to little Elvis (whose actual name is Declan Patrick MacManus).

Elvis tells the story of how he became a singer-songwriter and made it in the business.  In fact, the best part of the book are the chapters about breaking in and then gaining early success--he discusses how he wrote all those great songs (often stealing bits from others, but making it his own), recorded those great albums, got his band together (the Attractions were formed after his first album) and played hundreds of concerts all over England and America.  He also drank a lot of did plenty of crazy things--including screwing around on Saturday Night Live and getting drunk and saying things he regrets.

But a tremendous amount of Unfaithful Music has him discussing the musicians he loves.  As much an artist as he is, he's just as big a fan.  There's the music he listened to growing up--the Beatles, Motown and so many others.  Plus the old-time tunes he admired.  Then there's jazz, and soul, and country, and much else.

Elvis gets to meet many of his favorites, and has kind words for most of them (often stopping just short of gushing).  He even gets to perform with idols like Dylan and contemporaries like Springsteen (not to mention all those punks and new wavers Elvis was linked with).  And better, he gets to collaborate with two of the greatest songwriters of his youth, Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach.

There's also his love life somewhere in there, including his three wives, Mary Burgoyne, whom he married before he was famous, Cait O'Riordan of the Pogues, who was a handful, and his present-day spouse jazz singer Diana Krall.

So definitely, if you're a fan, check it out.  But if you borrow it from the library, better set a daily reading schedule if you want to finish it in time.


Blogger New England Guy said...

I listened to the unabridged audiobook of this book and agree. It has a random chronology so it almost didn't matter where you dropped into it. You heard a couple stories and then moved on to something else. Not a sequential experience.

Also the audiobook was helped by the fact that Elvis himself narrated it. Not a classical narrating voice but clear enough despite his sometimes thickish accent and its easier to tell what is important to him and it is instructive to listen to what tone he gives certain. (I listen to plenty of audiobooks and clear narrators are a bonus but sometimes they unconsciously emphasize or de-emphasize things and make the occasional whopper- I am listening to a book right now (Nate Silver's "The Signal and the Noise") where the narrator has screwed up "causality" and "casualty" and its annoying especially because both words get used throughout)

5:42 AM, April 13, 2016  
Blogger New England Guy said...

Sorry- Now I'm recalling some of the book- one of the interesting parts I recall is Elvis beefing about how hard it was to play songs on BBC TV. As I recall it, they were strict union rules and pay scales about musicians performing live on TV which made it (I believe) cost prohibitive for any rock band to perform on shows like "Top of the Pops" so the workaround was to do an "airband" sort of thing where they pretended to play their instruments. His particular annoyance and the band's efforts to mock the system (the drummer I think would just drum the air with his sticks and guitarists would hang their instruments backwards) was one of the benefits of a personal narrations

5:53 AM, April 13, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Did Elvis ever start singing on the audiotapes, or did copyright and other laws prevent him from doing that?

10:49 AM, April 13, 2016  
Blogger New England Guy said...

He recited his lyrics like a slam poet a few times but no real singing beyond an odd phrase here and there that I recall

12:34 PM, April 13, 2016  

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