Book review – Elvis Costello
Posted on April 23, 2016
For memoirs by notable figures, different criteria need to be applied in terms of writing style. Basically this is a 650 page string of anecdotes arranged very loosely in chronological order. It’s probably better written than most memoirs, and the quality of the writing is not bad, and even quite good at times. But the Attraction here (bah-boom) is not the quality of the prose, but the life of its subject.
And that is what makes this a very interesting read. Aside from being a prolific songwriter and musician, Costello is also a connoisseur of song. If you are the kind of person who likes discussing the music of everyone from Johnny Cash and George Jones to Burt Bacharach and Bob Dylan, and many minor figures besides, you’ll appreciate Costello’s insights, just for starters. But then there’s also the fact that Costello has worked with the heroes of the music world. Throughout Costello writes as a musician and also an admirer of his peers. And although he’s a bit of a musical hero himself, having worked tirelessly to build a considerable legacy, he seems continuously incredulous that he’s been able to work with everyone from Paul McCartney to Lou Reed. His humble air is refreshing.
In its details this is more a musical biography than a personal one. There are personal insights, especially regarding Costello’s early life, and his family relationships. But there is barely half a page on Costello’s courtship with Diana Krall. From my own perspective, this is also to the book’s credit – okay, a little more on the Krall thing would have been all right – but my primary interest is Costello’s music life and, his personal life, only as an influence on his musical and professional one. There is still plenty along that line; you obtain a sense of the complete man and especially, his English-ness.
Finally, after completing the book I found there is a companion CD available on itunes and elsewhere, containing 40 or so songs referenced in the book. As I turned my primary attention from pop to classical about 30 years ago, and have caught only snatches of Costello’s work since the early 80s, I wish I had purchased this musical retrospective before I had begun to read the book. The CD title is the same as the book’s if you’re interested.