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Elvis Costello on Times Square in New York in July 2016. Photo by Georgie Wood
http://www.telerama.fr/musique/elvis-co ... 1508431171
My life in music
Elvis Costello: "In my beginnings, I was trying to sing like Dusty Springfield"
While in the bookstore "Music infidel and sympathetic ink", his copious and fascinating autobiography, the most famous binoclard of the English pop remade in its accelerated journey of insatiable fan. Where we discover an Elvis who knew by heart whole albums of Joni Mitchell, ran the concerts of Clash and dreamed to duet with Aretha Franklin.
Just listen to a single song by Elvis Costello to guess his taste for words. In forty years of constant production, he has put into music a whole range of feelings, stories and emotions. In the sixties, the ex-punk punk took the time to recount in an autobiography of 800 pages: Unfaithful music and sympathetic ink, which has just appeared at Fayard. His many fans will find an encyclopedic knowledge of rock and beyond, a lonely childhood in the suburbs of London, the importance of a father orchestra musician to dance, respected homage to the glorious elders with whom "our" Elvis (Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, Allen Toussaint ...), the chronicle of his crazy years (1978-83), a passion overflowing, a few ellipses too. Like his songs, the Costellian prose is rich in details and crossed with fulgurances. Among his many talents, a memory capacity that was well worth this retrospective, zigzagging from Joni Mitchell to Clash, from Gram Parsons to Aretha Franklin ...
The first song you knew how to play by heart?
I was fascinated by Man of the world, by Peter Green (first guitarist of Fleetwood Mac). A schoolmate who knew how to play the guitar had given me the chords. I followed this grid, with the right positions of hands ... and I knew nothing else to play! But this piece was of rare complexity. It was not that which attracted me but the emotion which it emanated. It took me time to play it smoothly. After that, the other songs, folk in particular, seemed very simple to play. I gradually broadened my vocabulary and learned to play all the Beatles songs that I knew.
By my father, who was part of a dance orchestra, I had access to all the successes of the moment, I had more records at home than my friends. I grew up in the suburbs of London and lived a little apart, with no immediate neighborhood and away from school. As a single son, I spent a lot of time listening to music alone. I did not share my musical tastes so much.
At one point, my father plugged into psychedelic rock, hippie stuff that I liked less, he left the orchestra and let his hair grow. I cut them off, it was my way of being rebellious! I was listening to rock steady and stuff from Tamla Motown.
A voice that impressed you?
I would say Dusty Springfield. I loved the Beatles but did not see them as singers, it was rather voices that emanated from the songs. Later, when I myself sang, I liked better, especially their harmonies technique, which I was inspired.
Dusty sang of composers I admired, like Burt Bacharach and Carole King. In 1965, she presented a special Ready steady go! Show on TV with a bunch of Motown bands, Temptations, Supremes, Miracles ...
Georgie Fame also had its importance, which it would be wrong to underestimate. At a time when all the young British singers were trying to sound like Ray Charles, all Steve Winwood, Gary Brooker of Procol Harum, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison ..., Georgie Fame sounded like Mose Allison. I was 10 or 11 years old, and I saw him on TV playing this kind of white blues a little detached, I thought it was very cool. His versions were faithful but just as interesting as the originals. Bringing the records home, I realized that the English jazzmen who accompanied Georgie Fame were all guys who had played with my father. It made me understand that music was not a generation affair. When you love music, time does not exist.
So I'm grateful to Georgie Fame and Dusty Springfield, who sang things of great quality. I close my eyes and count to ten is the first one I loved. Later, Just one smile, a compo of Randy Newman.In my early days, I was trying to sound like Dusty. I realized that I had memorized entire passages of his songs - and dozens of others. It helped me a lot later to remind me of mine!
An album you were constantly listening to as a teenager?
There are many ! Of the Beatles, I would say Revolver rather than Sgt. Pepper. Otherwise, I would choose the first album of The Band, Music from Big Pink, and Blue, by Joni Mitchell. Three founding discs. When I was a teenager, I did not feel like an obsessive listener, but to the extent that I can remember most of these songs by heart, I thought I had to listen to them many times!
I had the opportunity to interview Joni Mitchell a decade ago, on the show that I was presenting on American TV, Spectacle. Speaking to him, I realized that I could quote the lyrics of his songs as well as if they were mine. Perhaps better, even. And it's not really what we want to do in the presence of the author!
The only song by Joni Mitchell I recorded is Edith and the Kingpin, from The Hissing of summer lawns. In another issue of Spectacle, I played with Herbie Hancock, who had just released an album of Joni's songs. It fell well, I would have had trouble playing one of his own!
The song that made you say: is that what I want to do?
A song not necessarily well known, by Nick Lowe, with the band Brinsley Schwarz in 1972. At that time, I was 18 years old and already full of songs in my head, but in Nick's writing I found something accessible, and it was the first rock musician I met directly. As a child, I had met groups with my father, the Hollies for example, but I was presented as the son to his dad, it was not the same thing.
In 1972, I had a small group in Liverpool, where my mother and I had moved in. Brinsley Schwarz came to play at the Cavern. So I followed all their albums, Silver Pistol, Nervous on the road ... I was trying to copy their songs and, in fact, I could do it ... A song like Alison is a mix of what I was taking from Nick Lowe and what I heard on the radio.
A few years later, I returned to live in London, I landed my first contract for a record and Nick Lowe became my producer. It was important to me. When one sees musicians playing on TV, one does not imagine at all how they manage to sound like that. By listening to I heard it through the grapevine, I could not consider sounding like Marvin Gaye! Arriving for the first time in a recording studio, I still did not know what to do. Nick Lowe taught me how to make a record. He encouraged me to do all sorts of crazy stuff. We remained good friends. He came the other night with his young son to attend a concert of Diana [Krall, his wife, singer and jazz pianist], it was nice to see him again. I owe him a lot. I would not be sitting there talking to you if we had not done all these albums together.
Your favorite Liverpool band (with the exception of the Beatles)?
The Swinging Blue Jeans. They did not write many songs, it was of course the difference with the Beatles, which outclassed all the others in the matter. The Searchers have written a little, the Merseybeats too. But I always thought that Ray Ennis of SBJ was the other great singer of Liverpool. Better than Gerry Marsden [by Gerry and the Pacemakers]. He was singing You're no good and it was the best version of that title apart from the original. And then hippie hippie shake, their piece of scenic bravery, very rock, a bit like Dizzy miss Lizzy for the Beatles. They did it very well. I did not get to see the Swinging Blue Jeans in concert, I was too young. We lived in London, I went to Liverpool for holidays but very rarely to pop concerts. At 10 years old, in early 1964, my father took me to see a tour package, with bands all managed by Brian Epstein: the Fourmost, Cilla Black, Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas ... and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates of blatant casting, they were too rock'n'roll! Anyway, I did not hear anything from the concert so much people, especially girls, were screaming. It was incredible, and for a kid like me, very shocking. Seeing the bands on TV, we could not imagine that! And seen the scene, it must have been absolutely frightening, this hysteria.
The song that made you take punk seriously?
In my book, I talk about the decisive importance of the first album of Clash. The vision and words of Joe Strummer, more than their way of playing. The sound of Mick Jones' guitar. The rhythm section was not so terrible. On this first album, we do not really feel like hearing musicians. But they improved very quickly. I believe that for us also it happened like that. The sound of my first album is a little flat, narrow. It's played very competently, but if you remove the voice, it could be anyone. With the formation of Attractions [Bruce Thomas, Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas - edit] on This Year's Model, it really took off, we found our sound.
For The Clash, it was not until London Calling (1979) that they sounded on record as imaginable. The guiding idea of the group was very strong, especially I believe thanks to Strummer. I saw them live a pack of times around 1978-80. Then, it became something else, when they were playing in New York at the time of Rock the Casbah, everybody came to see them, people from the cinema, Allen Ginsberg was backstage, it became a cultural phenomenon.
The Damned were pals, we had the same label, they made some good records but nothing very exciting. They were mostly interesting characters ... Of this first wave punk, I would retain the Buzzcocks, they had better songs.
A song on which you can not help dancing (even if you do not particularly like it)?
I do not dance ! Never. There are absolutely irresistible titles in the genre: Stand !, by Sly and the Family Stone ... Rubberband Man, by the Detroit Spinners ... I want you back, by the Jackson 5 ... Unstoppable rhythmic stuff, balls of fire. Of course, the tubes of James Brown, Stevie Wonder ... But I do not see them as specifically dance. It's just superbly fucked up. Then you know, when I was young, the girls did not invite me so much to dance. In our teenage nights, there was a 45-lap Tamla Motown and rocksteady, a very British phenomenon in the late 1960s, which preceded reggae and revival ska. These were just love songs, without the rasta and politicized side that was to follow.
That people dance to my music does not bother me, but it's never something I have in mind at the time of writing. Of course, it has happened to me to observe movements in the public ... When one writes with feeling and conviction, one does not want either people sitting there with a serious air. We want to involve them physically in what we sing.
There was this period when, for two and a half years, almost everything that came out became a kind of hit. It made us cohabit in the charts and on TV with Police, Blondie or the Boomtown Rats, but also with Donna Summer and the Bee Gees, who then reigned on the dance floors. More originals that popped up from time to time with just a tube. To rethink it, it was a rather rich period. We found ourselves on the set of a Dutch program in the same program as Chic.
On American radio, we lived the last fires of the great period FM, where many different music coexisted. DJs were the kings. It was before the pseudo-consultants arrived that they told the radio stations what they were supposed to do. Everything has been standardized.
A singer or songwriter country that you would like to see better recognized?
Although rather recognized, Gram Parsons remains in my opinion underestimated. Because his songs never reached the general public. Apart from the very quality of his writing and his interpretation, he probably gave confidence to a lot of people, including myself, to write in this musical form. He was fed by the country's great as Dylan was by the traditional folksingers, and both gave impetus to the next generation. With Gram Parsons, who was also a friend of the Stones, a little hippie, to do a country ballad was not at all corny. OK, it did not have any real commercial success, but it influenced the next thirty years, in the country and beyond. What was later called americana would not have existed without Gram Parsons. Take a guy like Ryan Adams, who is said to be the greatest good: the songs I know of him, and I appreciate, are obviously indebted to Gram Parsons.
The song you're most proud of?
Pfff ... It's impossible to say. I wrote about it in the four hundred. If I quote one, it will exclude a whole section of my music. And then "proud" would not be the right word. I can have various feelings towards my songs. I could get away with a pirouette at the Duke Ellington saying the best is my next ... Let's say I'm pretty proud of a new song that's featured in a movie that's out these days [Do not die in Liverpool, by Paul McGuigan, with Annette Bening and Jamie Bell - ed.]. It is the last one I recorded, so I'm proud of it, it sticks with the film but especially I think it holds well by itself. It is a ballad entitled You should not look at me that way, of which I wrote the orchestration myself.
There are, of course, songs for which I feel strong and have resisted time without my anticipating it. For me, a standard, it was a piece of forty years ago, written by the Gershwin or Cole Porter, and interpreted by a whole bunch of people. But today some of my pieces have this age and are almost considered as standards. It's strange, a song that lasts. Alison, for example, has a whole story, I can not sing it like a robot, I have to find the feeling that gave birth to it every time.
I also think of a song that is less well-known and very dear to me, I want to vanish [song written originally for the folk singer June Tabor; it appears on the compilation All this useless beauty in 1996 - editor's note]. It does not look like anything called rock. And there are a few of them in my repertoire!
The artist with whom you would have wanted to collaborate but it could not be done?
I was very close to convincing Aretha Franklin to be the guest of my Show show. I do not know what I could have done in duet with her, but I would have loved that she sings while accompanying on the piano. That's how I prefer it. I really like the way she plays the piano and I find her singing a little differently on those occasions. So it remains a regret.
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