Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3) - Franklin Bruno

Pretty self-explanatory
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Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3) - Franklin Bruno

Postby johnfoyle » Mon Jun 06, 2005 4:47 pm

This excellent book is rather 'lost' in another thread on this forum -


With apologies to Sweetest Punch ( who first let us know about it) here are the highlights -

Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3)
Franklin Bruno

Paperback (May 30, 2005)
Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group
ISBN: 0826416748

This link gives this forum a few pence -

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASI ... 88-5191844

I posted this on Mon May 23, 2005 -

This book is just bursting with fascinating information. Time has allowed me to only have a flick through it . However I found myself repeatedly going ' Of course , how did I miss that before'.

Bruno has really done his homework. Greil Marcus gave him the complete tapes of his 1982 interview with Elvis and so we get a lot of previously unpublished quotes . Engineer/co-producer Roger Bechirian gave him an interview in Oct.04. The notes from the various re-issues are considered - and queried - where necessary.

The books layout is interesting. Over the 151 pages he hops from aspect to aspect. The songs , the allusions , the sleeve designer , the recording , the musicians , the microphones used in the studio ( a Beyer Soundstar ) .....and Columbus, Ohio. The events of April 15, 1979 are referred to over and over again. Quotes , old and new , from nearly all the participants help give the most complete account I've seen. However his reference to the New York press conference two weeks later , where Elvis tried to explain his comments, mentions that a transcript of same exists , citing the Uncut feature as one source. Extensive as that feature was I hope he actually heard a sound recording of same. To remind myself this evening I played back the same recording , looking at Allan Jones transcript/commentary. Repeatedly Jones edites out asides and gives emotive descriptions to tones of questioning that are just not evident to my ears. True Elvis does himself few favours but it is not the disaster Jones describes.

That aside some astonishing connections are made. From Tiny Steps to Abandoned Masquerade on Ms Krall's album for one. And many , many others.

Needless to say , it should be read with album itself playing.

Get it, try it.

Franklin Bruno has a 'blog' -


Monday, May 23, 2005

2) Armed Forces is out. Read the publisher's description, and/or purchase it through Powell's, via links at right. (You might well check out the concurrently released volumes on Murmur, by my new neighbor J. Niimi and Grace by Daphne Brooks. I have.)

My poor record with respect to promotion notwithstanding, I'll try to set up 'events' for the book here and there in the coming months (some, if timing is with us, with J.), and let you know here. Also, in the next few days (read weeks) I'll be adding a small side blog for material related to the book -- corrections, omissions, and tangents I just didn't have space for. But, if I can master myself, no defenses.


Sunday, June 05, 2005
Adcidents Will Happen, first in a very occasional series:

I think I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was thinking of starting a side-blog for corrections and additions to AF. I spent some time over the last few days test-running various formats, and I guess I've decided that it's unrealistic and too open-ended -- not because I expect that there are a lot of errors of fact, but because I'm too tempted to draw out every interpretive tangent. I want to come clean, but I can't let a book that's already out in the world take over my life. So, when such items are sufficiently glaring or interesting, I'll just insert them into the general deluge here:

There are two screw-ups in my entry on The Agora. On p. 6, I give the date of the Columbus show as April 15 -- of course, it's March. (The Cleveland Agora show was four days later, as noted -- but four days later in March. By April 15/19, EC would have been back in the UK.) I'm sorry I didn't catch this in copyediting: The date is given correctly everywhere else, as far as I can tell, and the chronology in the long "Columbus" entry (p. 41-4 is consistent with the going print and online sources.

Second and more substantively, reader Scott Cullen-Benson of Oakdale, Minnesota didn't catch the mistaken date, but writes (in part):

OK, I know this is really picky, but I just couldn’t let it pass. Mr. Bruno discusses The Agora Ballroom in Columbus, Ohio. I am a graduate of Ohio State University and was a student there from 1970 to 1974. Mr. Bruno states that The Agora moved in 1985 “from 24th Street to its current home on Euclid Avenue.” To the best of my personal knowledge the original Agora was located on North High Street (yes, appropriately named indeed). North High Street (State Rt. 23), which is right across the street from the east side of the OSU campus, is where I saw many a music concert (most notably Roland Kirk and Miles Davis) in The Agora Ballroom. In fact, my fondest memory is how The Agora thwarted a mob of rioting football crazies by putting their huge speakers outside and blasting music to the ensuing looting and rioting that occurred after OSU beat Michigan in November, 1970. Every store’s windows were smashed EXCEPT The Agora which figured if you couldn’t beat ‘em (the rioters) you joined ‘em by playing the soundtrack to the show. I certainly don’t know where The Agora is located now, but then, it was on North High Street, not 24th Street. In fact, I think what you have done is mixed up The Agora Ballroom that is currently located on 5000 Euclid Avenue in Cleveland with the one that was in Columbus.

Understandable error, but us native Buckeyes know about such things…..But I could be wrong.

Nope, you've got me: I conflated the Cleveland and Columbus venues, which share a name (and an original owner, Henry LoConti). According to the history at the club's own site, the Cleveland Agora was opened in 1966, moved closer to Cleveland State (on 24th St.) the following year, and after a fire in 1984 moved once again to 5000 Euclid Avenue, where it is today. The Columbus Agora opened in 1970, and has always been on High Street. My misreading probably had to do with conflating the High Streets in the two cities.

To complete the story, the Columbus venue was bought in 1984 and renamed Newport Music Hall, the name under which it operates today. Here's a relevant article from The Lantern at OSU. (Free subscription required.) This article also suggests that the club was up and running by the late-'60s, and moved into national acts with a Ted Nugent show in 1970. Fittingly enough, the Columbus Agora was originally the State Theater, a movie house build in 1922 -- not unlike London's Dominion (see p. 55-56). I'm sure I would have used this to bludgeon home some point about mass entertainment if had I noted it earlier.

Two final notes:

1) I'm doubly ashamed, because Columbus and Cleveland have been a couple of my favorite places to play on tour. I'm sure that if such noted Buckeyes as Paul Nini or Ron House read any of this, they'll be shaking their heads in horror: "We let that guy play at Stache's/Bernie's, and he doesn't even know which city he's in." Same for ex-Clevelander Robert Griffin and that city's Euclid Tavern -- on Euclid, smart guy!

2) Scott also points out that the Cleveland Agora is alluded to by Akronian Chrissie Hynde in The Pretenders' "Precious": "At 55th and Euclid Avenue, you're real precious/I got my eyes on your Imperial, and you're precious."

If all of my readers are as civil about my errors as Scott, I'll consider myself lucky. And that Miles/Roland Kirk show sounds amazing.


Might as well note an omission as well: I didn't catch the likely source of the line "I am the mighty and the magnificent" in "Button My Lip" from The Delivery Man. (See "I Stand Accused," esp. p. 76-77.) The mighty M. Matos did. (The track is well-known from the soundtrack of The Harder They Come. Intuition told me EC's line had to be another cross-reference, but my mind was on soul, not reggae.)

I've also read that EC used Nick Lowe's "I Love My Label" as entrance music at a recent show in Nashville (where Lost Highway is based). And that he's been covering Lowe's "Heart of the City" (from Jesus of Cool/Pure Pop) on the current tour.

I think you can see how this could get out of control.


I e-mailed Mr Bruno on Mon Jun 06, 2005 and he asked me to pass this on -


Franklin Bruno (the guy who wrote the new Armed Forces book)
here. Thanks for your kind mention of the book on the news-page. I'm
aware that the fan community isn't always thrilled with what critics
have to say, so I appreciate you giving my work a sporting chance. As
you say, I did try to "do my homework" and I'd like to emphasize (as I
do in the bibliography) that the online sources put together by fans
were indispensable, especially the gigography.

I wanted to respond to one thing. As you guess, I didn't have access
to an audiotape of the NYC press conference after Columbus, and had to
go by Jones' reconstruction -- I tried to make sure this was clear in
the text. I made inquiries into getting a copy of the tape, but no one
I was in touch with came through. This is exactly why I only quote a
few selected exchanges, and leave out Jones' interpretations of the
speakers' tone -- I didn't want to put more weight on the conference
than the sources that I had to work from warranted. I did, however,
interview Robert Christgau (who was there) about his recollection of
the event, and the atmosphere around the Columbus controversy more

Your suggestion that the conference was not as big a disaster as Jones
(and most other writers) made it seem is interesting. But it's worth
pointing out that EC has certainly treated it as pretty disastrous when
he's mentioned it at all, as in the recent Get Happy! liner
notes ("...the hysterical, and it must be said, delighted liberal
press"); this reaction also comes through in the tapes of the Greil
Marcus interview. In general, I hope that readers who don't agree with
all of my interpretations still find some food for thought -- I realize
that some of the 'political' material may be old news to UK readers,
but since the book is for a US audience as well, it seemed worth
drawing out those connections.

I'm posting factual corrections, omissions, and occasional tangents to
a blog page at http://adcidents.blogspot.com. (Title inspired by the
-Hollywood High- EP.) I hope to be as responsive to input from readers
and listeners as my time and other responsibilities allow.

Thanks for your time,
Last edited by johnfoyle on Wed Jan 18, 2012 5:34 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Postby johnfoyle » Tue Jun 28, 2005 3:43 pm

I sent Franklin the newly discovered 1982 Paul McCartney comment ; he replied -

'The McCartney bit is interesting, will post a portion when I get around to updating.


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Postby johnfoyle » Wed Aug 03, 2005 2:24 pm

http://utopianturtletop.blogspot.com/20 ... ellos.html


Probably the 2nd most famous event in Elvis Costello’s life -- more famous than any single song, more famous than his marriage to jazz smoothie Diana Krall, more famous than his glasses or his early twitching stage persona, but not as famous as his cameo in that Austin Powers flick -- is what many people call the Columbus Incident, where Costello, who was touring to promote his 3rd album, “Armed Forces,” called Ray Charles a “blind, ignorant nigger” during a drunken barroom insult-fest with Bonnie Bramlett and other members of Steven Stills’s touring band. It is hard to imagine a more thorough, well-rounded, fair-minded and tough-minded, description of the odious debacle than the one Franklin Bruno provides in his new book on Armed Forces and ancillary Costello subjects.

Two of the more grabbing of the many things I didn’t know about the Incident:

* Bonnie Bramlett may have been the first white Ikette, backing Ike & Tina Turner in tours of the south.

* EC had been active in Rock Against Racism, which got going in response to crypto-fascist flirtations from rock stars David Bowie and Eric Clapton.

Franklin organized his book as an abecedary, with the topics -- including thorough run-throughs of each of the album's songs -- listed alphabetically. It’s a jump-cutty, complex construction that seems suited to EC’s work and, paradoxically, a good dramatic read, as details about the Columbus Incident, in particular, unfold in unpredictable fashion, as Franklin arranges his material in a way that appears to follow his ABC’s.

Franklin knows a lot and, more importantly, *notices* a lot about music as it happens. He gives a great description of typical album closers in rockin’ pop: usually either a rave-up, a big ballad, or a gentle send-off. And: I hadn’t realized that all 3 of EC’s first album begin with his voice jump-starting the songs and the albums.

Franklin dug into the background of the album. He gives lively, interesting snapshots of figures and historical events in British fascism. He got interesting technical information and good anecdotage from an interview with the album’s engineer, Roger Bechirian. He finds a nice quote on obsessive love -- one of the album's central themes -- from French philosopher Roland Barthes’ book “A Lover’s Discourse,” which coincidentally also is arranged alphabetically. In general, a thoughtful, thinkful, lively read.

At points I thought Franklin’s approach to the music relied too much on technical music and prosodic jargon, two jargons I happen to be able to follow but don’t much enjoy reading. He frequently speaks of EC’s “feminine rhymes,” two-syllable rhymes where the 2nd syllable is unstressed. Musicologist Susan McClary has planted prominent red flags around such sexualized technical language: music as well as poetry has “feminine endings,” phrases which end on an offbeat, the equivalent of an unstressed syllable in poetry; music theorists coined the term by equating “unstressed” with “weak” and therefore with “feminine.” Franklin didn’t intend to trigger that chain of connotations, but I asked him about it via email, as well as a number of other questions I had about his book, with the additional question as to whether I could print his answers, if he chose to answer. “Hell, you can think of me as your twig-league Terry Gross,” I wrote to him: “‘Mr. Bruno, when did you become fascinated with the alphabet?’” He declined to answer *that* question, but he answered a bunch of others, and he gave me the OK to print them, and I'm pleased to be able to share them with you.

UT: You mention EC's "Pretensions to sophistication." (I think "sophistication" is the word you used.) "Pretentions" implies that he tries but fails to be sophisticated. Do you intend that implication?

FB: I tried to play this carefully: I said "the album's pretensions to sophistication," which is perhaps to anthropomorphize the record, but was meant to make it sound less like a personal charge. I don't think that "pretension" always implies some failed or unachieved aim, but that is the usual connotation -- surely, at least, AF is self-consciously elaborate next to the first two. One doesn't have to call this a pretension, but I think it's fair, and relates to the points I sometimes make about EC/AF's "ambitions." Probably what saves it is that EC isn't really that musically sophisticated at this point -- we're basically in the realm of very modestly extended pop forms and techniques.

I don't have a strong opinion about whether his turn to "composition" has resulted in worthwhile music, but I don't think he's merely pretentious. Learning to orchestrate and write out one's own scores isn't a weekend's work, or something you do just because you want some mid/high-cult attention.

UT: Regarding the relative harmonic simplicity of "Two Little Hitlers," you say that it signals, if I remember rightly, an exhaustion. Is that how the song struck you immediately, or is it something that you felt only after you played through the song yourself? Or do you hear the chord changes that way on first hearing?

FB: I would not say that I could have read off all the underlying harmonies after one listen, but I would say that anyone with some musical training can tell that it's mostly I-IV-V, and depends mostly on repeated two-chord patterns; and anyone whose listened critically to a fair amount of music, whether a music-reader or not, can tell that this is simpler territory (in the relevant respect) than say, "Party Girl." Nothing wrong with that -- it's just another parameter one can attend to track-to-track variations of in listening to an album (or programming one) like guitar tone or tempo.

As to whether this struck me the first time I heard it, at 15 or 16, I can't claim any memory. Since I've owned the record for 20 years or so, and A Singing Dictionary for almost as long, there' s just no getting back to that pre-critical listening stage -- and I try not to pretend to do so in the book. I'm describing the songs from the point of view of someone who has listened to them many times and has at some point picked them apart; I'm not claiming to replicate the aesthetic character of the initial experience, certainly not by miming that experience in prose. Just not my strength as a writer.

UT: How does the "feminine rhyme" work for you as opposed to masculine rhymes? You mention them a lot. I just would have said "2-syllable" rhymes, not having a strong feeling about how unstressed endings strike me as opposed to stressed line endings.

FB: I don't mean to put any significant weight on the gendered terminology, but it is standard vocabulary -- I don't even know how/when they got those names. (Another thing I'm not by training is a literary critic.) I don't have any elaborate theory of how stressed/unstressed rhymes work differently, really, but they can 'feel' a bit different, and I think they're another index of how self-conscious EC is becoming about his lyrics by this point, and of his beginning to connect himself to the Tin Pan/standards tradition, where an interest in those formal qualities was par for the course. I think what' s most telling is the number of times that these "clever"/"sophisticated" (again) rhymes involve the album's "charged language" -- there's definitely a technique that becomes a bit of a trick here.

UT: Have you read "Feminine Endings" by Susan McClary? If so, thoughts?

FB: I've glanced at it, but not for this, and not recently.

UT: I'm assuming the "degree zero" in Barthes' "Writing Degree Zero" and your phrase "songwriting degree zero" is a cartographical metaphor and not a thermometer metaphor -- degree zero, the starting point, not degree zero, the melting/freezing point (in Centigrade, not Farenheit or Kelvin). Is this assumption right? (I haven't read the Barthes, but years ago I glanced at it and remember it as being a response to Sartres' "What Is Literature," parts of which I *think* I've read.)

FB: I believe that's the right way to read it; of course, I'm alluding to the Barthes and connecting up in a glancing way with the use of A Lover's Discourse earlier. (I actually should have brought in that phrase "image-repetoire" somewhere in the "Less Than Zero" entry as well.) But there's also the connotation of "Punk Year Zero," a phrase you sometimes hear (I don't know where it originated). I would have to be around my books, by the way, to give you a better gloss of what Barthes meant.

UT: How come you don't mention anywhere that you're a philosophy teacher? (I think you do mention that you're a musician.)

FB: Just seemed irrelevant, especially as some kind of qualification for writing the book. I think very little philosophy goes on in the book, either in method or content, though of course there is some intellectual history invoked here and there, and the sociopolitical questions touched could be seen as specific instances of larger theoretical ones. But that, you could say about a newspaper.

UT: What's wrong with "face / disgrace"? "Fire / desire" goes back to Henry Purcell, at least! (A song on my upcoming CD has "waste / graced" in one song and "laces / faces" in another. Unused rhymes in English are scarce.)

FB: I think it's a certain way of using the construction x "is (just) a disgrace" that rankles -- it's somewhat uncommon, fairly vague, and very stitled, to hear this usage outside of the context of a song. It's one of those touches that indicates more concern with getting the song done than getting it right. It's not a matter of clever vs. simple, exactly, but the way that certain rhymes overdetermine what's likely to be said, unless they're handled very carefully -- I don't think ultra-simple rhymes like me/be/see or you/do/too are problematic in the same way, because they can be turned to many different ends.

* * *

Franklin Bruno’s “Armed Forces” only costs ten bucks. If you’re interested in Elvis Costello, I recommend it.
Posted by: John / 9:14 PM

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Postby johnfoyle » Thu Oct 06, 2005 3:23 pm

Uncut , Nov. '05

ANOTHER INSTALMENT OF CONTINUUM’S 33 1/3 series, in which writers ramble at length across the musical and lyrical topography of favourite albums, the danger with such expansive examination is always that the critic might read more into the work than its creator wrote into it.

Happily. US critic and musician Franklin Bruno never quite out clevers himself. It helps that he’s approaching an album with more formidable depths than most. Armed Forces, Elvis Costello’s third LP, was released in 1979. It was intended to make Costello a superstar in America, and nearly succeeded, reaching the Billboard Top 10 before the infamous fracas in which Costello made disobliging remarks about Ray Charles to some elderly American musicians, who raised a witch-hunt that (probably mercifully) scuppered Costello’s chances of becoming the next Elton John. Bruno, like many before him, over-examines this incident, failing to contemplate the possibility that a tired, drunk and preternaturally belligerent young man just said something stupid which he didn’t really mean.

The working title of Armed Forces was the less subtle “Emotional Fascism”. and Bruno’s structure of alphabeticised instalments allows him to pursue the romantic and political brutality explored on Armed Forces far and wide: Cromwell, Mosley and Churchill appear alongside more predictable references to lake Riviera and Nick Lowe, He loses points for repeating the canard that the piano on “Oliver’s Army” was lifted from Abba’s “Dancing Queen” it’s actually much closer to “Dance (While The Music Still Goes On)” — and for misspelling the name of the editor of this journal, but this is otherwise the intelligent, slightly feverish companion that Armed Forces deserves.


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Postby johnfoyle » Sat Oct 08, 2005 1:23 am

I sent Franklin this review , and he's allowed me share this reaction -

Thanks, I hadn't seen this. Seems a little silly for the reviewer to
say the "Dancing Queen" reference is a canard -- I pretty much sit the
reader down and talk through precisely what's similar and different.
And Bechiran explicitly said that that was the reference made in the
studio, so -- am I making it up?

Lame, though, about the misspelling; I'm really ticked at myself that I
didn't find the dumb copyediting things that people can pick on. Sigh.
Everyone's a critic, including me.

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Postby johnfoyle » Fri Nov 18, 2005 8:15 am

http://home.uchicago.edu/~jniimi/2005/1 ... gning.html

33 1/3 Book Reading and Signing

Franklin Bruno
author of Elvis Costello's Armed Forces

J. Niimi
author of R.E.M.'s Murmur

Saturday, November 19th ~ 7:00 p.m.

Quimby's Bookstore
1854 W. North Ave. (@ Wood St.)
Wicker Park/Bucktown

(773) 342-0910 for more info

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Postby martinfoyle » Thu Dec 15, 2005 5:52 am

Franklin's bit of a rocker, if the blurb in this is anything to go by

http://www.midheaven.com/bin/search.cgi ... ted%20blue

***Taste The Flavor, Nothing Painted Blue's sixth full-length, brings together the veteran Inland Empire trio for 13 songs that are louder, looser, and stranger than their previous reputation. Recorded at Tucson, Arizona's famed Wavelab by Craig Schumacher (Giant Sand, Calexico, Neko Case), most of the disc emphasizes performance and feel over elaborately overdubbed arrangements - opener "One Who Fell" and epic closer "Swansong" capture the band's confident interactions as well as any studio recording can. This is NPB's least restrained and most varied album, ranging from the touching pop ("Back in Town," with Schumacher's harmonica solo) and angular speedballs ("Emphasis") you'd expect, though a Stones-y riff-rocker ("A Longer Leash," complete with cowbell), and an acoustic dub excursion ("Dry Spell"). Frontman Franklin Bruno's sharp-witted lyrics and emotionally engaged vocals are still in place, but they're augmented by newfound guitar firepower, and tough, no-bullshit rhythm arrangements by drummer Kyle Brodie and bassist Peter Hughes.

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Postby johnfoyle » Mon Feb 27, 2006 3:12 am

This books publisher has 'blogged' this -


Sunday, February 26, 2006
College Art

Just back from a few days in Boston, at the annual College Art Association Conference.

We sold quite a few books on our booth - and took lots of pre-orders for Brandon LaBelle's forthcoming Background Noise.

And we received lots of positive comments about the 33 1/3 series, as well as several versions of my favourite question, "When the **** is that My Bloody Valentine book coming out?" Anyway, people who teach and study the visual arts diplayed the following preferences. Make of this what you will:

R.E.M. - 7 copies
Beach Boys, Neutral Milk Hotel - 6 copies
David Bowie, Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground - 5 copies
Elvis Costello, Prince, The Band - 4 copies
Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, DJ Shadow, Jeff Buckley, Love, The MC5, Ramones, The Smiths, Sly and the Family Stone - 3 copies
Dusty Springfield, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Replacements, Stone Roses - 2 copies
Abba, Joy Division, Led Zeppelin - 1 copy
Jethro Tull, The Kinks* - 0 copies

*Slightly unfair, as we didn't have any copies of the Kinks book to sell.

posted by David @ 9:55 PM

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Postby Poor Deportee » Sun Apr 09, 2006 1:47 pm

How come there hasn't been any engagement with the SUBSTANCE of this book on this site (at least not as far as I can tell)?

What Bruno's anaylsis crystallized for me was the degree to which the early, molten-hot phase of EC's career was dominated by a singular point of view - a combination of loathing for authoritarianism (hence the overriding concern with fascism and fascist motifs) and SELF-loathing for one's own propensity to be drawn to it; coupled with the tendency to connect the fascism still haunting our imaginations at a society, with sundry and sordid expressions of fascism's master-slave dialectic in personal relationships. From 'Less Than Zero' on these themes punctuate the early stuff, culminating in the more systematic and suffocating 'Armed Forces.'

But what interest me is what follows...EC's move AWAY from that point of view. On GH, IB and Trust, for instance, he seems to be gliding over into a more cosmopolitan, expansive, world-weary pose - though the abusive and self-abusive element is always present; and by the time we hit 'King of America' and 'Blood and Chocolate' the wider social frame has shrunk considerably. Now it's mostly (not wholly) directed inwards, and when it's not, framed in terms of devastating personal tragedies ('Sleep of the Just') rather than the accusatory tone of, say, 'Night Rally.'

And by the time we hit the present, EC's unique point of view has pretty much dissolved. Records such as The Juliet Letters or Painted from Memory or North are much more generic in perspective; strong, well-crafted, rich albums indeed, but no longer strikingly distinctive - those songs could have been written by ANY master of the craft, not specifically EC. Even on The Delivery Man, Elvis achieves a unique voice or tone mainly through the artifice of the characters - which, I think, is the direction he's had to adopt since the dissolution of his early persona, arguably a single Master Character rather than the more eclectic array of his ATUB and other records.

Which is too bad, in a way. The startling originality (and shock value) are more or less gone, which is not to take away from the later achievements.

When man has destroyed what he thinks he owns
I hope no living thing cries over his bones

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Postby oldhamer » Sun Apr 09, 2006 7:08 pm

Perhaps The Juliet Letters and Painted From Memory are so distinctive because they are collaborations. Certainly the Brodskys had a lot of input into the lyrics on the album, which explains why the lyrics aren't "Costello-ised". And Elvis definitely conceded to the Bacharach style of songwriting on PFM, which is a good thing. Spitting vitriol over syruppy background singers and flug-horn solos would not have sounded good.

Also, Elvis has surely matured over the past thirty years! He has conceded that his albums up to and including Blood and Chocolate he was messing up his life so he could write songs about it. Then came a happy second marriage, and he took out his anger on the outside world or Bruce Thomas (like the songs in Mighty Like a Rose or the song You Bowed Down, for instance). All This Useless Beauty is a wonderfully mature album, lyrically wise. It was an album of someone aging gracefully, though still not completely contented with his life, the world, or his bassist.

Now Elvis is happy in love again, and with another collaboration to be released, he won't be sneering and snarling just yet. It seems to be that every eight years or so (1978, 86, 94, 2002...) Elvis has to release an album where he vents out personal frustrations. Which is great, but don't provide for cover-friendly songs. Whereas songs on PFM, TJL or North could be easily covered, with their less personal lyrics, that could, as Deportee says, be applied for anyone.

So my final thought? Deportee, if you want another album with EC's self-loathing and loathing for authoritarianism, wait for 2010. Though I also think I'll be wrong!
If there were a king of fools than I would wear that crown/And you can all die laughing/Because I'll wear it proudly.

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Postby Poor Deportee » Sun Apr 09, 2006 8:43 pm

Well, it's not that I'm looking for EC to 'recapture the [perverse] magic' etc.. I think that persona is pretty much done - whenever he revisits it, as with, say, 'Alibi,' the attempt tends to fall short of the complexity of what he was doing back in the day and inches toward flat self-satire. More interesting is the new synthesis achieved on a track like 'When I Was Cruel No.2,' well-discussed in Bruno's book. A song like that acknowledges the distance between then and now...a different kind of self-loathing, but also a higher awareness, perhaps, and just as keenly observed. All I'm saying is that I haven't found that Elvis captures a truly unique and startling *point of view* in his songs as consistently in the past 15 years of his career as the first 15 - which is not to deny the gains in terms of musical range and, perhaps, timelessness.

Good call about the co-authorships, though.
When man has destroyed what he thinks he owns

I hope no living thing cries over his bones

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Postby thepopeofpop » Fri Apr 21, 2006 7:37 am

Poor Deportee wrote:But what interest me is what follows...EC's move AWAY from that point of view. On GH, IB and Trust, for instance, he seems to be gliding over into a more cosmopolitan, expansive, world-weary pose

I can hear the beginnings of this on "Accidents Will Happen".

I enjoyed Bruno's book, I've read it 3 times, which is probably 2 times more than any other book about the man. "Armed Forces" is a particularly interesting album, IMHO, and a bit underrated by the hardcore fans (perhaps because it's so highly rated by the non-fans?) It does represent both a culmination of his early obsessive phase and also the very beginning of a shift from private obsessions to a more generalised point of view. This does, to some extent, lead to songs that use social/political/historical imagery to describe the personal (something that EC now thinks might be a mistake) but it certainly makes this an almost unique collection (except for the half dozen Get Happy songs that are in a similar lyrical vein, in particular "Opportunity").

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Postby johnfoyle » Fri Jan 05, 2007 5:35 pm

.....and Columbus, Ohio. The events of April 15, 1979 are referred to over and over again. Quotes , old and new , from nearly all the participants help give the most complete account I've seen. However his reference to the New York press conference two weeks later , where Elvis tried to explain his comments, mentions that a transcript of same exists , citing the Uncut feature as one source. Extensive as that feature was I hope he actually heard a sound recording of same. To remind myself this evening I played back the same recording , looking at Allan Jones transcript/commentary. Repeatedly Jones edites out asides and gives emotive descriptions to tones of questioning that are just not evident to my ears. True Elvis does himself few favours but it is not the disaster Jones describes.

The latest issue of Uncut is a 10th Anniversery special and the feature from the first issue about the Columbus Incident is reprinted.



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Postby johnfoyle » Fri Nov 09, 2007 4:59 pm


33 1/3: Armed Forces
November 2nd, 2007:

Posted by Franklin Bruno

[Editor's Note: In honor of our 33 1/3 sale — buy two new (not used or sale) books from Continuum Books' 33 1/3 series, featuring critical writing on seminal albums, and get a third free — we're pleased to feature blog posts from some of the people behind the 33 1/3 series.]

There's probably some text up above this sentence making introductions redundant, but because I value clarity above all things: today's dispatch from the album-obsessed today comes to you from Franklin Bruno, which is to say the foolhardy soul who held forth on the subject of Elvis Costello and the Attractions' Armed Forces for Continuum Books, series editor David Barker, and a reading public starved for a detailed analysis of the relationship between the piano parts of "Oliver's Army" and "Dancing Queen." We've been told that this space is ours for the day to fill as we wish, so I guess I'll do the most straightforward thing possible to repay (or sustain) your gracious attention, and let you know a bit about my contribution to this fine series.

If you haven't seen the book, the first thing worth mentioning may be that it's arranged as a bunch of alphabetical entries: song titles, allusions in the lyrics, other songs or artists related in one way or another to the material on the album, and some abstract notions like "language" or "authoritarian personality." Some are essentially one-liners, some run several pages. I lucked out in taking on the assignment relatively early in the series, before any one else had happened on this head-slappingly obvious organizational trick. In my case, it came about because of the character of EC's songwriting, especially on the album at hand: I realized early on that glossing all the lyrics' historical and topical reference made everything I was writing a convoluted mess. "Ok, we were talking about 'Green Shirt'? Well, here's a little sidebar on the Norwegian fascist leader Vikdun Quisling, and the medical office that semi-coincidentally bears his name in Madison, which EC saw out a tour bus window in 1978. Now about the next line...." So I decided to write these "insertions" separately, and eventually noticed that I could make practically an entire book out of them; better yet, I could pretend to have been motivated by EC's own obsession with both language and regimentation. (And, come to think of it, knowing that I had a readymade "Q" to work with didn't hurt.)

So much for the form, what about the content? (I know, I know, they're inseparable, tell someone who doesn't work with deadlines.) Well, I have a hard time writing anything unless I know what I'm not going to do, and I suppose one of the first decisions I made was that this book wasn't going to be a memoir. A lot of authors in the series have done this incredibly well (howdy, Matos!), but they have more interesting lives than me. And, in any case, I was pretty sure that my subjectivity, I believe it's called, would show up in the book whether I placed it there in the form of direct autobiography or not. Trust me: I have as personal and life-shaping a set of associations with my artist of choice as anyone who's contributed to the series. Not, funnily enough, with Armed Forces, but with EC in general: it's Get Happy! and Imperial Bedroom, in particular, that I used to subvocalize entire sides of to myself during the less inspiring stretches of my high school civics class.

Much later, I realized that a great deal of what I knew about soul, R&B, and a lot of other black music that wasn't either jazz proper or hip-hop came not just from EC, but from white English artists of his generation: I'm not absolutely certain I heard The Clash's "Time Is Tight" before Booker T.'s, or The Jam's "Heat Wave" before Martha and the Vandella's, but I sure knew the covers better than the originals, and I doubt I'd ever have encountered Sam and Dave's "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" without Elvis'. That fact began to strike me as a pretty strange and unnatural feature of my musical background, especially when I found myself, from my college radio days on, heavily involved in a independent rock scene that had remarkably little use for either African-American or "black English" popular music (in other words, everything coming out of calypso, reggae and ska), and that also seemed peculiarly untroubled by that fact. It was only well after getting some distance from both the self-congratulation and self-abnegation of "indie-rock" as it stood in the ‘90s that I was able to admit in mixed — actually, not to put too fine a point on it, unmixed — company that, even though I liked Sonic Youth just fine, they were never, ever going to mean as much to me, or swing as hard, as integrated, rhythmically open-eared groups like The English Beat. So I suppose that the parts of the book that go to some lengths to make the depth and breadth of the influence of black music on this allegedly "new wave" album, are my way of making belated peace with my own ignorance and willingness, for a few years anyway, to go along with the crowd.

Now, of course, this influence is something EC has never for a moment denied — but it's something that he arguably betrayed, for the few moments that it took him to offend Bonnie Bramlett and Stephen Stills in a Columbus, Ohio Holiday Inn on the Armed Forces tour, by applying the most highly charged racial epiphets in our language to Ray Charles and James Brown. It's one of my book's themes — one I hope is obvious to the reader though I never state it quite as flatly as I'm doing here — that this incident in EC's career was more than a passing scandal (though it did defuse his momentum as a hitmaker in America), but an event without which many of his later artistic choices can hardly be understood. Get Happy!, perhaps obviously, is in part one long mea culpa (even though "I Stand Accused" was written by a minor white Merseybeat singer), but references to both the incident itself and the failure of what might be called EC's "American campaign" crop up on numerous later albums. To some extent, figuring out how to deal with all this actually is his own way of dealing with the relation between the personal and political. It's even possible that I wrote this book to treat some of the difficulties surrounding my own relationship to black music in a parallel way. And given this level of pretentiousness about the relation between artist and critic, maybe I don't need any further explanation of why I didn't think a book about "Armed Forces and ME" would be an appealing read.

I haven't even mentioned the immediate political context of the album, the pitched battles between the neo-fascist National Front and the left-leaning Rock Against Racism coalition, throughout England but especially in London, in the months leading up to the election of Margaret Thatcher. And I haven't been entirely candid about the fact that there are big chunks that are less about politics than they are about the craft of record-making and, especially, songwriting. It's not the most musically "technical" of the 33 1/3 books, but it's not the least: there's maybe 10-15% of the text that won't be of much utility to someone who doesn't know the names of a few guitar chords. (A nice feature of the A-Z organization is that you can skip a lot of this.) I always feel a little defensive discussing this issue, because there are many critics I respect who avoid all mention of such things, and some who even think it elitist to do so. All I can say is that anything vaguely "musicological" in the book is really just practical knowledge that I picked up from a few years of desultory piano lessons and some later (and more satisfying) attempts to teach myself guitar. And it's knowledge that many people of many classes share and use to communicate their musical ideas to one another. It's not the only way people do this, not by a long shot. I'm not even trying to tell you it's the best. But as far as I know, it's not a kind of knowledge that "the man" is keeping from anyone — except, I suppose, by underfunding public schools that would otherwise have significant music education programs. In any case, I did figure that if you can't write about the weird way that the chorus of "Green Shirt" gets back to the verse, and the way the simple-minded drum loop hides the dropped beats EC wrote into the song, for an audience willing to sit still for a whole damn book about one album, well, what's the point?

It's probably fair to say that, as rock criticism goes, mine is a relatively "analytical" piece of work. But I hope it's not dryly written — man, you should see my actual academic papers! There are jokes, and, at least for me, it's hard to retain objectivity when reading (much less writing) about freaking jerks like Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell. (No relation!) If there are potential readers out there who worry that the fact that I wanted to get at some of the meanings of this album by thinking about it means that I must not feel much, well, please contact me care of the publishers and I will send along a vial of my bitter, bitter tears.

Oh, and most of the prose is less baggy than this blog entry, at least I hope so. Thanks for your time. Who's next?

÷ ÷ ÷

Franklin Bruno'
s criticism has appeared in The Believer, Slate, Salon, Best Music Writing 2003 (Da Capo), and Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music (Duke University Press). After several records as a member of Nothing Painted Blue and as a solo artist, his most recent musical project is Civics, the debut CD by The Human Hearts (Tight Ship); he is also a recording and occasional touring member of The Mountain Goats. He has taught philosophy at UCLA, Pomona College, and Northwestern University; currently, he is Visiting Assistant Professor at Bard College.

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Postby charliestumpy » Mon Nov 12, 2007 5:08 am

.. love my AF LP/foldout/free 7" immensely ( and various CD versions).

1st and last Elvis Costello book I bought is 1986 Mick St. Michael 'Elvis Costello' (An Illustrated Biography) £3.95 Omnibus Press with DPAM on cover with pink spec lenses ...


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Re: Armed Forces book

Postby johnfoyle » Sun Jun 22, 2008 3:54 am



@ Solas Bar
232 E. 9th Street
(between 3rd and 2nd Aves)
7:30PM sharp

Thursday, June 26th
A night of readings from Continuum's 33 1/3rd
Series! With LD Beghtol (Magnetic Field's 69 Love Songs), Franklin Bruno (Elvis Costello's Armed Forces) and Elizabeth Vincentelli (Abba Gold) !

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Re: Armed Forces book

Postby johnfoyle » Thu Oct 30, 2008 5:33 pm

Franklin will be reading and , it seems , performing songs from Armed Forces in Brooklyn next Sunday -

http://33third.blogspot.com/2008/10/fra ... nov-2.html


376 9th Street at 6th Ave

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Nov. 2nd


Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces

Franklin Bruno

Elvis Costello and the Attractions' 1979 album Armed Forces was perfectly timed to comment on the rising tide of "emotional fascism"-- the album's working title-- in what was about to become Thatcher's England (not to mention Reagan's America). Join us for a timely pre-election look at the musical and political roots of Costello perennials like "Oliver's Army," and "(What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and and Understanding)," with like "illustration" by author Franklin Bruno and special guests, including this-performance-only cover versions.

Critic and musician Franklin Bruno has been called a "true Tin Pan Alley scion" by Los Angeles Times. He founded and fronted the So. Cal. pop trio Nothing Painted Blue and has since recorded as a solo artist, in collaboration with The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle (as The Extra Glenns) and singer/activist Jenny Toomey, and with his current "flexible branding medium" The Human Hears. As a critic, his writing has appeared in Slate, The Believer, Village Voice, and in Da Capo's Best Music Writing series.

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Re: Armed Forces book, reading from, NY, Nov. 2 '08

Postby johnfoyle » Wed Jan 14, 2009 6:33 pm

Crawdaddy magazine has a long extract from this book -


http://crawdaddy.wolfgangsvault.com/Art ... =1&cpage=1

Lit Snippet:Elvis Costello: Armed Forces

by Franklin Bruno

Many books come out each year deconstructing rock music: The musicians, their albums, their songs, their showering habits, and their other habits. It's here where we'll take an excerpt of a book for you to check out before you make the purchase. As of now these will exclusively feature the venerable 33 1/3 series, which picks apart an album by a band or musician. In the future, we hope to include more rock books of all varieties.

* * *

Unlike Sam Cooke and, later, Aretha Franklin and Al Green, Ray Charles did not cross over to secular stardom from a sig­nificant gospel career. But in combining a spiritual melody (“My Jesus Is All the World to Me”) with a worldly R&B lyric—and a vocal style that split the difference—his 1954 recording of “I Got a Woman” became the template for modern soul. His 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was no less innovative. Dressing a genre often viewed as crude in lush string arrangements and vocal choruses would have been bold for a white performer of the time; for a black singer to wring a #1 pop hit (“I Can’t Stop Loving You”) from this synthesis was revolutionary.

Elvis Costello’s own trawl through the country repertoire, 1981’s Almost Blue, was widely viewed as an outsider’s attempt to annex foreign territory; how much it owes to Charles’ more successful one has gone unnoticed. Produced by Billy Sherrill, who got his start in the Muscle Shoals soul scene before heading to Nashville, Almost Blue again sets a rough vocal presence against the sort of smoothed-out backing that Charles introduced to the genre (and which Sherrill brought back home). This, at least, was the idea; EC later expressed disappointment that the countrypolitan polish was not more liberally applied. The album ends by confounding the distinction between black and white vernacular music with “Honey Hush”, previously recorded both as jump blues (Joe Turner) and rocka­billy (Johnny Burnette).

No stranger to career reversals, Charles forgave—“excused” is the better word—EC for his behavior in Columbus not long after the episode (see Columbus, p. 6). His on-the-record com­ment: “Anyone could get drunk at least once. Drunken talk isn’t meant to be printed in the paper and people should judge Mr. Costello by his songs rather than his stupid bar talk.” This leaves what the appropriate judgment ought to be entirely open.

Even more than on “Green Shirt”, the arrangement and pro­duction of “Chemistry Class” seem imposed on the song from without. The verses alternate strictly between two instrumental textures, linked by an eight-note pulse carried first by piano, then by toms. The third verse switches the order of these units, setting up a dramatic approach into the final chorus. The cho­ruses combine these opposing registers, and thicken the sound with an acoustic strum (and some precise piano/electric guitar interplay); ABBA’s influence is, if anything, more pervasive than on “Oliver’s Army.” Dub/psychedelic touches from early in the album return: Tremoloed guitar clouds the mix, and an atonal, arrhythmic howl of uncertain provenance dominates the fade.

The repetition of “if it wasn’t for some acciden—accidents, some would never, ever learn,” turns 4/4 time into 5/4 for exactly one measure—not that you have to count the beats to register this as a tear in the fabric. The Attractions could have learned to play the song this way, but they didn’t. Bechirian cre­ated the effect by a tape splice of two copies of the recorded performance. “It was just an idea I had—I didn’t know what any­one else would think of it. So I took a rough mix home, did the splice on a Revox, and brought it in. Nick and the band thought it was great, so we ran another copy of the master and spliced it into the final mix.” Such touches are not exactly an EC trade­mark, though there have been others: On Blood & Chocolate, Lowe assembled “Battered Old Bird” from three performances in different tempos. In this case, the effect is self-referential—it sounds like an accident. Along with the darkness and wetness of the mix, it also ties the album’s penultimate song to its open­ing track, with “Two Little Hitlers” as a dried-out coda. This is less evident in the US track order, where “Chemistry Class” sits next to “Moods for Moderns” in middle-of-Side-Two purgatory.

Beneath the disruption and ornamentation lies a simple form: Three verses, three choruses. The verses are in EC’s “knocked-together” mode, running over a five-chord progression with little effort to regulate meter or rhyme scheme. (The second verse is eight bars longer and cycles through the chords twice, but its harmonic relation to the chorus is identical to the others’.) The verse melody is conversational, contrasting with the richer chorus. The harmony opens up at the title, but this line and the next (“you don’t know what you’ve started”) are based on what has come before; what differs is EC’s smoother phrasing, and the elaborate melisma on “mine.” This sets the stage for the song’s central melodic—and verbal—event: “Are you ready for the final solution?” The notes are held longer; “lu-tion” leaps up nearly an octave from “so,” landing on the sophisticated sounding major seventh of the underlying (and out-of-key) C chord. The phrase subsides with a drawn-out “oh”—very much a pop-rock “oh,” not a R&B/soul “ooh”—as a standard IIm–V–I transition leads back to the verse.

Even if we’ve already assimilated “white niggers,” “Quisling Clinic,” and “you’ll never make a lampshade out of me,” this hook is as disturbing as it is meant to be—genocide set to a wide-open pop tune, with a family resemblance to “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Worse, it appears to be a near-pun; by asso­ciation with the title, “solution” carries the sense of “combination of liquids” as well as the blander “answer.” We can hear what EC is asking us all too well, but it is not obvious why. Through­out AF, EC tests popular music’s lab equipment and his own growing mastery of it; here, this amounts to seeing just how bitter a pill he can sugarcoat.

In the Rolling Stone/Ranters interview, EC dismissed parts of AF as “glib,” and commented further on its “charged language” in the Rhino notes: “Personal and global matters are spoken of with the same vocabulary; perhaps this was a mistake.” Or, as Pamela Thurschwell has written, “One of Costello’s most dubi­ous and interesting moves is to take the imagery bequeathed by the Holocaust as the metaphorical fodder of modern existence.” But with this song, set late in the album, it’s no longer clear which way this metaphor is supposed to run. The surrounding verses, vivid but diffuse, are no help, touching on (among other things) scientific imagery, bad jokes about vocational school, and an oblique sense of sexual threat. Are the matters spoken of here personal, or global—or is asking this our first mistake?

The early live version—so early that the third verse is miss­ing—on the Rhino bonus disc seems to have been included to back up EC’s claim, in the liner notes, that the song reflected his disaffection with American audiences, particularly collegiate ones. The crowd is noisy, ignoring the dressing down they paid to hear. For all they care, he could be singing anything from “Cha-Dooky-Doo” to “Deutschland Über Alles”; no wonder he sounds like he wants to ruin their lives.

This extra information is interesting in retrospect, but it wasn’t available to most listeners; even now, the AF version is more effective if its origins are left opaque. If there’s more than a stunt here, it’s what the stunt demonstrates: That the language, if not the fact, of atrocity has become so commonplace that it can be pulled from its proper context and incorporated into the triviality of a pop record, a mass market artifact disseminated indiscrimi­nately to the many—very many, if all goes as planned—who will hear it. We ought decently to recoil from the chorus, and to some degree we do, thinking, “He’s gone too far.” But most of us—EC’s audience—let him get away with it, though we’ve just heard what we would normally agree to be the unique, unas­similable, unrepresentable tragedy of twentieth century history made, as Barthes would say, “childish, sophisticated, obscure.” To the extent that we hear this question and keep listening, our implicit answer is “Yes.”

This sort of stunt doesn’t work in bars.

According to his friend Lord Beaverbrook, Winston Churchill “sang the popular music-hall melodies in a raucous voice, and without any regard for tune.”

The success of Eric Clapton was built on his extension of blues guitar styles, and the innovations of Jimi Hendrix—who Clapton first encountered on the British tours managed by Stiff Records co-founder Dave Robinson—into a mastery of the extended, expressive solo. Clapton has also borrowed from the black music of the British Commonwealth: His 1974 cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” reached many listeners unfa­miliar with the original, and with reggae more generally.

Despite these debts, Clapton directed an anti-immigrant diatribe to his audience at Birmingham Odeon, on August 5, 1976: “Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. I think we should vote for Enoch Powell.” He also warned that Britain was in danger of becom­ing “a colony.” The concert was not far from the site of Powell’s 1968 “rivers of blood” speech; one wishes Bonnie Bramlett had been in the vicinity. His conciliatory letter to the English music paper Sounds ran, in part, with spelling and punctuation preserved:

Dear everybody,

I openly apologize to all the foreigners in Brum... its just that (as usual) I’d had a few before I went on, and one foreigner had pinched my missus’ bum and I proceeded to lose my bottle [...] and I think I think that enoch is the only politician mad enough to run this country... yours eccentricly, e.c.

This episode was the seed for Rock Against Racism, which grew from the positive response to another open letter, pub­lished in Sounds, Melody Maker, New Musical Express, and the Socialist Worker later in 1976, Elvis Costello, Armed Forcessigned by photographer Red Saunders and six others:

"Come on Eric... you’ve been taking too much of that Daily Express stuff and you know you can’t handle it. Own up. Half your music is black. You’re rock music’s big­gest colonist. You’re a good musician but where would you be without the blues and R&B? You’ve got to fight the racist poison otherwise you degenerate into the sewer with the rats and all the money men who ripped off rock culture with their cheque books and plastic crap. We want to organize a rank and file movement against the racist poison in music. We urge support for Rock Against Racism. P.S. Who shot the Sheriff, Eric? It sure as hell wasn’t you."

Clapton did not get the message. In a December 1978 Mel­ody Maker interview—a few pages away from the announce­ment of RAR’s first national tour—Clapton called Powell “a prophet... the only one telling the truth for the good of the country,” adding: “The racist business starts when white guys see immigrants getting jobs and they’re not.” The same issue contained a full-page “thank you” from his promotion company for his recent sold-out European tour—with “Special Guest Star Muddy Waters.”

“Clean Money” was the last AF outtake to surface, first on Taking Liberties/10 Bloody Marys, and a few months later as a B-side to “Clubland.” What if it had opened AF, as originally planned? The seventh-chord voicings and vocal arrangement, derived from “Taxman”, would have seemed a self-conscious invocation of Revolver—another beat group’s “leap” toward sophistication and variety. By EC’s account, the track’s power-pop charge was absorbed from Cheap Trick’s In Color, another tour-vehicle standby; but once the other songs had undergone their studio transformation, this guitar-led rave-up must have seemed trad by comparison. The words, obscure as they are—what is clean money, and is there any?—would have announced the connections made in “Busy Bodies” that much sooner. In retrospect, the song’s most remarkable feature is how smoothly its lyrics fit, with only light revisions, over the opening track of Get Happy!, the Supremes-inspired “Love for Tender.”

Those curious about what disrespect for James Brown sounds like are invited to seek out “Chicken Funk”, a 1976 single by Bay Area country-rockers Clover, paying special note to the repeated grunting of the title by frontman Huey Louis, later Lewis. The rest of the band—adrift in England, where they were managed by Stiff’s Rivera and Robinson—backed EC on Aim, without credit. Only multi-instrumentalist John McFee has main­tained this professional connection, sitting in on the Palomino dates mentioned earlier, as well as Almost Blue and 2004’s The Delivery Man.

Columbia Records, the US label for AF, was founded in 1886 as a regional distributor for Edison equipment; the company began manufacturing “noiseless” shellac discs in 1921, and inaugurated their nationwide radio network (CBS) six years later. In 1948, Columbia introduced the ten- and then twelve-inch long-playing (LP) record, which eventually made possible, for good or ill, the “concept album.” EC was signed to the label after publicity generated by a performance in front of its London office in July 1977 and was nearly dropped from its roster after the negative publicity generated on the Armed Funk tour.

EC’s career-altering encounter with Bonnie Bramlett took place on April 15, 1979, around 2am, in a city named for the first European to make a commercial splash in the States. “The Columbus episode,” “the Columbus incident,” or—as though it were a Civil War battle—simply “Columbus” are the con­ventional labels for the affair. Most readers know the crux of the story: In the heat of some sort of drunken argument, EC described James Brown as a “jive-ass nigger,” and Ray Charles as “nothing but a blind, ignorant nigger.” (The last two adjectives are sometimes reversed; disturbingly, the insult seems to play off Charles’ mother’s famous line: “You’re blind, not stupid.”) One finds this much in even the shortest capsule biography of EC, often accompanied by Charles’ exculpation, already quoted.

A transcript of EC’s New York press conference two weeks later exists (and can be found, with running commentary, in Alan Jones’ Uncut article on the episode, one of several sourc­es synthesized below), but there was no tape running in the Columbus Holiday Inn lounge. Variations on the story are part of the story; it is as myth and rumor that the episode had and continues to have its effect. On the other hand, there is such a thing as too much distortion: Some online versions name EC’s interlocutor as Bonnie Raitt.

Known to be present were: EC, Bruce Thomas, Bramlett, Stephen Stills and his manager Jim Lindemith, band members including percussionist Joe Lala and organist Mike Finnigan (and his mother and brother, visiting the tour from nearby Troy), and a Japanese bartender named Eddie. Unidentified mem­bers of both bands’ road crews were likely on hand; the other two Attractions and manager Jake Rivera, it seems, were not.

Thomas later recalled arriving at the hotel after the gig, for BBC Radio One: “I can remember seeing this other bus, and the general feeling was ‘another group.’ It was as if sailors came into harbour and saw another boat there. And then, whoa, ‘It’s Steven Stills!’” EC is more matter of fact in the RS/Ranters interview: “Bruce Thomas and I were in the bar after the show... and we were very drunk. Well, we weren’t drunk to begin with—we were reasonably drunk. And we started into what you’d probably call joshing. Gentle gibes between the two camps of the Stills band and us.”

Costello’s ungentle judgment of Americans raised the stakes: “We hate you. We only come here for the money... We’re the original white boys, you’re the colonials.” The May 5, 1979 RS “Random Notes” item, reported from information offered by Bramlett, gives this as a general pronouncement to the “barroom crowd”; in other reconstructions, it is a response to a fan’s questions. Either way, this is fairly self-damning as insults go, splitting the difference between the view of British imperialism conveyed by “Oliver’s Army” and the current album and tour’s express end of “conquering America.”

Most accounts now jump to EC, provoked or not, calling Joe Lala a “greaser spic.” (Lala, a Florida-born Italian-American, was a leading session player until he developed tendonitis in the mid-’80s; like Bramlett, he later became a character actor.) Some also have him calling Americans “just a bunch of flea-bitten greasers and niggers.” By now, EC had left behind irony for straight abuse. In response, Stills either punched or pushed EC and left. Someone, maybe Thomas, called after him, “Fuck off, steel-nose,” referring to Stills’ coke habit and subsequent reconstructive surgery.

Much of the ensuing argument with those still in the bar was quasimusical. Thomas later paraphrased the tenor of his and EC’s comments: “Jimi Hendrix had to come to England, the Beatles had to sell you Tamla Motown.” Bramlett told RS: “I mean, here’s this guy who looks like Buddy Holly, plays Chuck Berry licks, and uses Elvis’ name, saying American music was shit and this was ‘a fucked country.’” (Certainly, “Pump It Up” derives from Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” via Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, though it’s questionable whether EC was guitarist enough to play Berry’s actual licks.) Alan Jones may be extrapolating from Bramlett’s account in having EC “badmouthing” his namesake and his look-alike without direct quotation.

At some point, Bramlett was the remaining representative of Stills’ camp willing to engage EC. RS reported that she “opened the conversation by praising Elvis.” Some biographies repeat this point, but it has slipped out of the received version. It makes little difference; EC wasn’t offering or accepting any olive branches. Jones next has her accusing EC of “stealing and plundering from America’s rich heritage of black music”—though not, one guesses, in just those words—“citing James Brown and Ray Charles specifically.” The dismissal of Brown was the response; Bramlett next asked, “All right, you son of a bitch, what do you think of Ray Charles?”

One can only speculate as to whether Bramlett and EC knew exactly which parts of the just-mentioned “rich heritage” the other had borrowed. But it must have been obvious to both that the final question was a line in the sand—even this twerp won’t knock the Genius; oh, won’t I?—which EC immediately crossed. I hope that the ugliness of EC’s remarks needs no further emphasis; Bramlett’s questions appear to have been asked out of the presumption that her own position and atti­tudes were beyond reproach.

The RS version of what came next runs:

“That’s when I slapped him,” Bramlett said. "I told him that anybody that mean and hateful had to have a little tiny dick. I told him, 'Don’t put the tongue on Ray Charles.'" Costello responded with a string of obscenities, causing Stills’ band manager to fling him against the bar, setting off a brief rum­ble that ended with Costello retreating upstairs... “This had to happen when I was trying to be a lady,” lamented Bonnie, “Back when I was drinking, I woulda kicked his ass.”

EC’s exit line is usually given as “Fuck Ray Charles, fuck niggers, and fuck you!”

Many retellings have Bramlett, before or after these words, not merely slapping him, but knocking him down or out. People described the free-for-all that followed as “a bench-clearing but punchless hockey brawl,” with Lindeman battling EC’s roadies and Eddie the bartender putting an end to the “fracas.” Both Mike Finnigan (advised by his mother to keep out of the melee) and Bruce Thomas (a participant) have said that Bramlett dislocated EC’s shoulder, though EC has since contended this was done by Stills’ roadies; in the RS/Ranters interview, five.

The next morning, by EC’s account, he only remembered what had happened once he noticed the pain in his shoulder. He wore his arm in a sling for the next several days, though there seem to be no reports of his not playing guitar at subse­quent shows in Detroit, Dayton, Louisville, and Cleveland. By April 21, when the tour reached Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, AF had reached the Top Ten; Bramlett, meanwhile, had begun to call up, in Jones’ words, “every newspaper, wire service and magazine on the East Coast.” As write-ups began to appear, AF was rapidly dropped from radio playlists, and removed from some record stores. (“Quite rightly,” EC told Marcus, “Until there was some explanation.”) By Rochester, on the 25th, EC was opening sets with the then-unrecorded “I Stand Accused,” even before the publication of widely read accounts in RS and the Voice. The press conference EC called to defuse the charge that he held the views his words had expressed took place at Columbia’s New York offices on the 30th. This was a pitched battle of another sort, with EC facing fifty-odd writers, most of whom found the accused insufficiently apologetic and blithe to the subtleties of the situation. At one point, Robert Christgau explained to EC, “What you don’t seem to understand is that by saying, ‘I am not a racist,’ you’re not going to convince many people in this room, especially the black people, that you are not a racist. That is not what constitutes not being a racist.” Earlier, asked how he came to use the most offensive language available, he replied, “Everyone’s had occasions to go to abso­lute extremes... even to say things that you don’t believe, you know. Ask Lenny Bruce,” invoking the comedian’s famous riff: “If President Kennedy got on television and said: ‘I’m consider­ing appointing two or three of the top niggers in the country to my cabinet’—it was nothing but ‘nigger, nigger, nigger’—in six months ‘nigger’ wouldn’t mean any more than ‘good night, god bless you ...’” Few were buying; even if this is an aim of AF’s “charged language,” EC’s “off-the-record” behavior was obvi­ously not meant to defuse anything.

Despite the threats mentioned earlier, no shows were can­celled, and the Voice reported seeing “no pickets out front, no pickets of any sort” at the March 31 Palladium concert. At least one show of the next night’s troika was protested, as EC recalled for Marcus:

"I’d been wandering around with this idea that the rest of world was reading my mind, just presuming that you don’t always have to wave a huge banner saying, “I really like black people.” Because you just end up looking like Tom Robinson or Joan Baez or something, a cause-monger. One branch of Rock Against Racism in Chicago were so surprised [by the Columbus story] that they wrote asking what the hell was going on. But in New York, they picketed our gig at the Bottom Line and handed out leaflets saying “Send them back to England” and so forth. And inside the pamphlet they were handing out as part of their own public­ity, was a great big picture of us playing at Brockwell Park, at their rally, the year before. Still, the April Fools’ Day shows came off smoothly enough. But Columbia turned down Rivera’s request to hire out Shea Stadium after a radio call-in promotion attracted (by one report) 250,000 ticket requests. This was a bad omen: Displeased by the storm over Columbus, the label went to no great lengths to get AF back on the radio or in the stores."

Fred Scheurs’ post-mortem in RS, archly titled “What’d I Say?” concluded that the Brits had stirred up enough ill will over the course of their travels—a near-riot after a truncated set in Berkeley, an insult to a sponsoring radio station in St. Louis, Rivera and tour manager Des Brown’s bully-boy tactics with photographers just about everywhere—to make the current mess nearly unavoidable.

People, meanwhile, brought the story to an “Elvis who?” readership. Burt Reynolds graces the cover of the April 9 issue; a teaser for “The dark genius of John Cheever” runs just below another: “The songstress who bopped Elvis Costello.” Though Richard K. Rein’s piece duly notes that EC “is a member of an anti-racist group and has spoken out against neo-Nazi fac­tions,” it is largely a platform for Bramlett, “a longtime paladin of rhythm-and-blues.” At one point, she seems to connect Viet­nam, the civil rights movement, and the recent Havana Jam, which left her “feeling real proud of America after what we saw down there. A lot of my friends have died for this country and now we’re trying to wade through the racism thing. Costello is destroying what we went through in the ’60s. Blacks are the people I’m singing for.” (With Stephen Stills? And the Allman Brothers? In 1979?)

Between the tour’s final shows and his return to England, EC filmed a scene for the low-budget movie Americathon, lip-synching “Crawling to the USA” in front of a back-lot mockup of Buckingham Palace. “There’s one way out, there’s only one way,” runs the chorus; the song, recorded at a one-off Aus­tralian session, had been written in 1977, before his first US visit. Three months after World Elvis Costello Album Three was declared, he was crawling back, none too sure that he would ever return.

Columbia chose not to drop him; he would tour America next with Trust, in January 1981. But as late as the RS/Ranters inter­view, he was still “absolutely convinced” that his career had been defined and his music overshadowed by the episode and its after­math: “The first thing that a lot of people heard about me was that incident. I think it outweighs my entire career.” Marcus also asks if he has made any overtures of apology toward, for instance, James Brown. His answer: “What could I say? How could you explain such a thing? But there is nothing I’d like more.”

Aim contains several well-documented soul references: the staccato chorus of “Alison” derives from the Spinners’ “Ghetto Child”, and the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” supplies the drum intro to “No Dancing.” (Though, as EC told the Dutch magazine OOR in 1977, “You could just as easily say it’s from ‘Not a Sec­ond Time’ from the Beatles.”) But it takes someone like critic Douglas Wolk to trace “Blame It on Cain” to Roy Alfred and Del Serino’s “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Moving On”, a minor 1961 hit for Sam Cooke. They can be superimposed on one another, har­monically and melodically, for the length of the verse, right up to “ah, but I never been accused” (in EC) and, “oh, honey that’s not fair” (in Cooke). Lyrically, the songs are unrelated, though certain lines in “That’s It...” would sound more at home on, say, Blood & Chocolate than on a Hugo & Luigi-produced Cooke side: “Though your hair was all in place / Somebody smeared the lipstick on your face / They smeared it every place.”

“Motel Matches”—recorded for Get Happy! but first per­formed, with an earlier set of lyrics, on the Armed Funk tour—alludes to the sordid end of Cooke’s career, by way of a 1959 George Jones hit: “Who Shot Sam?”

Barney Bubbles’ original UK cover design is less significant for its iconography than for what it says about EC’s professional position. The ability to commission a unique, costly package signified—as much to the label as to the audience—that, as of this record, he had become a commercial force to be reckoned with. (Despite the success of Model, this was as much bravado as fact; from the early Stiff days, Jake Rivera was notorious for spending the label’s resources on profit-draining posters and promotional materials.) Photographic representation of the artist is entirely absent; ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRAC­TIONS and ARMED FORCES (in engraved-invitation script) are visible only in miniscule lines of type, crowded to the edges by the cover painting of elephants charging through the mist; a fair number of British consumers, it was assumed, would be on the lookout for this release, rather than being stopped in their tracks by EC’s unlikely name and image while flipping through the bins. (Likewise, the sleeve has no informative, conveniently fileable spine.)

The front cover conveys an unmistakable sense of attack; otherwise, it is an oblique accompaniment to an Elvis Costelloalbum that contains few if any references to the natural world, much less to “human nature.” This realistic (though cinematically framed) rendering contrasts with its stylized surroundings. Of the cover’s fold-out flaps, the outer surfaces of three depict, quite literally, armed forces: American sailors dragging a can­non, Chinese soldiers shouldering rifles, and a wider “shot” of tanks on a sketched-in battlefield. These are interrupted by and/or framed against polka dots and kindred design ele­ments; the fourth flap, divided into squares by an extra cut in the cardboard, bears primary-color representations of a sergeant’s chevron.

The inner surface is decidedly abstract; the central square is the drip-image familiar from the Columbia release, with squig­gles of black extending into the outer panels, which employ a range of devices—zebra-stripes, paw-prints, cartoon Mondrian. The whole package can be reassembled so that these surfaces appear as the record’s outer shell; the effect is of art-historical modernism turned to the ends of commercial design.

The words at the top edges of the inner sleeve indicate which side is to be read first. OUR PLACE... centers on a photo of EC slumped over a diving board, as an unidentifiable body does the dead man’s float in the pool below; around this, a number of identical rectangles are labeled with decorator colors (HYDRANGEA BLUE, FIREFLY RED), which seem to have no special relevance—though BLUE GRASS and BLACK BLACK are intriguing. EMOTIONAL FASCISM runs along the bottom edge; on the flip (...OR YOURS), the catalog number (RAD 14) occupies the same spot. The song titles, not given on the outer sleeve, surround another photo, this one of the band pos­ing uncomfortably on the driveway of a suburban home, above the L-to-R legend STEVE ELVIS BRUCE PETE.

Besides the Live at Hollywood High EP included with early pressings, the package contains photographs of the individ­ual musicians, on oversize six-inch square postcards. Bruce Thomas strikes a mock-Bond pose in front of a pink sports car, with a party girl attached to each leg; Pete Thomas, in vest and tie, stands blindfolded and headphoned in a nondescript hallway, punching a calculator (as in “Two Little Hitlers”?); Steve Nieve is snapped candidly at Disneyland, beside a sign reading SORRY—THIS ATTRACTION IS NOT IN OPERA­TION TODAY. The sole black-and-white shot is a formal studio portrait of EC, a cooler variation of the iconic front cover of Aim. Behind a Gretsch acoustic, the singer’s stance is still knock-kneed, but he is clad in leather and Beatle boots, with a hint of the other Elvis’ pompadour. Alongside the front cover’s chevron, a slogan on the back of all four cards reads DON’T JOIN. Linked with the album title, this restates the order implic­itly given in, most obviously, “Oliver’s Army” and “Goon Squad.” Here, it also suggests that EC’s newly “attractive” image ought not to be trusted; there is a hint of Dylan’s “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.”

The modest, more standardized packaging of the Colum­bia release reflects EC’s lesser clout in the States—though even here a batch of copies were pressed on collectible gold-specked vinyl. The elephant panel is moved to the back cover, reduced to make room for a track listing and a legible rendering of the artist’s name and album title, printed in a property-of-the-military stencil-font; these are repeated, along with a headshot of EC, on a sticker pasted to the shrinkwrapping. Bubbles’ alternate front-panel spells or spills out the same information as though by accident, alongside a caricatured, jesterish profile, presumably meant as a stand-in for the singer.

Using this convenient element of the UK package as the US cover had other connotations. Bubbles—I am willing to specu­late—would have been well aware of Abstract Expressionism’s place as one of America’s primary cultural exports after World War II. His mocking appropriation of the style is of a piece with the popified magnifications of Roy Lichtenstein’s mid-’60s “brushstroke” paintings, and with the British conceptual-art col­lective Art & Language’s critical attempts to combine the drip technique with representational imagery, as in the 1979–1981 series A Portrait of V. I. Lenin in the Style of Jackson Pollock. In the GET MERCENARY print ad, EC holds a semiautomatic weapon to his own mouth, as though taking himself hostage; behind him, the “splatter” motif takes on yet another meaning.

In 1644–1645, long before “English Civil War” was a Clash song or “New Model Army” the name of a drab leftist Britpunk outfit, Oliver Cromwell dissolved the standing army of Eng­land, largely commanded by members of Parliament, via the Self-Denying Ordinance, and raised 22,000 men, recruited nationally, against King Charles I. This was the first armed force to base rank and promotion on merit rather than social stand­ing, and the first composed largely of paid volunteers—egalitar­ian, but mercenary.

How closely does “Oliver’s Army” resemble “Dancing Queen”? In most respects, not very; for one thing, it has none of the light funk syncopations of ABBA’s 1976 multinational smash. The story repeated by EC and others is that his highest charting UK single might have been relegated to a B-side (or handed over to Lowe for his next solo album) if not for a crucial addition. “It didn’t appear all at once,” Bechirian says. “We already had a master take, and Steve had been going toward that part for a while by the time we did the overdubs.” This is borne out by the finished record, which is resourceful but not as slick or precise as its model. Rhythmic chatter can be heard between two or more competing piano tracks, especially during the intro; where one drops out, it’s a good bet that an underlying part conflicted harmonically.

ABBA’s piano part—the record is so seamless that call­ing it Benny Andersson’s seems strange—is the springboard for SN’s, though they function differently. The earlier song uses the piano sparingly; at times, it simply emphasizes a rhythmic detail. SN plays the role of several instruments; his upward run at the end of the choruses resembles a string passage in “Queen.” That the songs are in the same key (A major, before the final key change in “Oliver’s”) makes their most specific point of contact easier to describe: A descend­ing three-note phrase, with each preceded by a grace note. There are slight differences of execution: SN plays fuller voicings, often attacking the notes three times for a grandi­ose light-classical effect.

In the intro to “Queen” (and in the vocal choruses, after “seventeen”), this phrase, played in quarter notes, appears near the middle of a four-bar section, starting on the fourth beat of the third measure and extending over the first two beats of the next. It begins on the root of the home key, descending the major scale from there: A–G#–F#. In “Oliver’s”, the phrase is the climactic flourish of the piano-dominated intro; it begins on the third beat of the third measure of a four-bar section. Played twice as slowly, as half notes, it fills up all the space before the end of the section. Also, SN starts on the fourth of the scale and descends toward the root: D–C#–B. Quite natu­rally, given its rhythmic and harmonic placement, he invariably completes the series with a fourth chord, landing squarely on the tonic at the downbeat, before dropping out (in favor of organ) for the verse.

These technical differences reflect an aesthetic one. In “Dancing Queen”, the phrase is one morsel of ear candy among others, disappearing without resolution. In “Oliver’s Army”, the entire piano part is a neon arrow pointing back to EC’s lyric and vocal.

Ray Charles’ “Danger Zone” appeared in 1961, as the flip of “Hit the Road Jack.” Both sides were written by Percy Mayfield, a ’50s R&B star and Charles’ favored staff writer at the time. It is a wonderful, underknown song, a straight 32-bar AABA with minor-blues touches brought forward in Charles’ recording by Ellingtonian horns. Its overt sociopolitical import is unusual for commercial soul of the time (and for Charles at any time): “The world is in an uproar, the danger zone is every­where.” That uproar is, in part, over civil rights, but the bridge also indicates Cold War anomie: “That’s why I’m so afraid / Of the progress that’s been made / Toward eternity.” Charles per­formed the song in Berlin in 1962, at a sports arena once used for Nazi rallies; his valet Duke Wade felt “like Hitler was there his damn self.”

EC and band covered the song for a 1983 BBC session, later released on the Punch the Clock bonus disc. The choice is of a piece with his concerns at the time: Recorded in the year of “Pills and Soap” and “Shipbuilding”, the session also includes a medley of “Big Sister’s Clothes”, an oblique anti-Thatcher song from Trust, and a dub cover of the Beat’s gloriously unambigu­ous “Stand Down Margaret.” Four years after Columbus, this is the first time EC approaches a song associated with Charles, though one many listeners would not recognize. (See, by con­trast, “Sticks and Stones.”) EC would perform the song more convincingly on a 1989 acoustic tour, but this early performance doesn’t quite come off. The radio-studio mix is bland, and the most moving lines in Charles’ rendition are scarcely credible coming from EC: “I love the world like always, because the world is part of me.”

After sorties to Japan and Australia, EC and the Attractions bivouacked at London’s Dominion Theater for seven shows between December 18 and Christmas Eve, 1978. The stand was disappointing, displaying the band’s exhaustion and their discom­fort with a sit-down venue. But on the final night, the audience found an unexpected present on their seats: A teaser seven-inch of “Talking in the Dark” and “Wednesday Week”, two outtakes from the forthcoming album. Copies were also given out in New York, during the March 31 one-night-three-clubs stunt; both tracks later appeared as B-sides for “Accidents Will Happen.”

Built in 1929, the 2,000-seat Dominion had hosted early talk­ies, variety shows, and the London runs of South Pacific and The Sound of Music. (As of this writing, it houses We Will Rock You, a Mamma Mia-zation of the Queen catalog.) Jake Rivera’s timing and choice of venue was pointed: On the eve of launch­ing AF, EC was made to demonstrate his drawing power in a location associated with the forms of showbiz his persona and music had so far defied, with a name meaning, in the context of British imperialism, “self-governing territory.”

Talk about your blonde on blonde: Peel back the skin of “Danc­ing Queen”, and one finds the sun-bleached bones of the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby.” As a double A-side with “I Get Around”, this was a #1 hit (#7 UK) in June 1964; “Oliver’s Army” is in some respects a reshuffling of its devices. EC’s verse melody resembles Brian Wilson’s chorus—the single-voiced “answer,” more than the harmony group. Both songs use a classic 8-bar/4-bar, verse/pre-chorus form, diverging at the chorus. (“Don’t Worry Baby” has no distinct bridge, only an instrumental verse.) The songs are in different keys, but both begin with the same I–IV–V progression, though Wilson’s arrangement moves the bass, rather than the whole chord, under the final change.

After this, the relationship is subtler. “Don’t Worry Baby” remains in its home key until the end of the pre-chorus, using a passing chord underneath, for example, “when she makes love to me” to modulate up from E to F# for the chorus, return­ing under the “ooh-ooh” passage. “Oliver’s Army” changes key even earlier: The verse is in A, and an out-of-key passing chord (C#7, under “setting the world to right”) moves the pre-chorus (“called careers information”) into E—but a quick turnaround (at “occupation”) brings the chorus back to the verse’s key and chord progression, now played twice as fast. These are dif­ferent modulations than those in “Baby,” but the final verse’s move up to B major—it’s not elementary to say where in the unstable bridge progression this occurs—resembles Wilson’s pre-chorus/chorus trick.

The use of a song by the ’60s’ great escapists as the grid for a realpolitik lyric is meant as a subversion; but it also brings something about the original to the surface. The vagueness of Wilson’s chorus (“Don’t worry baby / Everything will turn out alright”) makes it easy to forget the framing narrative of the verses, in which a hot-rodding braggart is reluctantly forced into a face-saving drag-race: “But I can’t back down now / I pushed the other guys too far.” No reassuring “girl back home” figures in “Oliver’s Army”, but its soldier-of-fortune narrator plays out a parallel adventure story on the global stage.

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Re: Armed Forces book- long extract

Postby johnfoyle » Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:00 pm

I'll give this a listen later-

http://page4music.wordpress.com/2011/06 ... lin-bruno/

Podcast: Franklin Bruno

Posted on June 13, 2011 by anthonycekay

In today’s podcast, Anthony Cekay sits down with singer/songwriter/author Franklin Bruno. Franklin writes music criticism for The Village Voice, Time Out New York and Salon.com and has written Armed Forces, a book on Elvis Costello’s album of the same name for Continuum Books’ 33 1/3 series. He has worked with The Mountain Goats and has more than a dozen albums under his own name. Anthony and Franklin discuss his career; how headphones change listening habits; blues musicians; and Elvis Costello

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Re: Armed Forces book- long extract

Postby johnfoyle » Wed Jan 18, 2012 5:31 pm

http://www.rockcellarmagazine.com/2012/ ... te-albums/

33 1/3 Books

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Your Favorite Albums!
January 2012

by Paul Gleason

4. Franklin Bruno – Elvis Costello; Armed Forces

Franklin Bruno is a singer-songwriter, academic, writer, blogger, and member of the bands Nothing Painted Blue and the Human Hearts. He’s collaborated with the Mountain Goats and recorded with Mountain Goats’ frontman John Darnielle as the Extra Glens.

ROCK CELLAR MAGAZINE: What motivated you to contribute a book to the 33 1/3 series and how did you become involved in writing it?

FB: It was apparent from the first few volumes of the series that there were all sorts of possibilities to the format, and that David Barker was open to a range of approaches. It’s very appealing to be able to stretch out on a topic after a few years of the Procrustean word-lengths and time-sensitive angles of rock journalism. And, of course, I believed I had something to say about the album (and artist) – even if I didn’t know exactly what – going in.

I submitted a proposal during Continuum’s first open call. I think I lucked out in getting in the door before the competition was fierce, as I imagine it must be now. I’m also lucky that I thought of the idea of writing the book as a sort of glossary. Someone else surely would have done that before too long.

RCM: One of the best aspects of your book on Costello was your analysis of his lyrics, and his vocal dexterity. What do you love most about Armed Forces? Do you have a favorite song, lyric, and/or “musical moment”?

FB: It may sound strange, but Armed Forces isn’t necessarily the EC album I love the most – it isn’t a comforting record, and it’s a little harsh and calculated to be what I want to listen to for pleasure in most moods. I chose it because there’s a lot to chew on, musically, thematically, in terms of its crucial position of EC’s career, and because of the political backdrop.

That said, a lot of the band performances blow me away; sometimes, I think I may love the Attractions more than I love their leader! I’m not sure what I would have said before writing the book, but after attending to it so closely, I think the best songs on the record are Green Shirt and Goon Squad. Both of those really hit the sweet spot between simplicity and complexity. The malevolence is palpable, the imagery is rich, and the music is inventive without straining for effect.

RCM: Did Armed Forces and Elvis Costello in general inspire you in your own musical projects – Nothing Painted Blue and The Mountain Goats?

FB: Well, there’s one Nothing Painted Blue song that directly refers to a couple of EC titles – Epistemophilia, from Power Trips Down Lovers Lane. It was written around 1991, more than a decade before I dreamed that I’d be writing such a book. Given his penchant for referring to other people’s songs, it’s only tit for tat.

And I can point to a couple of places where I indulge in pastiche: The song Spent from The Monte Carlo Method almost begs to be sung in a This Year’s Model voice. Of course, since writing the book, I’ve tended to want to keep a lid on that sort of thing. Overall, I’d say it’s not a matter of “inspiration” so much as productive struggle — there are attitudes struck in some of his songs that I wouldn’t want to replicate, and I certainly don’t like all of his lyrical or musical modes equally. And I have similar struggles – or conversations – with dozens of artists, including some of my friends.

RCM: How does the writing of prose and musical analysis differ from songwriting? Is the creative process similar or different?

FB: It’s easier to talk about the differences than the similarities. Obviously, the fact that songs have music, not just words, matters. Beyond that, I value compression and ambiguity in songwriting, and clarity and precision in criticism, and those sets of values are sometimes in conflict. Even though I want my prose to be elegant and succinct, I’m willing to sacrifice some pith and even subtlety in order to make an argument, or to avoid misinterpretation.
Having said that, my approach in writing the Armed Forces book itself was more “musical” or maybe “poetic” than usual, because the fragmented glossary form allowed for some unexpected leaps and unspoken connections. I think there are some fairly clear lines of argument in the book, but they’re distributed, rather than appearing in a completely linear way.

On Mountain Goats records, I’m essentially a pianist-for-hire, so the main effect of knowing EC’s records is that I frequently think, “Man, Steve Nieve could play this part a hell of a lot better.”

RCM: In what ways does your book help listeners better understand Armed Forces and Costello in general?

FB: I hope that my close attention to the songs and their construction – both musically and lyrically – might help someone hear the details, and what some of the musical decisions might mean, more clearly than they might have otherwise.

I also hope that the material about “Rock Against Racism” and various British Fascist and neo-Fascist movements, and especially about some of the differences between race relations in England and America, helps someone appreciate both that the record came out of a particular moment and context, and a lot of its driving concerns are still very much with us.

How those these “musical” and “political” aspects are related is the really interesting thing – maybe the most interesting and difficult thing about trying to write about any kind of art. All I can really say is that I hope the book helps readers think about how to make those connections.

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Re: Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3) - Franklin Bruno

Postby redsfan720 » Sun Jan 29, 2012 2:13 am

I finally got around to reading the book, and it is excellent. It's given me a renewed appreciation for what the album accomplished; partially because I learned so much about its backdrop and some of the more specific musical nuances, and partially because what I was able to recall so much of my personal connection to the music, specifically to the performances of both EC and the Attractions.

Really excellent reading.

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Re: Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3) - Franklin Bruno

Postby johnfoyle » Fri Dec 28, 2012 3:28 am

Now available as a audio book -

http://www.audible.com/pd?asin=B008ND3J ... ID=3912770

Elvis Costello's 'Armed Forces' (33 1/3 Series)

by Franklin Bruno
Narrated by Mark Boyett


5 hrs and 9 mins

Thirty-Three and a Third is a series of short aduiobooks about critically acclaimed and much-loved albums of the past 40 years.
Over 50,000 copies have been sold! Franklin Bruno’s writing about music has appeared in the Village Voice, Salon, LA Weekly, and Best Music Writing 2003 (Da Capo). He has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from UCLA, and his musical projects include Tempting: Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno (Misra) and A Cat May Look At A Queen (Absolutely Kosher), a solo album. He lives in Los Angeles.

©2005 Franklin Bruno (P)2012 Audible, Inc.

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Re: Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3) - Franklin Bruno

Postby Jack of All Parades » Fri Dec 28, 2012 6:02 pm

"RCM: How does the writing of prose and musical analysis differ from songwriting? Is the creative process similar or different?

FB: It’s easier to talk about the differences than the similarities. Obviously, the fact that songs have music, not just words, matters. Beyond that, I value compression and ambiguity in songwriting, and clarity and precision in criticism, and those sets of values are sometimes in conflict. Even though I want my prose to be elegant and succinct, I’m willing to sacrifice some pith and even subtlety in order to make an argument, or to avoid misinterpretation.
Having said that, my approach in writing the Armed Forces book itself was more “musical” or maybe “poetic” than usual, because the fragmented glossary form allowed for some unexpected leaps and unspoken connections. I think there are some fairly clear lines of argument in the book, but they’re distributed, rather than appearing in a completely linear way."

God- I love that description and listening and writing ethos- very strong piece earlier in this thread on that infamous 1979 incident and its relationship to this record. Sorry I missed this earlier- thank you for bringing it back.
"....there's a merry song that starts in 'I' and ends in 'You', as many famous pop songs do....'

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Re: Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3) - Franklin Bruno

Postby johnfoyle » Sun Dec 30, 2012 6:31 pm

Franklin tells me , via Twitter -

I found out about it when the narrator got in touch to check some pronunciations; haven't heard the end result.

The 33 1/3 series has sort of changed hands recently, with it's publisher , Continum, now being part of the Bloomsbury group.

http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/elvis-cost ... 826416742/

This was posted on Dec. 19th '12

After over a decade of working on the 33 1/3 series (I first hatched the idea in May 2002), we're going to hand the baton to a younger generation. So, as of today, I'm happy to announce that Ally Jane Grossan (ably assisted by Kaitlin Fontana) will be running 33 1/3 - as well as the rest of our music-related publishing - out of Bloomsbury's NYC offices. It's been a pleasure and an honour working with our 100+ past, present and future authors, as well as interacting with the thousands of readers around the world. And I'm sure that the series will continue to grow, entertain, inform, and even possibly infuriate, for many years to come...


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Jack of All Parades
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Re: Elvis Costello's Armed Forces (33 1/3) - Franklin Bruno

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Jan 27, 2013 4:36 pm

Up until the recent reintroduction of this thread by Mr. Foyle I was ignorantly unaware of this book's existence or of the series of books of which it is a part. I have made up for that ignorance with its purchase and a full immersion within it over the past month. It has a thoughtfulness about it that is rare in rock album appreciations. Concise, cogent in its arguments and never straying into simple fan worship, it has opened up this album for me in ways I could never have previously contemplated. Its discussion of the political, social and emotional implications of 'Fascism' is invigorating. The discussion of the Columbus incident is eye opening. I have a renewed appreciation for this record and for the artist who struggled with its creation. :D
"....there's a merry song that starts in 'I' and ends in 'You', as many famous pop songs do....'

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