Wednesday, October 22, 2008

indoor fireworks can still burn your fingers

I have to get to studying in a minute. But until then, I'm taking a little spin with Elvis Costello. The first Elvis Costello song I really got pulled into, admittedly, was Everyday I Write the Book. I'd love to brag about how I found him way back in his 'super-cool edgy' period, but then again, let's consider for a moment that I wasn't even a teenager when Punch the Clock was released, so there's not a chance I would have discovered Costello during his My Aim Is True days.

Everyday I write the book is undeniably pop and not necessarily true to Costello's punk roots, I'd later discover. But as someone being fed a steady stream of John Cougar Mellencamp, J. Geils Band, Def Leppard, and the like, Elvis Costello may as well have been dropped from another planet into my living room. You can bemoan the shittiness of MTV all you like, but if you grew up in EBF in the 80s, there was something to be said about the channel. Of course, that was back when they were actually playing music videos, so perhaps you should just continue on in your ranting about MTV, since I certainly haven't turned my television to that channel in a year at the least.

So, here's this pop tune, light as air, nothing deep. Still, Costello's voice was something new, something strong but soft and sincere. And even though there was nothing so inspired to them, the lyrics were so much more clever than anything else I had been listening to. I can look at it now, and see how, in part, it's nearly an homage to or update of The Book Of Love. But at the time, I just thought it was such a wonderful song- not angst-filled, which would appeal to my teenage years more, not over-the-top, which would also appeal to my teenage 'high-school-dance' years. Just a bemused song. No major heartbreak, no major swoons. Just a little old school, good-natured teasing, as evidenced by one of my favorite lines:

Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal
I'd still own the film rights and be working on the sequel

I went backwards, but it somehow seemed to be age-appropriate. By the time Veronica came out, I could recognize how weird it was, what Elvis Costello had morphed into. By that time, I had gone back and discovered My Aim Is True, This Year's Model, and Get Happy!!, and realized that this dude who was pleasantly chirping away on Everyday I Write the Book once had one hell of a case of Angsty McAngstenstein.

Costello songs are fodder for all kinds of stories. They evoke a lot, and his much older stuff has just enough anger, just enough sarcasm to overpower the slight tone that suggests whining. And then always a little dose of the absurd, a little touch of humor, however bitter. That's perhaps what I like best about those old songs. Even Alison, which, before horrible, horrible television shows got their hands on the gem and besmirched its good name, is this piercingly sad song filled with regret, starts with the dry quip- and with the way you look, I understand that you were not impressed.

If there's something I consider very modern about Costello, it's that. Or maybe it shouldn't even be called modern, because, from the tunes that seem to be assaulting the airwaves these days, it seems we've gone back to the 'heart on one's sleeve' approach to songwriting. Weirdly, though, old Costello tunes always strike me as more sincere. There's something more raw and real in his rueful remarks.

I mean, yes, this line sounds absurd and surreal:

Oh I said, 'I'm so happy I could die'
She said 'Drop Dead' and left with another guy

But on the other hand, doesn't it perfectly capture what it feels like, the high's and low's, the putting yourself out there and getting stomped, more so than some weak-ass boy band nonsense? I mean, at least, any guy who is my kind of guy would invoke Costello before he would start identifying with Nick Lachey. Just saying. Okay, no more stalling. Back to my regularly scheduled cramming.

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