Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, by Elvis Costello
Why does this book exist? Like many people, I am familiar with Elvis Costello mainly for his very rare popular hits in the United States, especially “Alison” and “Every Day I Write The Book,” which take up a very small amount of this work. Elvis Costello has been a very prolific artist, albeit one whose appeal is limited and whose emotional range of mostly cynicism and leftist political cant is likely limited, and for most of this book I found the author particularly unlikeable as a person and determined to deliberately be so. Over and over again the author states the unreliability of his character and integrity and the fragmented way that this book avoids any sort of chronological narrative makes it hard to see the flow of the author’s career in a meaningful sense. This is not going to be an easy book to read if you are not a particular fan of the author. My own fondness for and knowledge of Costello’s work is very limited, my agreement with the author’s political worldview is nonexistent, and the author’s religious and moral worldview and his own account of his behavior are not worth credit or praise. What is left, then, when one does not enjoy the gossipy tone of the author or his repeated mode of self-loathing and loathing everything else too except for the various musicians and other people he is chummy with? The would-be reader must decide for oneself.
It is really hard to understand who this book is meant to appeal to. How many Elvis Costello fans are there, not just pop stans who only pay attention to what is on the charts, but those who are willing to appreciate the author’s fondness for obscure music and his in-depth discussion of the song lyrics of the songs he recorded of himself as well as those he wrote with and for others? How many people care how many relationships the author had and how faithful or unfaithful he was in his wedding vows, or how he needed to be reinforced chemically in order to engage in the rock & roll lifestyle that he set out to live in the absence of normal career ambitions or academic achievement? It appears in part that the author appears to be looking to set the record straight about his lack of racism and his leftist bona fides, but one wonders who needed to be set straight in the first place or who knew or cared that the author had mistakenly been thought to be a racist at all. The book was published in 2015, and it seems unlikely that there are enough people who would want to read a memoir about a singer-songwriter with limited and only intermittent popular appeal who had already been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and was shortly to be inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. For those people who really care to know more about Elvis Costello the person from an admittedly unreliable source, this book exists.