Origins of an Elvis Costello fanboy

“My rock n roll Yossarian, my Groucho, my Bugs Bunny, my hero”

December 1977, my freshman year of high school, and I’d read a review of this album in Rolling Stone – remember when that mattered? Thanks to the wonders of the internets I see the reviewer was Greil Marcus. The album was My Aim Is True by Elvis Costello and Marcus reviewed it and Randy Newman’s new album Little Criminals together. The fact that he’d put the first album by someone pretty much no one on this side of the Atlantic had heard of with Randy Newman said everything because Marcus was a total Newman fan-boy, like anyone with a lick of sense is.

“One is as established as such a performer can be and, it seems, is settling into an acceptance of the refusal of the great audience to accept him; the other is new on the scene and, just possibly, a star for these times. God knows what other times he might be a star for.”

Maybe it was the review, maybe it was the outrageousness that someone would dare call himself ELVIS! The King wasn’t even four months in his grave then and this was beyond lèse-majesté. Maybe it was the cover which was my first encounter with New Wave: Black and white checkerboard with more than a whiff of the Xerox about it. Raggedly and defiantly different from all that album art that wanted to be considered as capital A art. And in the middle this spindly guy with Buddy Holly glasses, a skinny tie, cuffed jeans (?!), looking like a slightly malevolent praying mantis. Whatever it was I bought the album and hurried back to our apartment on Forest Street and listened. The sound matched the DIY feel of the cover. The first song was a snarl at the working week (All of your family had to kill to survive/and they’re still waitin’/for their big day to arrive/ But if they knew how I felt they’d bury me alive) which was pretty much exactly how I felt about school and I was hooked.

Flip the album over though and side 2 started with the song that really made me understand that Costello knew, even though I was too young to know what knowing was. (Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes opens with a snaky, snarky guitar line and lyrics that told me at last here was my rock n roll Yossarian, my Groucho, my Bugs Bunny, my hero.

Oh I used to be disgusted
And now I try to be amused.
But since their wings have got rusted,
You know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.
But when they told me ’bout their side of the bargain,
That’s when I knew that I could not refuse.
And I won’t get any older, now the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

I became an evangelist, carrying the album to school and back to try and get friends to listen to it. For most it was too outré believe it or not. The name, the look. Some wouldn’t listen because of that. Some did and those that did got it. My mom became a fan, she loved the lyrics although got tired of me playing it over and over and went and bought me my first ever pair of headphones.

Yossarian_Lives_LogoOver the next six years he put out four more great albums (This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy!!, Imperial Bedroom) and three very good ones (Trust, Almost Blue, Punch the Clock) and since then nothing has lived up to that first mad rush of brilliance. Doesn’t matter. I’ve been a fanboy since 1977 and I’ll be one until both of us have shuffled off this mighty mortal coil.

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