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.

Jesus is still hot … in chocolate, plastic, CDs and Elvis

In case you had any doubts JC the First is still a bankable concept for moving product.

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Driving under the PR influence

It should come as no surprise that Rep. Patrick Kennedy is currently treatment for “addiction to prescription pain medication.” This is not surprising because of his family heritage or his own personal history of problems with substance abuse but because that is what always gets said under these circumstances.

This phrase comes like clockwork from the PR reps of every movie star, musician or other demi celeb who gets busted behind the wheel. It must be in some handbook under “what to do when client gets busted for weaving across the white lines even if he or she has in fact been snorting them.”

It is such a wonderful wording, cleanly and quickly making it clear you haven’t been doing anything grossly illegal. You weren’t stoned out of your gourd on horse tranquillizers. You hadn’t just smoked the entire agricultural output of Northern California. You just took to many of those damn pills that the doctor gave you. It was medication, right? It was prescribed, right? You were just doing what you were supposed to and things got a little out of hand. That after all is what happened to Rush Limbaugh.

“He became addicted to pain killing drugs, prescribed by his physician for a medical condition.” OK, so The King Of The Dittoheads allegedly bought 1,733 hydrocodone pills, 90 OxyContin pills, 50 Xanax tablets and 40 time-release morphine pills – an amount even Elvis would have found excessive – but they were PRESCRIBED!

Judging by how often it is invoked, prescription pain killers must also carry less stigma than saying you were fece-faced from chugging down a few fifths of whatever. Alcoholism in the PR world implies lack of control whereas medication abuse sound much more like one of those things you could just stumble into.

Let’s get one thing clear, I have no reason to doubt that Rep. Kennedy was in fact incapacitated by something his doctor told him to take. He has even named names — blaming his driving misadventure on “Ambien, a sleeping pill, and another medication, Phenergan, for treatment of a stomach disorder.” And why not believe him? He has been very forthright about his problems before and just based on odds alone, abuse of prescribed meds must happen to at least some of the celebs who claim it. But it remains a phrase that should at least raise the eyebrow of anyone who reads or hears it.

Great corporate weasel words: When in doubt blame ED or Elvis

  1. Bob Dole's favorite malady, erectile dysfunction, is to blame for GM getting all limp. At least that's how I interprest the fact that GM decided to announce that it has to spend $17M a year on Viagra, Cialis and other erectile dysfunction drugs. While the company does cop to the fact that's a small fraction of GM's overall health care costs ($5B last year) "company executives often use the example to illustrate what they said are out-of-control health care costs," according to the AP. Best line in the story: "Ford Motor Co. declined to say how much it spends on erectile dysfunction drugs, and a spokesman for DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group could not provide figures." You can blame the ED or you can blame the fact that you've made a lot of crappy cars. You decide.
  2. elvisThe King is blamed, long live the King. Execs as the UK bakery Kingsmill would like us to believe that an ad campaign — featuring Elvis Presley, no less — is why they lost a third of their market share. The campaign was a tongue-in-cheek one built around the fact that on his one brief stop in the UK, Elvis ate some the company's bread and therefore the bread is made "By Appointment To The King." Kinda clever actually. Best line of the story: "Analysts said that Kingsmill had lost about a third of its market share to Hovis and Warburtons because of the advert and production issues." AND: "The problems come after the loss of [parent company] Allied’s deal to supply Asda with own-label bread after a dispute with the supermarket group." While "critics" blasted the ads as some sort of sacrilegious thing, I think the only way a campaign could kill a third of your market share is if it made joking reference to Hitler. After all, Starbucks was recently endorsed by Chinese dictator, er, president Hu Jintao and it doesn't seem to have hurt them.