This Biography on Elvis Costello was written by Brit music journalist Graeme Thomson and published in 2006. Thomson is no stranger to the music biopic as he has written books on a couple of other luminaries such as Kate Bush and Willie Nelson. He has also written for Esquire, MOJO, Maxim, Rolling Stone, and Time Out magazines.
This book brought me along on a journey through Costello’s recorded output and shined a light on his background. The book has its weaknesses just like any, in particular my major complaints would be it wasn’t detailed enough and it was a pretty straight chronological reporting of his life up to 2004. The major setback for the author was his inability to land an interview with the subject of the biography. Even though the book suffers from not getting some imput directly from “the horse’s mouth” per say, he does a pretty good job reconstructing Costello’s history through other source material. He then very resourcefully and resoundingly relies upon interviews with the other characters in Costello’s life and the deep catalog of established interviews and other material published over Costello’s then 30 year career in the music business. The author focuses quite a bit on Costello’s the countless live shows and tours he has ventured on throughout the years, and although the information is much appreciated it gets a little heavy when he brings up slight set list changes that happened between dates.
The book very happily enlightened me to many aspects and happenings in Costello’s life. I had always been a very cursory fan of Elvis since first hearing his music in the later 80’s, but I had become more and more interested after continuing to hear new and compelling compositions from him throughout the years. Through this book I was able to re-experience his music from the beginning and give myself a depth of knowledge to what was going on in the background while all this wonderful music was being created and performed. Among the aspects of Elvis’s life that gets a lot of coverage (much to his chagrin) is his romantic life. From Elvis’s failed first marriage to Mary, to his high-profile affair with Bebe Buell, and beyond to his unofficial marriage to former Pogue Cait O’Riordan and finally up to date with his current wife jazz pianist Diana Krall. Now, I’m totally understanding to his personal right to privacy in these matters but you have to understand that the friction from these relationships makes up the majority of the emotional backbone to his music.
Other great focuses are his surprising influences (Country-Western), his professional relationship with Stiff Records co-founder and eventual manager Jake Riviera, his early public abrasive-ness including his bout with the media in 1979 after an incident in which a drunken Elvis uttered some offensive racial slurs to members of the Stephen Stills band.
Overall in the face of a few short comings it is an insightful and enjoyable read which I would suggest to any one who considers themselves of Elvis Costello fan.
Usually I would follow a book review up with a playlist to highlight the music covered in the book, but because of the wealth of great material I will be posting a series of playlists split by distinct eras. Stay tuned.