Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink
Blue Rider Press
As a young man with questionable morals I stole cassettes from the cardboard standee at the pharmacy where I worked. I used the fact that we never sold any of these bargain bin albums to justify pocketing Frank Sinatra Swings 1940-1953, The Best of Jethro Tull, and Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy by The Who. I even gave myself the five fingered discount on an unlistenable Mel Torme tape after seeing him on Night Court. The Velvet Fog ended up tossed from my car window as I turned left from Richmond Avenue onto Hylan Boulevard, back when I also thought littering was acceptable. My moral compass seemed to always point to “go ahead, no one’s looking.”
One day, after swigging intermittently from secretly stashed bottles of Coke syrup and equally delicious Grape Dimetapp, I picked up Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model from the rack and it became one of my favorite tapes to listen to while delivering overpriced pharmaceuticals to old ladies. Since the standee only had that one Costello album, I had to pick up the rest of his catalog at the Staten Island Mall.
“Excuse me,” I might ask, “do you have ‘Blood and Chocolate’ by Elvis Costello?”
“A box of chocolates by Elvis Presley?” the oblivious cashier might reply.
I caught Costello on tour in ’89 in support of Spike and have seen him nearly every year since, loving every step into pop, beat, chamber, electronic music, you name it. There’s a handful of folks that couldn’t make a bad record if they tried. For me, Costello is at the top of that list. When I heard he was finally writing a memoir, I was sure it would best some of my favorites, like Chronicles Volume One by Bob Dylan and This Wheel’s on Fire by Levon Helm, though I was certain it couldn’t be as good as my favorite; Beneath the Underdog by Charlie Mingus.
A few hundred pages into Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink I was convinced Costello’s grasp of language translated swimmingly into prose, like I knew it would. A lot has already been written about this book, which is why I won’t repeat that stuff here. Suffice it to say, my favorite parts expose the mechanics of writing songs with Paul McCartney, Allen Toussaint, Burt Bacharach, and The Roots. Hardcore fans will find those passages hard to put down.
Elvis is the same great storyteller he is in song, though the terrain is markedly different. On record Costello may crowbar five different viewpoints into three minutes. On paper he’s gotta be way more linear over the course of nearly 700 pages, which reveals the first of my five complaints about this excellent new memoir.
ChronologyUnfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink travels back and forth through time, a device that works well in films like Pulp Fiction, for example, but one that makes Costello’s history harder to follow.
… a device that works well in films like Pulp Fiction, for example, but one that makes Costello’s history harder to follow.
It’s not that I can’t keep up, it’s that I would prefer chronological order. It’s just how my mind works, and perhaps the reason Musée Picasso, the Paris museum where Pablo’s works are mostly chronological, is one of my favorites. As readers, we mentally catalog prerequisites as we read them, something writers take advantage of to build tension. Throwing that device out the window can be jarring. For example, hearing about Costello’s first son Mathew in one paragraph, only to revert back to the pregnancy in the next takes some getting used to. So chapters including details on playing Live Aid or singing Penny Lane for President Obama are followed by chapters that expound on the early days before his first record.
If specificity is your bag, you’ll find more proper nouns here than within all the begats in the Book of Genesis. Every second or third sentence introduces the unique name of a person, place or thing that quickly fills up your short term memory banks. There are 86 counties in Great Britain and Costello seems hellbent on name-checking them all. He remembers every street, venue, ancillary character, instrument, machine and brand that ever crossed his field of vision. Perhaps Costello wants to prove that all that Turpentine he drank didn’t result in an unreliable narrator. At some point it becomes a little self-serving, like me telling you that Mel Torme cassette wound up on Hylan Boulevard after turning left from Richmond Avenue.
Honestly, this rears its head more in the first third of the book, and for avid readers it won’t be a problem at all. Perhaps I’m not as smart as I thought I was.
This one is a bit confounding. At nearly 700 pages, there’s definitely room for more full sized photos. No joke, some pics take up a sixteenth of the page. Sometimes are so small you can’t even make out the details.
Why no captions, Elvis? Did you use up your quota of proper nouns?
Early versions of lyrics are uselessly small. Group photos are even harder to decipher, which wouldn’t be a problem had their been captions. Why no captions, Elvis? Did you use up your quota of proper nouns? Perhaps readers of the eBook can pinch and zoom, but that doesn’t work with the hardcover, try as I might.
Also, all the pictures are black and white, like the book was published a hundred years ago. I assume this was a cost saving measure and not an artistic choice.
Wow, I’m really nitpicking now, but I would swear the text isn’t black but a dark grey. Or maybe it’s because the pages seem kinda thin and you can see through a little to the text on the underside. Or, perhaps, this alludes to the titular disappearing ink. Maybe one day I’ll open this book to find 700 blank pages. While that would be genius, I live in the present, and like many of Costello’s fans, my eyesight ain’t what it used to be.
Once again, eBook readers, and anyone enjoying the audio book, won’t have this gripe. The rest of us may need an electron microscope and an arc lamp as we read into the night.
DirtI’m a gossip. I know this. If I’m talking to a friend, I want gossip about who we know in common. Is someone shagging someone they shouldn’t? That’s none of my business, so please tell me everything and don’t leave out any details. It’s the same reason I want to see so many of of the people I know naked (you know who you are).
Give me some of that vitriol you were famous for in the seventies.
While Costello does throw a few sexy bones our way, they’re almost always of the regrettable variety. He cops to his own multiple infidelities, for sure, but would it be in bad taste for a married man with children to tell me how Bebe Buell was in the sack? I’m asking for a friend.
We hear a lot about musicians Costello admires, but I want to hear who he can’t stand. I’m a fan, so I already know he loves The Band and Bob Dylan. I wanna hear him obliterate Bon Jovi. Sure, he mentions that he couldn’t sit through a Pink Floyd record, and that The Doobie Brothers couldn’t follow Little Feat in concert, but it’s all handled a little too politely. Give me some of that vitriol you were famous for in the seventies.
At least we get a glimpse of the dark side. We hear a lot about the drinking and pills that helped fuel his more aggressive lyrics, performances and bumblings. Dylan hardly cops to taking an aspirin in his book and we know he introduced the Beatles to the “jazz cigarettes” that ferried them from I Wanna Hold Your Hand to Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.
Costello’s honesty is refreshing, his memory is photographic, and his pencil is sharp.
I’m actually thrilled Elvis finally put his thoughts down on paper. It’s a very satisfying read – even the parts Bruce Thomas tried to tell you first. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into. Costello’s honesty is refreshing, his memory is photographic, and his pencil is sharp.
Won’t be long before I give the audio book a listen, which I know will be imbued with his late breaking elder statesman charm, as opposed to the thinly veiled sarcasm of his youth.
Growing up looks good on him.
Writing Your First Book / Should I Self Publish?
I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a panel discussion on writing your first book, presented by the Harlem chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Alongside Jim St. Germain, Author – A Stone of Hope: A Memoir and Dr. Keneshia Nicole Grant, Author – The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century. We opined on pain points, benefits and strategies regarding our inaugural voyages into authorship. Feel free to watch for your self and I hope this provides some insight to all those looking to make the same voyage. Enjoy!
What the NFT is a BEEPLE?
On March 11 this year, the digital artist Beeple sold a collage of digital images from his “Everydays” series for nearly 70 million dollars as an NFT, or non-fungible token. And if that sentence confuses you, you’re not alone.
A non-fungible token is a unit of data on a digital ledger called a blockchain, where each NFT can represent a unique digital item, and thus they are not interchangeable. NFTs can represent digital files such as art, audio, video, and other forms of creative work. While the digital files themselves are infinitely reproducible, the NFTs representing them are tracked on their underlying blockchains and provide buyers with proof of ownership.” – Wikipedia
Still confused? Let the artist himself explain it, and learn how he went from NFT newbie to making the third most expensive artwork by a living artist in three months. Not to suggest Beeple is an overnight success. The “Everydays” series alone involved creating a piece of art every day since May 1, 2007 – and he hasn’t missed a day.
Check out some of Beeple’s amazing and controversial work below.
Comic Fans: Geek out with Cartoonist KAYFABE
Comics have come a long way since they were just for kids – and anyway, those kids have grown up and rightfully embrace it as an artform. Cartoonish Kayfabe expertly walk you through the finer points of comic creation and appreciation, referencing some high quality images along the way. If you’re a comic geek, you will dig it – especially if you’re into 90’s era and independent comics.
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