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5 Complaints about Elvis Costello’s Excellent Memoir

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51I3xtBR3EL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink
Elvis Costello
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 1940-1953The 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.”

Elvis Costello Rolling StoneOne 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 elvis gtartour 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.

  1. Chronology

    … a device that works well in films like Pulp Fiction, for example, but one that makes Costello’s history harder to follow.

    Unfaithful 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.

    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.

  2. Proper Nouns

    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.

  3. Photos

    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.

  4. Typeface

    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.

  5. Dirt

    Give me some of that vitriol you were famous for in the seventies.

    I’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).

    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.

Ultimately, these are more quibbles than complaints, but that’s totally in my wheelhouse. You’d hate going to the movies with me.

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.

costello bottom pic flat

Recording as Electronic Device, Brooklyn artist and writer Eric Curran released his debut record "Two Dull Boys" in 2021.

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Rest Easy Eric Curran a.k.a M.C Krispy E

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Almost every year for the past 6 years and on the same day, I’ve posted the same pic of me in the hospital  during my temporary and untimely demise  in 2015. A few weeks after I was back to “normal”, I asked Eric “Why’d you take the pics?” And he said, “I knew you would want to write about it if you lived.” Eric was right. Eric was often right and Eric always had my best interest at heart. I am going to miss my friend.

You ever meet someone and become friends immediately?! Well this was not the case with Eric. Before he was my manager at Morgan Stanley, I would often see this 6’4″, giant white guy walk up to the only black woman at work, say something then walk away without any hint of human emotion. Naturally I thought he was a jerk until I asked her “Yo, is that dude bothering you?” She laughed and proceeded to tell me he was a great person, which I ultimately got to experience first hand. Little did I know this Italian from Staten Island was more Brooklyn than most Brooklynites.

Eric was not with the shits!! If there were ever someone who lived their life in direct, honest and no uncertain terms, that would be Eric. He would ask me questions at work like “Why are the other consultants making more money than you?” I knew the answer to that question and so did he. Eric then proceeded to increase my salary by 15K. After arguing with all our managers that “You need to hire Alfred!”, they eventually did 1 year prior to the 2015 incident. In the hospital, one of my friends asked me, “What if you didn’t have health insurance when this happened?” I would be in debt for the rest of my life is the obvious answer. I still am in debt for the rest of my life but at least, it is to those who made sure I had a more enjoyable life and for that, I will gladly repay.

My mom loved to tell me the story of how she met Eric. After they told her I was going to be in the ICU for some time, she told the doctor “Well I’m not going anywhere.” She then hears a voice from that back of the room that says “Well I’m not going anywhere either!” That was Eric and in true form, he was at that hospital every single day until I was discharged.

Eric passed away in December 2021 of stage 4 cancer. After feeling faint on his way to my bbq, he went to get checked out and was diagnosed. During the past 5 years, Eric lost his mom, twin brother and dad. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have felt like but I’m glad that pain he was feeling is no more.

It’s been a bit difficult to deal with it to be quite honest and I’ve been writing this in my head for years but never had the bravery or grace to accept that my friend wouldn’t be here soon. I also can’t imagine what it must be like to lose your entire family nucleus unexpectedly. In true Eric fashion however, I would like this to not be about me but whomever has lost someone and has been coping. I’ve always intimated that my life would not be as enriched as it was were it not for the people in it. The problem with that is there is also no way to deny that it feels empty without those who helped craft your path. Rather than focus on the negative, I would rather focus on the examples of duty, family and emotional intelligence. All concepts reinforced by Eric that have led me to have successful relationships since I’ve put them into practice.

From being my manager to my business partner, writer, book editor, artistic director, and most importantly, my friend, I am going to miss you MC Krispy E a.k.a “Enrique Pollazo!” And although you told me Enrique means Henry in Spanish and not Eric, it was too late!

Sidebar. The day I was discharged, while everyone was deciding what was best for me, no one had remembered that I would need clothes in order to leave the hospital. Eric shows up (unasked) with all the clothes I had on the day I coded, laundered and ready to go. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve friends like this but i need to keep doing it! Sidebar complete.

Rest in Peace Eric. “Be Good.”

Alfred Obiesie is a writer with over 12 years of online content contribution (Onetrackmine.com, Cartermag.com, Essence.com) and author (You Made It a Hot Line; The most influential lines in hip hop.) The book chronicles hip hop lines from the genre’s most notable artists spanning almost 40 years. It is illustrated by Grammy award winning Illustrator Shah Wonders and has garnered praise from multiple media outlets (Sirius XM, Vibe, Brooklyn Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, etc...)

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Writing Your First Book / Should I Self Publish?

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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!

Alfred Obiesie is a writer with over 12 years of online content contribution (Onetrackmine.com, Cartermag.com, Essence.com) and author (You Made It a Hot Line; The most influential lines in hip hop.) The book chronicles hip hop lines from the genre’s most notable artists spanning almost 40 years. It is illustrated by Grammy award winning Illustrator Shah Wonders and has garnered praise from multiple media outlets (Sirius XM, Vibe, Brooklyn Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, etc...)

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What the NFT is a BEEPLE?

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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.

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