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5 Great Elvis Costello Collaborations

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Listen to the author read this post with song clips.

With a career spanning nearly 40 years and 30 studio albums, Costello is growing into an elder statesman with style.

Elvis Costello has been releasing records since 1977, same year that other Elvis, who changed the face of popular music forever, ceased to be. I vaguely remember Mom not digging Costello’s choice of stage-name, obsessed as she was with”the King.” Now the King was dead and New Wave music was increasing market share. Meet the new Elvis, decidedly different than the old one.

Costello wouldn’t show on my radar until July of ’83 when 13 year old me, in my pre-cable TV town, recorded shows like Friday Night Videos and New York Hot Tracks on VHS each week. Those shows were on after midnight. That’s how hard it was to see videos without cable back in the day. I captured Costello’s Everyday I Write the Book in my video fishnet and the rest is history.

Since those days, Costello has invented and re-invented himself multiple times over. He’s collaborated with countless artists. Off the top of my head I’m thinking Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney, Squeeze, The Roots, Roy OrbisonBrian Eno, Allen Toussaint, The Brodsky Quartet, Jenny LewisThe Pogues, Lucinda Williams, No Doubt, and even Elmo, to name a few. He’s written pop music in all guises, toured extensively, hosted the excellent TV show Spectacle which paired Costello with some of his favorite artists, and despite early acerbic behavior, has become one of the most respected songwriters and performers in the business. With a career spanning nearly 40 years and 30 studio albums, Costello is growing into an elder statesman with style.

Allow me to present 5 Great Elvis Costello Collaborations that you may not be aware of.

wiseupghost21. Refuse to be Saved with The Roots

Costello was having secret meetings with Questlove at Quest’s day-job playing for Fallon in New York. Mutual respect and a few successful projects convinced them it was time to take this relationship to the next level. Those sessions resulted in the record Wise Up Ghost and a string of excellent concerts. Refuse to Be Saved borrows lyrics from Costello’s 1991 song Invasion Hit Parade to delirious effect.

I sat behind Questlove at a Costello show at The Beacon a few years back when he jumped on stage for deep cut Black & White World. It was the only time that night I could actually see the show.

I know there are hardcore Costello fans that don’t like this album. It’s not what they want when they want Costello. Me, I want him to keep experimenting til the end of time. I already dug The Roots and this kind of team-up was a no-brainer for me. I hope they record ten more secret records together.


mccart12. That Day Is Done with Paul McCartney

Costello wrote That Day Is Done with Sir Paul F’ing McCartney for McCartney’s 1988 album Flowers in the Dirt. My favorite version is Costello singing it with The Fairfield Four which you can find on the All This Useless Beauty bonus disc.

Think about this pairing of songwriters. Costello has written upwards of 5 hundred songs. And the other guy is Paul McCartney. If you don’t appreciate this song, it’s a good indicator that your indicator isn’t good. Or maybe you’re too young to consider mortality in any meaningful way. Either way,  jiggle the knob, you’re on the wrong path.

Pretty amazing vocal by Costello, too. Lightning meet bottle.


painted13. The Long Division with Burt Bacharach

Costello made a record with Burt Bacharach, too. Talk about flexible. You know Bacharach, right? The guy that did Walk on By and of course Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head? And then there was What the World Needs Now is Love. Oh, and What’s New Pussycat? The list goes on. Maybe you heard God Give Me Strength from the Costello collaboration Painted From Memory. If so, we’re both old. Not as old as Burt Bacharach, am I right? Up top. (high5) The two won a Grammy for I Still Have That Other Girl in My Head, from this record.

Here’s another example of two guys that know how to work together. There’s a lot to like on this record, including track The Long Division. It sounds like something a 1982 suburban housewife would listen to dropping her son off at the comic shop while on the way to file for divorce. But in a good way.

Some songs on the record are unapologetically draped in Bacharach’s signature arrangements while The Long Division seems to pay homage to his Dionne Warwick days. And why not?


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“Man goes beyond his own decision / Gets caught up in the mechanism / Of swindlers who act like kings / And brokers who break everything.” – The Scarlet Tide

4. The Scarlet Tide with T-Bone Burnett

Costello teams with T-Bone Burnett for some authentic mountain music. I have no idea if it’s authentic, I just know it’s beautiful. But these two have made beautiful music together before – most successfully on King of America, which may be the best Costello record. Maybe. Most recently, they breathed life into old Bob Dylan lyrics on Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes.

In The Scarlet Tide, Costello, singing with Emmylou Harris, perches his sober melody upon a scaffold of gingerly plucked notes. It’s the perfect little confection, part savory and part sweet, a little bitter. It’s one of those songs that sounds like it wrote itself. This one was nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy.


mighty15. So Like Candy with Paul McCartney

Well look at that? Another McCartney/Costello collaboration. Resistance is futile. On top of that, Costello channels John “I’m John Lennon” Lennon, for chrissakes. The demo is so Beatlesesque it’s frightening. So Like Candy is another successful collaboration among 14 penned by the duo. At the very least, someone needs to Traveling Wilburys these two into a band stat! T-Bone producing!

Anyway, notice I don’t spend a lot of time talking about what these songs are about, because that’s really for you to deduce. Songs always tend to mean more to me than just what they literally mean, anyway.  But in this case it’s safe to assume that somebody done did somebody wrong.

Paul has said Elvis can be a little pushy in the studio. I hope that’s true. Someone needs to keep MCartney in check and Elvis is uniquely qualified. He’s a musical chameleon that pairs well with the greats, regardless of genre.

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

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Comic Fans: Geek out with Cartoonist Kayfabe

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Cartoonist Kayfabe is a YouTube channel hosted by comic-book makers Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg.

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.

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

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Chadwick Boseman Forever!!

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It is clear that Chadwick Boseman chose iconic roles like Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, Jackie Robinson and Black Panther with deliberate intent and for a specific purpose. In an age where positive roles for Black actors is often sparse, Chadwick managed to land and portray historical figures that made most respect his talents if not revel in his ability to transition effortlessly for one character to another. Even I had to give his African accent a solid B+ (It’s the highest grade the Nigerian Standards Bureau can give for an African accent to a non African FYI.)

Holding out and preparing for these dynamic roles came with both great frustration and incredible resolve I’m certain. Not to mention the taxing ordeal of battling Colon Cancer as the grueling scheduling of filming and increasing responsibility for positive representation loomed. Even under extreme duress, Chadwick’s commitment to others appeared to outweigh his own tribulations, unbeknownst to us all.

Black Panther may have been just a movie to some and that may be because some can easily rattle off 10 movies with a king of non Af-Am origin. It represented a lot more to others. Albeit imagined, imagery on cinema often accomplishes more to augment the social narrative and society itself than actual reality. If negative stereotypes influence perception then positive ones absolutely have the same converse effect.

Even in jest, the cultural misappropriation of raisins in potato salad on SNL skits directly spoke to the tampering of black culture to which T’challa championed, represented and aptly responded “Oh hell Nah Karen!”

If you don’t understand the relevance of representation, it’s probably because you are thoroughly represented. After all, no one is ever grateful for every breath they take until they are gasping for air.

R.I.P Chadwick Boseman. Thank you for breathing life into the possibility of Black excellence.

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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10 Easter Eggs of Segregation in Lovecraft Country Episode 1

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We’re all familiar with movies hiding easter eggs throughout their films sending winks and nods to pop-culture references. Sometimes it will be a tip-of-the-cap to an author, actor, or creator. Sometimes it is paying homage to an inspiring series, book, or film that’s near and dear to the director’s heart. This week I’ve seen a first. A T.V. series that has several easter eggs depicting segregation and oppression that only eagle-eyed aficionado’s of the black struggle might have caught on to.

Lovecraft Country is littered with important details that would fly over many people’s heads, and as I watched it again, I caught more nods to the true oppression of many African-Americans during the post-World War II era.

As a film buff, nothing makes me happier than watching a review, breakdown, or hidden easter egg video on a TV show I enjoy. Yesterday I did the same with Lovecraft Country, and while many of the melanin-deficient reviewers on youtube touched on the themes of literature, horror, and fantasy, many understandably missed some of the most important historical references.

Here are 10 Easter Eggs of Segregation in Lovecraft Country Episode 1.

 

1. H.P. Lovecraft’s little poem.

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While we all know H.P. Lovecraft as an innovator of modern horror, fiction, and fantasy in literature, many people (including myself) didn’t know about a poem he wrote that spoke horribly about African Americans. Lovecraft Country alludes to the poem, but never recites it. Once they mentioned the title, I went straight to my Google Search. Below is the poem called: On the Creation of N*****s (1912)

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceived a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a N****r.

I’m sure Jackie Robinson beating the S**T out of Cthulhu at the beginning of the episode was a collective middle finger from the black community to Mr. Lovecraft.

2. Seating for Black People

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Scene from episode 1

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Actual photo of a segregated bus

While this may not come as a surprise to many of you, a lot of people are ignorant to the fact that, yes, black people were made to sit in the back of the bus. Many know the story of Rosa Parks’ defining moment, but for decades this was the way of life for black people. Where insult to injury is predicated in the show is when the bus breaks down and the bus driver gets a local pick-up truck driver to ride the stranded passengers into the city. Immediately in the next scene, the only two black passengers were seen walking down the road into Chicago.

3. Propaganda for the Negro Soldier

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In Lovecraft Country, the above poster is not shown in this episode, but instead, it’s a black soldier telling other young black men that if they enlist, they can see the world. While Atticus walks by the soldier, there’s a glance of recognition as if Atticus was once one of those impressionable young men, and he knows their being lied to. Black men had to be enticed to enlist by different methods than whites because it was hard to show patriotism to a country that still to that day had kept them oppressed. So, they would show a poster of Joe Louis joining the fight…why don’t you? Get to see the world! Little did they know seeing the world would involve PTSD, death, and despair.

4. The Negro Motorist Greenbook

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Scene from episode 1 depiction of the Green-Book

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Actual Green-Book

The synopsis according to IMDB.com is: “Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Black as he joins up with his friend Letitia and his Uncle George to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father.” While this is true, it’s not the whole story. Why are they embarking on this trip? It’s to help update what many people may know as, The Negro Motorist Greenbook. Yup, just like the movie, The Greenbook. If you don’t know, this book was originated by Victor Hugo Green as a travel bible for African Americans. It provided details of safe roads to travel, places for food, repairs, and lodging where they wouldn’t be turned away or even worse, assaulted.

5. James Baldwin’s monologue on racial divide

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During one of the scenes in Lovecraft Country, we see a montage of our protagonist’s road trip. In the montage we see different moments where they face discrimination, others facing discrimination, and the hardships of ignorant people with all the privilege in the world monopolizing on their entitlements. Usually, during movie montages, a composer would play a score to envoke emotions during the collection of scenes. Lovecraft Country went in a different direction. Instead, they played the monologue of James Baldwin’s renowned speech at Cambridge University where he debated with William Buckley on the subject of the United States racial divide. James Baldwin was a brilliant playwright, novelist, speaker, and activist that eloquently described the plight of the black man as it still stands today. Merged with the scenes during the montage, it speaks volumes about the state of America.

6. Ice Cream stand Scene

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Scene from episode 1

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Gordon Sparks photograph

In one of the scenes in the montage, we see a black man and his children waiting at an ice cream stand for service. Right over them is a sign that says “colored” and on the other side of the stand is a group of white people with ice cream being tended to by the servers. This scene looked extremely familiar to me. When I did some research, I realized this scene was based on a famous photograph by Gordon Parks, photographer and journalist who well-documented scenes of the segregation and civil rights era. Years ago I saw his work in its full brilliant quality at the High Museum in Atlanta. The color and detail brought a realism that a black-and-white photo could never do. It made this a real thing.

7. Mother and daughter under the neon sign

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Scene from episode 1

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Actual photo

This scene once again pays homage to another photograph by Gordon Parks. A mother and her daughter dressed elegantly as if they were going to church, standing under a large neon sign that says ‘Colored Entrance’.

8. The billboard across from the gas station

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Scene from episode 1

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Advertisement the billboard is based on

While Atticus and company are at a gas station filling up their car, they are approached by a gas station attendant pretending to be a gorilla to mock them. Leticia holds Atticus back from approaching the man as the attendant intensifies his ignorant behavior and she forces Atticus into the car. As they pull off, you can see a Billboard for Aunt Jemima in the background. Aunt Jemima has always been a misrepresentation of black culture through the lens of the white man and advertised to his fellow man as the overall perception of black people. The image of  Aunt Jemima is a source reflection of the learned behavior of the gas station attendant.

9. Sundown towns

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Scene from episode 1

Two years ago was the first time I’ve ever heard of a Sundown Town. No, not through a history book, but as a warning about staying too late in a little town in Texas that exists today! If I didn’t hear about this first hand, I would’ve thought it was a theme of the past, but no. There are currently county’s that do not condemn the abuse of black people once the sun goes down! While the billboard here might be a relic from the past, Sundown Towns are definitely alive and well across America!

10. White walls

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Scene from episode 1

Not only is this one telling, but it also holds all kinds of subliminal messages. While the group finds a Green book safe haven for dining called Lydia’s, they are surprised to find the restaurant is now called, Simmonsville Dinette. Still, they walk in and are greeted by unwelcoming faces. While the server goes to the back for what seems like their coffee orders, Atticus realizes that the walls are painted white. He asks his uncle to remind him why the white house was white. His uncle tells him about the war of 1812 when British soldiers torched it and when slaves were tasked to rebuild it, they had to paint it white to cover up the burn marks. This tells us two things. Lydia’s restaurant was burnt down and rebuilt by trespassers (obviously for being a safe haven for blacks in this all-white town) and the blackness of this restaurant was erased and covered up by the ‘white’ paint. My goodness, I could go on and on about this one!

I was expecting this series to be littered with easter eggs, but knowing they have incorporated easter eggs specifically about the black movement and struggles has me fired up to see what else is in store for these characters. Did you see any easter eggs that I missed? Comment and let me know.

 

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