(By Elvis Costello) (2015)
We’ve been admiring EC from afar and occasionally up close, for a very long time. So we come to his autobiography with relish and trepidation. It is not as good as Speak Memory, the greatest autobiography ever penned, but it is hugely impressive – more a dense memory-book than a straight auto-biog, and much more concerned with music and music people than his own ego. He is obviously and rather charmingly challenged by autobiography, preferring the more oblique method of song lyrics and anecdotes, and saying of the process: “I don’t much care for the subject.”
This modesty is impressive, given EC’s certified genius, and almost makes one suspicious (what’s he hiding?) akin to Paul Bowles’ famous Without Stopping, re-named by readers “Without Telling.” Costello is unconcerned with telling his story as a linear ascent from obscure rags to veneration and riches – he jumps about, from thrashing acetates of the latest hits handed down by his musician father, including early Beatles hits, to jamming and writing songs with Paul McCartney decades later.
Boy! Did we say he jumps about? It’s almost stream of consciousness and of a monstrous Jimmy-Joyce length to boot. Full of inspired music trivia (do you know that the chap who wrote “Try a Little Tenderness” beat someone to a pulp in a bar?), family snapshots, erudite asides and left-leaning polemic, and while not great or even very good prose, it is great stuff – and even better, enhance its combination of the familiar and strange by playing a little Costello sample in the background – if you can abide EC as background.