Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Tell Me Right Now" / Elvis Costello

Well, thanks to Crafty, I've now gone mining for Elvis Costello songs to add to yesterday's playlist -- call it Break-Ups Vol. II, the Declan MacManus Edition. And I have to say, it's just as fruitful a vein of research as I thought it would be.

Let's start with Tell Me Right Now (Blood and Chocolate bonus track)-- which must win the prize for the most pre-emptive break-up song ever; the guy has just met this girl, but he wants to know RIGHT NOW if she's gonna break his heart so that he doesn't even begin to get involved. (Shades of the Beatles' "If I Fell" -- "'cause I've been in love before / and I know that love is more / than just holding hands..") This seems to be a theme with Elvis; he does it again in Still Too Soon to Know (Brutal Youth) and Heart-Shaped Bruise (Delivery Man). Does this man have trust issues or what?

If you're talking about songs reflecting doomed relationships, Elvis Costello is your man. Here's just a few: You Belong To Me (This Year's Model), Accidents Will Happen and Two Little Hitlers (Armed Forces), High Fidelity (Get Happy!), and the stunningly pessimistic Beyond Belief (Imperial Bedroom), an incredibly impressionistic catalog of all the things that can go wrong with a relationship -- and nothing that could possibly go right. Adultery? Par for the course, if you just listen to Motel Matches (Get Happy!).

I like these two because they're the flip side of each other -- Long Honeymoon (Imperial Bedroom) is about a woman waiting for her philandering husband to come home, while Baby Plays Around (Spike) has the man waiting miserably at home -- "She walks those shiny streets / I walk the worn-out floor..." These are both absolute emotional killers.

Elvis' best moment-of-the-break-up song? It has to be the majestic Almost Blue (Imperial Bedroom), which on certain days seems to me to be Elvis's greatest song ever. But running a close second is the full-out melodrama of Riot Act (from the surely ironically titled Get Happy!), which contains some of my very favorite Elvis lyrics, including "when the heat gets sub-tropical /and the talk gets so topical" and "why do you talk such stupid nonsense / when my mind could rest much easier / instead of all this god damned insolence / I would be happier with amnesia." I can't even tell how often those phrases spring to mind in my daily life.

Way early in Elvis' career, he was already dealing with the corrosive jealousy of the ex-lover in Alison (My Aim Is True), with its devastating line "'Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking / when I hear the silly things that you say / I think somebody better put out the big light / Cos I can't stand to see you this way." I often wonder why this misogynistic rant doesn't thoroughly alienate me -- I think it's because it's really about the singer's thwarted passion. At heart he's just a miserable romantic, who only hates Alison because she left him. How dare she? (I'm sorry, but I find this incredibly sexy. Any of you ladies care to weigh in on this?)

And here's one of the most excruciating post-break-up songs ever: Either Side of the Same Town (Delivery Man), where the busted-up couple practically has to divide up their town so they won't see each other ("Now it's hard to keep ignoring someone you recognize /And if they seem contented, it's only by disguise") . It's the hurt that keeps on hurting.

Elvis is on his third marriage by now, and I sincerely hope he and Diana Krall are happy. But please, Elvis, don't ever let matrimonial bliss dull that nasty edge you've got. The rest of us need it.


crafty said...

Thanks for the credit.

Not technically Elvis's song, but Stranger in the House could be here.

Holly A Hughes said...

Indeed yes. And A Good Year For the Roses.

Carabella said...

Yeah, Elvis has been the soundtrack for my romantic life. "Riot Act" was fresh when I was reading mine to a lost love (and getting read to as well). Another you didn't mention from Trust is "Shot with His Own Gun", how devastating, sad and rather cinematic (the little dog who got in the way and he got hit by an emotional ricochet) and a coda from the same lost love affair.

Holly A Hughes said...

Yeah, "Shot with His Own Gun" stops me in my tracks every time.

"Elvis has been the soundtrack for my romantic life" -- yeah, me too. But what does that say about me and you? :D