Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Elvis Costello stopped by Washington, DC, last week for a memorable evening with fans. The event was held at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue and was comprised of an on-stage interview with Slate writer Dan Kois. Costello has been promoting his new memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. There is also an audiobook version available with his voice.
With such a prolific career that spans some 400 songs, one might imagine that Costello hasn’t missed an opportunity to expand into uncharted territory musically. However, he revealed otherwise to Kois and the packed venue. Humorously ascribing it to his “flawless judgment,” Costello decided not to collaborate with critically acclaimed singer Adele on her album, 21. “That’s not in the book,” he added, flashing a grin to the audience.
Sporting a white hat, black-framed glasses, and a black suit, he came across as humble, witty, and quite likable in the discussion. Costello spoke about collaborating with Paul McCartney, his love for history books, and listening to music with his twin sons. As he admitted, young Frank and Dexter “listen to music differently” than he did as an eight-year-old boy. Still, he loves when they ask him to turn up the volume on Miles Davis or even the occasional Led Zeppelin track. These anecdotes amount to a far cry from the “revenge and guilt” label that journalists were quick to put to him as he gained traction early on.
That is not to say that Costello isn’t edgy in his music – his name alone is loaded with the weight of “a bluff, a dare.” But his oeuvre or work in total defies efforts to categorize it, let alone interpret it. Costello likens his songs to paintings, many of which have layers composed of “more than one reality within another.” Multiple interpretations are inevitable. “You can’t hand out a pamphlet for how people listen to your songs … I’d like to!” Costello exclaimed.
Minutes later, a guitar and microphone were brought out at Kois’s request, eliciting a number of cheers. He played an intimate and cozy rendition of “Everyday I Write the Book,” looking out into the crowd with a twinkle in his eye as he strummed. There’s a song choice with an underlying message that leaves very little to tease out.
This article was first published with the same title on Blogcritics.org.