Everyday he writes the book…
Elvis Costello talks music and life with Rosanne Cash in Brooklyn
It starts with a touch of class. Before Elvis Costello and Rosanne Cash walk onstage at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House last night, the room goes dark and a screen above the stage lights up with a video of the late, great Allen Toussaint on the piano and Costello singing. “The Greatest Love” from “The River In Reverse”. It won’t be the only New Orleans’ tang to tonight’s event.
Costello is here to talk to Cash about his new book Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink. There’s much conversation about fathers, as you’d expect, but Cash proves herself to be a thorough interviewer when she goes elsewhere on the emotional range too. There are times when musicians talking to musicians can fall asunder under peer pressure, but Cash has done her research and the questions probe and prod and poke Costello into going a little deeper than you might expect from two mauicans who know the rounds and rambles of each other at this stage.
Costello knows the value of a good anecdote, be it talking about his first encounter with Touissant in New Orleans or a very funny reading from the book of how the Desmond Dekker “Israelites” karaoke show in a London venue uostaging a young Costello and his band. He also talks about Paul MacCartney and the shiver about a Beatle working with a Beatles’ fan.
But the stories about Ross MacManus are what you really come away with it from this evening. When I interviewed Costello in 2013 about “Wake Up Ghost”, his collaboration with The Roots, he talked then about a book prompted by conversations with his father. It’s clear there was much affection in the relationship – Costello has great comments on his father’s rig-out for going to school meetings – but it’s also obvious that there was an element of healthy competition in the mix too.
There are also some songs from Costello to round out the proceedings. There’s a powerful, honed solo performance of “Shipbuilding”, that searing, passionate song about war and loss and Costello talks about the frisson which Chet Baker brought to the song. There’s also “Ascension Day” in honour of Touissant, “Beyond Belief”, “Share Your Love With Me” and a sublime “April 5th” with Cash.
The performance reminded me of another loose-ish and impromptu Costello performance in this town. That was in 1998 when Costello and Burt Bacharach played a late-night in-store in the then Virgin Megastore on Union Square to plug “Painted From Memory”. Watching the two maestros at work in that incongruous setting is one of those encounters happily sketched in my memory. Having finally got around to watching Inside Out of late, it’s good to know last night now joins that in the permanent memory bank.