This interview with Elvis Costello first appeared in MOJO’s edition of June 1996.
Take a twist of Lennon & McCartney, a soupcon of Sam & Dave, a crumb of KC And The Sunshine Band, a dram of David Bowie, a jigger of Jarvis Cocker, a bit of Burt Bacharach, a jot of June Tabor, a tot of Tasmin Archer, a lump of Led Zeppelin, a minute amount of Mann & Weil, a scintilla of Sammy Davis Jr, a shot of Schubert and, presto, you’ve charged your glasses with a generous measure of the beady musical cocktail they’re calling…
THE ELVIS COSTELLO INTERVIEW
By Paul Du Noyer
Back with his old band The Attractions, resuming the connection that he established on 1994’s Brutal Youth album, Elvis Costello has a new album called All This Useless Beauty. Save for the faint beginnings of another beard — albeit a less insane one than the thing he was sporting circa Mighty Like A Rose — he looks remarkably like the young man who promised us, nearly two decades ago, that his Aim was True.
And so it was — but is it still? With every curve and corner of his career so far he has been a man who has followed his own star. And to hell with anyone who can’t keep up. On the one hand, he’s an excellent talker when it comes to other people’s music. It’s like a conversation with your best-informed and most opinionated mate. If you can’t remember, say, that Philippe Wynne was the singer of The Detroit Spinners, or that Kiko is an album by Los Lobos, then he’ll leave you floundering. But on the subject of his own work, Costello’s steely resolve is obvious. Questions are stripped down and pulled apart for any signs of woolly thinking. If he wore a placard around his neck, it would say: “No fools suffered here.”
But it’s an exhilarating ride. “We’re going through this weird period, now” he says, at one point, “where kitsch music from the ’70s is being revered, and the same theories are being erected around it as music that really deserves that treatment. But if it means that much to the person, I’m not going to argue about the relative merits of The Rubettes or whatever. It’s just silly. I know the sort of music I like.
“I’ve got this party game I play with my friends — ‘Songs Elvis should have recorded if he’d lived.’ It’s fantastic when you get going, it can go on for hours. There’s some crackers. Any of mine? I doubt it. But what about I’m On Fire by Bruce Springsteen? Or, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For — that would be the equivalent of American Trilogy, his big philosophical moment. It’s a real shame. I was listening to Hendrix the other day and thinking, God, he would only be 53. I like the live records of Hendrix. The studio couldn’t contain him because his imagination was way above the technology.”
With that familiar, unblinking stare, Costello rips into anyone too lazy to match the same exacting standards he applies to what he does. He might profess to be tolerant of The Rubettes, but I believe he likes disagreement and despises consensus — even the consensus-of-two that people usually aim for in conversation. At the same time, he’ll suddenly announce, after a passionate defence of his cv, that he’d really like to destroy his entire back catalogue.
That’s the sign of a man with some confidence in his front catalogue. His untiring output continues to make other performers look like work-shy part-timers. You find him chipping-in to tribute albums and multi-artist compilations practically every week. The only subjects that soften his manner — apart, perhaps, from Liverpool FC — are his collaborations with the artists he grew up idolising, such as Burt Bacharach and Paul McCartney, or a select group of newer people including Aimee Mann and The Brodsky Quartet. He loves to work and he never stops.
“Yesterday I finished another track, which will probably come out on a B-side, called Almost Ideal Eyes. It’s about a guy my age seeing some young hippy girl who’s gone to the supermarket to buy her hippy clothes and hippy philosophy. He thinks, Hang on, my life’s flashing before my eyes — and I didn’t even die! It’s just what happens when you live as long as I have — it’s not such a terribly long time, I’m 42 this year. But it amuses me that flared trousers have come back. Who’d have ever thought?”
Is the idea of All This Useless Beauty to gather up songs you’ve had for a while, including some things written for other people?
Well, even though I wrote them, in some cases I’d given them away or written them with someone else in mind… But I didn’t want them to sound like a series of impersonations. It’s not a Bobby Davro record. That’s why I’m telling people: “It’s not about where these songs have been, it’s where they’re going.” I wrote them, they belong to me, even if some of them were written for other singers. I don’t like the easy definitions of what a record is about. You’ve got to give a little bit more of your time and take a listen, then decide. Life’s not that easy.
You told me you had about 30 songs to consider. How did you settle on the final 12?
I fancied singing them. Some of them are the best songs I’ve ever written. And it’s not like it’s a bunch of outtakes, because they’re new versions. We took them on the road, played five nights in New York, playing 12 new songs a night. So we did these carnival-type posters for the audience, saying, “Stand back in amazement as they whip these songs into shape like so many wicked lions!”
I’ve had a long time with some of these songs — the title track is five years old. I’ve had time to think about why I want to sing them, and what they mean to me. For instance, Distorted Angel is a fleeting memory of a childhood experience. [“Strange things seem to occur, somewhere behind the nursery door.”] You know, when children are at birthday parties and take their clothes off. I can’t really remember it, I was only about eight, but I just mixed it together with thoughts I had about being brought up Catholic. But there are so many wrist-slitting, hand-wringing songs written by over-earnest Christian Brothers-taught children, I thought I’d better watch my step!
I tried to record it as a rock ‘n’ roll song, but it just blew the meaning out the window. Now I have Philippe Wynne [of The Detroit Spinners] in my head when I sing it. I don’t think I can sound like him, but when I did Alison, that was my Ghetto Child take. It’s nothing to do with the content of the song but how you’re going to get that content over. What kind of riff am I going to borrow? Noel Gallagher talks about it all the time. He’s making a routine about how blatant he is. I have a lot of time for their records. I like the wind-up aspect of that group. I like wind-up aspects anywhere.
So there are still a lot of songs lying around?
Experience has told me that it’s better to invent a world where certain songs live, and invite people in to have a look around. As The Juliet Letters did. That worked for those people who got it. The people who went along with us saw that it wasn’t a high art concept, to be endured. It was actually about heart and soul matters like all the other things I’ve tried to write.
Here, there were other songs that could live in a similarly different world. And rather than push them into this record, ending up with something that reminded people of Spike rather than an Attractions record… That would be pointless, because I’ve already made Spike and Mighty Like A Rose and I don’t need to make them again. Not that I don’t like them — I like them very much — but I’ve done the thing of having a lot of diverse styles on one record.
I will record those other songs, but I’ve got some arrangements of them which are not like anything else I’ve ever recorded. I want to do them properly. I’ll take time to learn what I need to learn.
Are your songs for other people “bespoke”? Are they written to request?
Sometimes. I might have a vague idea that somebody was recording so I’d send them something. Most songs that I write are requests. Some songs on my past albums were written with other people in mind, not that they knew anything about it. It was just an exercise to get the idea out of my head — if I was asked to write this for Curtis Mayfield, how would I do it?
Just A Memory, not a very well known song [off the New Amsterdam EP], I wrote with Dusty Springfield in mind and she ended up recording it. I had nothing to do with that, somebody must have recognised in it what I heard when I was writing it. That’s happened two or three times: Chet Baker did Almost Blue [from Imperial Bedroom] on the same basis. George Jones did Stranger In The House. That was fantastic — people write demos in their bedroom and imagine what it would be like for somebody they admire to sing it. I’ve been lucky. I haven’t had many covers but the quality has been high.
One of the best covers I’ve had was Tasmin Archer’s All Grown Up, because she was much more tender with the subject than I had been. I’d pushed it over the edge and lost intensity by making it too accusative. She found more sympathy for the subject.
When you submit a song, is it nerve-racking as you wait for the response?
Yes, it is like a tailor — you get the style right but the arms might be on the short side. I find I might over-estimate people’s ability to respond to what I think is a strength in my writing. Usually, people say there’s a lot of words in my songs and that makes them a mouthful. I’ve had a lot of practice at singing a lot of words in a short space of time. But some singers are uncomfortable with that and if they feel it’s rushing them they won’t hear the quality. So the song can founder on it.
When you write for other people you make yourself much clearer. Not everybody understands your own peculiar logic. And I think that helps the clarity of this album.
The lyrics of this album seem fairly concise.
I think the lyrics have been more concise for some time now. People writing about them in newspapers have tended to say the same things about them, because I don’t think they’ve been listening very hard. You’d be hard pushed to go back to the last record where it wasn’t clear what I was saying, maybe 10 years or more.
The title of Complicated Shadows is a good figure of speech for moral ambiguity. Did you write that with Johnny Cash in mind? It also has The Attractions at their noisiest.
It was very much in the Cash mould, and I could envision him doing it. It turned out it wasn’t the kind of song he wanted. So I said, “Well, we’ve got to do it because I want to do the words.” Our treatment seemed to work because of the brutality of the idea. If you go out there saying, “I know what’s right,” you’d better be right. It describes that dilemma of taking justice into your own hands. We see it in the people in the West Country who kidnapped some local hooligan and beat him up, or in the LA riots. But that’s not what it’s ‘about’. These songs are not ‘about’ things which lie beyond the reach of the actual words. You know how people say, these days, “This song is about my inner child…”? Well, where is it in the text? You’re just saying that afterwards because you read it in a book. These songs are about what the song is about.
Are your songs about what you mean by them? Or are they about what the listener understands by them?
They’re both. It doesn’t cease to be what it’s about for me. I’m pretty clear about what I mean by them, but that doesn’t mean that every single word conveys its meaning.
Once they’re out, I get all kinds of wild interpretations and I’m always glad to hear them. The wilder the better, frankly. “Shipbuilding is about two lovers in a boat.” Great! From an American perspective, what would they know about the circumstances of that text? Fine, it doesn’t bother me. When I write for other people, if they have a picture that makes the words work for them, then they can sing it that way. You listen to June Tabor, a woman, sing All This Useless Beauty and she invests the bridge with much more anger than I do. She spits out the words. People would think she was the one who could caress this melody, and I’m the one who’s supposed to spit out the bile. Yet here I am singing it more reflectively. Doesn’t mean she’s wrong.
As you’re with The Attractions again, I take it you were satisfied with your reunion on Brutal Youth?
It’s not an exam they have to pass. They’re great players, their other work aside from me proves that. Pete [Thomas] and Steve [Nieve] played behind a lot of good people, even doing TV shows. And Pete’s played on what I’d say was one of the best records made in the past 20 years — Kiko [by Los Lobos]. None of them needs me in order to work.
It’s a question of whether it has a spark to it. Anyone who imagines it’s going to be like 1978 is kidding themselves. It isn’t. That’s the way it should be. We know how to make a noise, but I don’t want to just make a noise, because we did all that. The thrill we all get from that kind of music is terrific and I hope I never tire of it completely. But I would have tired of it seriously if I’d been doing it non-stop for 20 years. Plus I would have been deaf. We play very loud.
I remember the vibe when Paul Weller went on at the last Glastonbury that we did. I hadn’t realised how this wave of affection had returned for him. He went on in late afternoon as the sun was going down and it was reminiscent of that genial, fuzzy vibe that people had tried to get together for a field in Wigan in 1972, pissing rain at Bickershaw. But this was a beautiful afternoon and, truthfully, being the closing band at a festival is not the most relaxing thing. You’ve got to deliver your own paced show and a final crescendo for the whole day. And the peak had come with Weller’s music which was so genial and easy-going. We needn’t have played. We played like we were strapped to the wings of a 747. We were like Led Zeppelin. It was horrible and I hated it. I’ll never play a festival again unless I have to.
I do like the idea that people got to see The Attractions again. Those that cared. I don’t think most people are sentimental about that group as individuals, like they were about The Beatles. They’re more likely to be sentimental about specific songs or performances. People have affection for them as players, but not as personalities, because they don’t know who they are. They don’t really know who I am, either. And I’d like to keep it that way. They only think they know.
I believe you wrote Why Can’t A Man Stand Alone for Sam Moore, of Sam & Dave?
That’s right. I’d sung with him before and you couldn’t hear a note I sang — and I am very loud. He had such a powerful voice. That’s what Sam & Dave was about, that competitive singing. I thought that he could make the song righteous. Its words are for real, for me. I feel trapped in a class and a skin and a country, and I don’t like being defined like that. I don’t think any of us are any the better for it.
You Bowed Down, another track, has already been recorded by Roger McGuinn. Yet your version is more Byrds-like than his.
He sang it beautifully, but the arrangement was very straightened out by the producer. It had the potential for him to go into space on, his great talent in The Byrds. That was a big reason for me wanting to re-record the song. We tried doing a Sonic Youth version of it, but it didn’t work, it wanted to have a 12-string on it. When I was rehearsing My Aim Is True with Clover, musicians never know the titles of songs when you’re first doing them, they know them by a riff. They’d say, “Let’s do that Byrds one again” for The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes.
So McGuinn’s been in there all along. There wouldn’t be any R.E.M., any Petty without him. It’s a part of musical language that he and The Searchers and George Harrison put in there. Last Train To Clarksville and all these great records had 12-string signatures. So you just use it. The song is looking at an idealist that’s lost the ideal. In The Byrds he did a version of Dylan’s Positively 4th Street, and he managed the same trick as Tasmin Archer — he took a very accusative song and found a shred of compassion in it.
What about the first single, It’s Time?
“It’s not the days when you leave me / But all I fear are the nights.” I always think about KC And The Sunshine Band when I sing that. I love those guys, and all that Miami music. I wanted it to sound like a nightmare in a disco — a nightmare in Munich. It’s like a Mann & Weil tune and then it has a bit of Station To Station to it. Things occur to me in a passing moment — there’s a KC moment in my mind. It probably sounds nuts when I say it, but it’s not as if I’m trying to capture them. It’s just a fleeting thought comes through your mind when you’re singing. It’s got its Be My Baby moments in it, that Brill Building singing.
Do you know who’s real good at that? Bon Jovi. He should do more of it. He can sound like Dion — the Italian/American pop tenor. I don’t like all his rock’n’roll-will-save-your-soul thing. But if it was the Brill Building now, he’d be a singer who they employed to do these songs.
In fact you’ve just written with Burt Bacharach for a film about the Brill Building, called Grace Of My Heart. He’s someone who’s come back into vogue lately.
Strange isn’t it? I think there’s two or three things going on simultaneously. There comes a time for anybody to be picked out of the blue, good or bad. And with a slightly patronising sense of discovery. Younger people will suddenly decide somebody is hip. It could be Benny Hill: ‘Yeah, he was really funny, a real comedic pioneer.” And they’ll make up a theory that fits with that. With Burt Bacharach, some people decided that putting on an acrylic wig and wearing a pastel suit is something and I don’t think it has a lot to do with him. I’d hate to think they were making fun of him, because he’s a very sincere musician. Then there’s those people who liked him all along. The success now has got to be those two things meeting. People like myself had all those records to begin with and they’ve come back conveniently on one CD.
You told me you were having to write the song [God Give Me Strength] via fax and answering machine.
We did. He’d fax me some music and I’d play a demo into his phone. The film is set in the Brill Building era but uses original songs. It resembles Carole King’s story, professionally anyway, although it’s not about her. The character has a big, tragic love affair and this is the song she writes that catapults her back into a performing career. The deadline was to write the song so they could shoot the scene where the actress, at her piano, goes: “You know, since that tragic love affair I’ve written this song…”
I was doing dates with Bob Dylan last year. After the show in Dublin I went out with Bob and his people, got home about two, got on the phone and finished the song. I couldn’t believe this was happening. It’s hard to get past who Bacharach is, but he’s a very easy-going chap. He’s a thorough musician, but not a muso — they’re the people who go, “Hey these are my chops” and really that’s all they’ve got, whereas he’s got everything. He works just as hard as he ever did. We were there 12 hours a day for three days, and right at the end he was listening to the minutest detail with the same level of concentration as he did when we started. And I’m pretty obsessive!
No, you’re no slouch yourself.
No. And I’m really glad, because I don’t plan on getting any more lackadaisical as I get older. I’m glad there are people around who, without being mad, are insisting on this kind of detail. People say, “Why are you spending all that time on one thing?” But I want to. It makes sense to me. I don’t need permission to do it and he doesn’t. If you don’t like the result, well, there’s plenty of other music to listen to. It would be great to see what could happen if we did get in a room together.
Shallow Grave is another collaboration with Paul McCartney. Did you play with him a while back?
Yes, at St James’s Palace. It was as low-key as it can be when you play for the Royal Family. It was amazing, actually, such an odd event. I never would have done it if Paul hadn’t asked. I’d never play for the Royal Family, I can’t stand ’em. But it was for the Royal College of Music — as we know, the government isn’t going to pay for education any more and music is way down their list.
It was a good opportunity to hear him perform his ‘chamber’ songs with the Brodskys. I’ve always had this idea that he should do a tour with just a guitar and sing the 15 best songs he ever wrote. People went on about The Beatles being like Schubert but it’s really true. In 150 years time they’ll be singing his songs — him, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach. And it won’t be some dusty thing, they’ll be getting joy out of them. When you hear old songs from the 19th century done properly, they really come to life. You still get the sense of this person who made those songs.
Have you been enjoying the Anthology series?
Yes. I don’t imagine I’ll play those versions in preference to the ones I’ve grown to love. But some of it I found very touching, particularly on the second volume. I like the first volume as well, because it’s like the old Sunday afternoon Hancock tapes. I remember enough of the way England felt then. I’m just old enough to remember the sinking feeling that Sunday used to have. And the little clips from the radio shows, as on the Beatles Live At The BBC record. I went to shows like that with my dad, so it was very evocative — not nostalgic, I don’t want to get back there — but it’s this funny world: “These jolly old chaps are coming up to sing us a few songs and here they are, The Beatles!”
When Lennon sings Strawberry Fields he sounds like Robert Johnson or something. You can tell it’s all in his head. He’s so focused on what he’s doing it’s scary. When they’re jamming on the psychedelic stuff they sound as messy and awful as other psychedelic groups. But then you hear the real Strawberry Fields, and it’s like classical music, everything in exactly the right place. And a lot of that, I have to say — though I know I’m biased — is Geoff Emerick [Costello’s co-producer]. George Martin wrote the music that was added, but the sound is also what it’s got to do with. And Geoff was one of their main engineers in that period. The great thing is we’re working now with Jon Jacobs who was Geoff’s assistant on Imperial Bedroom 14 years ago, and Jon has learned all his stuff. It’s like the last of the blacksmiths or something — there aren’t many engineers who know how to record like this. A lot of things got destroyed in the ’80s, like how to record real instruments.
You’ve used The Brodsky Quartet again on this album. Do you look back on The Juliet Letters as a successful exercise?
I love playing with the quartet and we’ve got a lot of repertoire now, apart from The Juliet Letters, so I want to carry that on. I know that, of my catalogue at Warner Brothers — it’s the record that’s selling all the time. New people are discovering it. It’s not in a different world to the other things that I do. It’s all part of the same music, but just has a different colour to it. I did this record with The Attractions and that one with The Brodsky Quartet and the results are what we did. I know it sounds like I’m explaining the bloody obvious, but some people didn’t get that.
You’ve also performed with someone called Anne Sofie von Otter?
She’s a classical singer. If you ask anybody who knows about that stuff, she is one of the two or three singers at the top in classical music. She probably has more range of repertoire than anybody of her generation. She’s my favourite singer, easily — of any kind of music. I’ve been a fan for about six years, I got to meet her a couple of times. Then, out of the blue, we did this concert together in Stockholm. We did Baby, It’s Cold Outside, and the audience really got into it. It was like being Sammy and Frank, live at the Sands… I was Sammy, of course…
Your track My Dark Life, on the X-Files compilation Songs In The Key Of X, finally brings you together with Brian Eno.
I only met him last summer. I’d seen him around in Notting Hill Gate — for the past 10 years I’ve had a flat there when I’ve been in London — but I wouldn’t know him to say hello to. One of our neighbours is Adam Clayton [of U2], who lives over the hill from us in Dublin and he was having some friends over on a sunny day. I met Brian then, and he seemed such a great bloke. The image I had of him was of this boffin, but he had a great sense of humour and was very easy to talk to — but very definite about his ideas, he’s not frivolous.
By coincidence I met him again the day before I was asked to do this track for the X-Files compilation. David Was, who was co-ordinating the music, rang me and said, “What about Brian Eno?” I said, “What are you a fucking mind-reader? I just met him yesterday…” So I called him and said, “What about one day in the studio? And whatever we do is the record…” Because I know he likes that kind of spontaneity. One day and no remixing. There’s a lot going on in that song, it’s about when I went to Russia last year. Truthfully, I think it has more plot than a lot of the X-Files episodes. I love The X-Files but the whole point of them is to be enigmatic.
Eno spoke up for Jarvis Cocker after the Michael Jackson incident. Where do you stand on this major issue?
I was in New York when it happened and there was outrage: “English weirdo dares to challenge the god-like genius of American pop star Michael Jackson!” It was very funny. I don’t know if Jarvis had had a bit to drink, but good for him. I think he did the right thing. He’s very smart and I like his songs. I love the detail, like the thing in Disco 2000: “There was woodchip on the wall.” I get the feeling that was a real memory.
He’s in his moment and the camera loves him. It may not last forever but while he’s doing it he’s not making a fucking idiot of himself. And he cares about the people who like him: he’s old enough not to be so selfish about it. I can’t say that I was the same, because I was a lot younger when I got famous. I was pretty self-obsessed.
You’ve always taken care with your back catalogue, reissuing albums with a lot of bonus tracks and so on. Are you concerned not to leave too many waifs and strays around?
Yeah. But they can only be out there for so long. I have four years to decide, but I’m thinking of deleting my entire catalogue in the year 2000. My Aim Is True is 20 years old next year. I think after a while you’ve got to get rid of them, throw them away. People must have them by now if they want them. I like the idea that we’ve made as good and definitive an edition as possible. I might get more sentimental by the year 2000. But what I’d really like to do is delete them and destroy them, so they could never come out again. That would be kind of cool. Ha! I’m sure I’ll change my mind about it.
But what about future generations?
Oh, they’ll be on the bloody internet by then, anyway. I like the idea of them being a bit peculiar and rare. If anybody gives a shit I’d be very surprised.
When I started making My Aim Is True, we didn’t even know if it would come out. Stiff put out three singles, and by the middle of ’77 I’d still failed to have a hit. Then they put the album out and by the next week I was on the cover of the Melody Maker. I turned professional that same week. It was a very quick thing, so I never thought, This is forever. Once you’re 25 years away from it, how many more people want to buy it? There comes a time when you have to acknowledge that a record has sold as many as it should. I worry about the people who buy Phil Collins or Simply Red records in response to an ad two years after its release. Have they been living under a stone? How didn’t they know it existed? Though I don’t have a tremendous affection for their stuff, I’m sure those artists imagine what they do is more spontaneous than that.
Getting it out the way for a while wouldn’t be a bad thing. I’d happily destroy it. Not because I don’t like it. It’s earned more money for me than I could ever have imagined. I’ve hit the jackpot so many times. There are many writers, writing all day long, hoping to hit the jackpot with the world of advertising. Well, I hit it again the other day. I have two balance sheets — I have all the money I might have earned and wasted in my life, then I have all the money that I would have earned if I’d said “Yes” to advertising. I could own an island by now if I’d taken all the offers. But it doesn’t interest me. I don’t want a medal for that. But it would have set me up for life. I turn down some sort of request almost every day. It’s just my personal feeling about it and I don’t look down on people who do it.
Are you closely involved in the artwork of your records?
Yes I am. There is a very beautiful image on the cover of this album — not of me, I hasten to add.
Artwork is important, and I think of my favourite albums from the cover downwards. But you eat the cornflakes, not the packet. There have been many great records in terrible sleeves — Big Pink. The problem is now you’ve got this five-inch frame rather than a 12. Something like Barney Bubbles’ Imperial Bedroom sleeve was wonderful and I have that painting in my music room. It’s really big. It only looks good on CD reissue because you’ve seen it in the 12-inch. I don’t know if a picture that detailed would be considered now.
Our memories of an album can be shaped by its artwork. We think the music was colourful because the sleeve was, or stark, or whatever.
The horrifying one for me was Imperial Bedroom again. I thought I’d made a very sunny record, because we’d used harpsichords and orchestras. I was so close to the record but when I gave the tape to Barney he painted that take on Picasso with all these violent images. I had no idea that was what people were hearing. I was so far into the nuts and bolts, I was hearing the musical content but forgetting what I was singing about.
You end this album by saying “I want to vanish.” Do you ever feel that way?
I mean it. You want to be always able to leave. You should always have your fuck-off money, as they say. I was asked to produce a version of Lone Pilgrim, an old Appalachian song. I found it went way back to the 1800s. There was a wave of singers who’d been successful like Robert Johnson and the blues guys had, except that nobody bothered to rediscover them in the 1960s. They continued to live in the woods: “Oh, that guy at the sawmill up the road? He used to play the banjo 30 years ago.” I got fascinated by the idea. What if a documentary film crew had come and said, “We want to tell the world your story, you’re the real music!” — and this guy had just gone, “Fuck off and leave me alone. I’m happy in my obscurity.” That parallels some of my own feelings.
Does it? Don’t performers always want attention, on some level?
Not really. I get all the attention I want. I still get the occasional “What do you do these days?” because I’m not in the Daily Mirror every week. Depends on where you look. I get people who think I gave up after Oliver’s Army. So I say, “Well actually I sold out Madison Square Garden last week.” And they think I’m lying. They think I’m a fantasist.
I don’t want to be a celebrity in that sense. I’m more than famous enough for what I do. Fashions don’t interest me. When I started out I was part of something, not through my doing. “New wave” was a daft name for a collection of groups who had nothing connecting them, just as “Britpop” is now and something else will be next week. The worst thing about those titles is that they flatter the worst people and insult the best. It levels everything out.
Some of the best records are made by people who only write one record. Some people make their best record 30 years into their career, they don’t even start to do their best stuff until they’re 50. I hate these late 20s/30s guys in the music press pretending they’re age/class warriors, defending ‘Us’ against ‘Them’. There is no Us and Them. We’re all different. And if you think you’re Us, then you’re a right one of Them! There is no Us. We Won’t Get Fooled Again? Are you sure?
Shall we leave it there, then?
Yeah! (Laughs) That’s more than enough rambling from the old git. Don’t you think?