let the great wheel spin

I was reviewing for Creem when Elvis Costello’s ‘My Aim Is True’ came out, and I snagged the assignment, because I’d gotten my hands on a U.K. import on Stiff and it floored me. Here’s some of what I wrote in the summer of ’77:

“His voice is captivatingly abrasive, his songs are, without exception, expertly crafted miniatures: there are 13 here (Columbia added his new U.K. single), and not one your stylus begs to skip, not one that doesn’t reveal something special about Costello’s sensibility and talent. Every song has ideas to burn and a memorable chorus. The title (from the hauntingly tough-tender “Alison”) speaks chapters: his aim – his purpose and prowess – is true.”

I also said, “He snarls, ‘Everybody loves you so much baby/I don’t see how you can stand the strain,’ with the passion of mid-‘60s Jagger, and it’s great, and lesser men have made such sentiments springboards for whole careers.”

The other night I went up to the Beacon to see Elvis. It’d been a long time (I’m trying to figure out when, but I’m drawing a complete blank). He’s brought his big spinning wheel along on this tour, and audience members get on stage and give it a twirl to pick what song he’s going to do. Squinting to see what options are up there, I realized that he’s become one of those guys who has such a deep and consistent catalog that the wheel could stop pretty much anywhere and land on a song you’d want to hear. Like Dylan, or Leonard Cohen, Neil Young or Springsteen. Even McCartney. It’d didn’t matter: spin the damned thing, let the pointer point where it may, I’m cool.

As luck (and some manipulation) would have it, the classics just kept on coming. Mike Myers got on stage to take a turn, and it landed on ‘God Give Me Strength’ (it looked random to me), so we got to hear that Costello-Bacharach song that’ll just tear your heart out. And we got a “Girl” medley (‘This Year’s Girl’/‘Girl Talk’/The Beatles’ ‘Girl’), and a ‘Time’ medley that included Jagger & Richards’ ‘Out of Time,’ reminding me of that Creem review I wrote thirty-something summers ago (Elvis really did start out with his ‘Aftermath’ and moved on from there). It was a made-to-order Elvis song, and so, as it happens, was The Who’s ‘Substitute,’ which appeared in the middle of a hits encore and fit as though it were a missing cut from ‘This Year’s Model.’

I couldn’t find an ‘Out of Time’ on YouTube, but here’s a shaky (musically and otherwise) video of “Girl’ in LA, with harmony by The Bangles:

When an artist has decades of albums under his belt, and the first few albums were filled with energy and inspiration, a show is going to have the element of nostalgia. I admit, when he played Nick Lowe’s ‘Heart of the City’ in the pre-wheel segment, I flashed back to a private show at a Ukrainian ballroom on Second Avenue at the end of the first U.S. tour. I’d gotten invited because I was part of the NYC rock press who’d said kind things about the album, and I brought a record company girl I liked. At the end of the set, Lowe came out, and he and Elvis did ‘Heart of the City,’ and it was one of my favorite live rock moments. It was my first year in the actual music business, and it felt as though the music was changing for the better, and everything looked bright ahead.

Seeing Elvis on Sunday night reminded me how exciting that all was, but it wasn’t simply a nod back to his first days of sullen glory. It was riveting present-tense rock that acknowledged history, but wasn’t confined by it.

2 responses to “let the great wheel spin

  1. When you were reviewing for Creem ?

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