12 October 2011

Oh, I Just Don't Know Where To Begin

Once upon a time...wait, stop, stop. More than once upon a time, I succumbed to the siren song of the BMG and Columbia House music subscription services that used to be found in any number of publications. Lick and stick your choices, get 8 or 10 or 12 tapes or CDs for a penny or the price of one, plus shipping and handling and plus a vague commitment to buy some more later, all at a competitive rate with record stores. However, one last time I succumbed to the seductive ease with which one could buy an entirely new musical persona and get a starter kit for a new library (to the extent that I could have been said to have a library in those days, which is to say to no extent) and at this point I was no spring chicken. I neither gleefully intended to rob them ruthlessly with a false name on the form or a disingenuous "I've never heard of that person in my life" when they called to collect, nor did I really firmly have a plan or the disposable income to live up to that X albums in the next Y years part of the form. I simply reasoned I would work something out later and carpe diem in the spirit of the good old days.

This was fine and good. I know that one of the CDs I got in that initial package was Mazzy Star's Fade Into You, which had been a spur of the moment re-acquisition. There was some compilation of the Specials, with which one can't go wrong. I feel pretty certain that I upgraded one or possibly two Radiohead albums that I had owned on tape to CD with that order. It doesn't matter, all those albums are lost or stolen in Portland. What's fun is what happened after, when I forgot to cancel my membership and kept receiving the "Pick of the Month" which I would have to return or pay for.

Returning a CD you didn't expressly order is one of those tasks which for me is infinitely more difficult to complete than actually ordering the CD, working a couple of hours in some hopeless, dead end job, and paying the bill. It's obviously much more difficult than sidling into a music store, doing an awful job of acting casual, secreting an album under the corner of a flannel shirt and picking the magnetic anti-theft device away, although the terror of a shy and quiet nerd committing a misdemeanor does make any alternative more appealing. Obviously if one had the money to buy the CD it's much more better for everyone to simply walk into the store and purchase it in the manner of a good citizen, anyway. But while these actions are perhaps less difficult in some indefinable manner, they have none of the mystery, surprise, and jackpot feeling of opening the mailbox and slapping your forehead when you see a flat cardboard rectangle with Columbia House in the sender corner.

On this occasion, I was handed said cardboard rectangle with an admonishment and immediately began thinking of how little I wanted to handle the return, coupled with the grim teeth-gritting that accompanied fledgling music snobbery (Unwarranted? You bet!) and the certainty that whatever was in here that had been "selected for me" by the company, it wouldn't live up to my exacting standards and would have to go. But in the spirit of fun and unexpected packages, I opened it.
(That's what was in it.) Okay, so here's me, grasping to be cool and knowledgeable and blah blah blah, and here's this best-of by a guy who definitely has name recognition, written or mentioned in a positive context to the best of my recollection, definitely had the right look on the cover...so I figured okay, I'll open it, I can probably still return it if it's terrible...

Obviously no such thing happened, even if the music on the disc didn't fit neatly into some easily digested of-the-moment subculture. Instead it became my lifeline - after all, I really was getting a bit on to be defrauding the mail-in music clearinghouses, and running out of addresses besides (in the interest of full disclosure, I can certainly recall being party to another foray or two, though I don't recall if I ever got my own box of free-ish music again). And those clearinghouses were running out of patience and relevance with and in the world themselves, although I haven't checked the back of Parade magazine in a long time. So this disc was my alpha and omega of Elvis for a long time. That naturally changed when I had the good fortune to befriend someone with legitimately good taste who could offer me a hand and pull me up from time to time, but I swear there's a flash of green on black across my brain when I think the words Elvis, Costello, Attractions. The full track listing of the CD is here. It is certainly not bad, although it must by necessity leave a whole lot of ground to cover.

Elvis Costello is one of those artists, and if you know what I mean then you know what I mean, one of those acts with whom your relationship is lifelong, whatever its nature at any given moment might be. While I might have gone months without hearing one of his songs (well, however long it's possible to go, whatever, it might not be months), if I see Amazon offering an album on sale I'll grab it, if I see a tidbit I'll read it, if I chance to hear a song out of context or by happenstance in my own library, I'll stop and listen to it. If I need to express some thought eloquently or be cheered or be sunk, I know that I have a friend in his catalog. I even, probably due to the occasional prompt from his mailing list, check his website every so often. So I had gotten some cute emails about his latest tour and the unique set piece being used, and checked the dates sporadically, and found one that would have worked but which passed unattended after we (myself, Alicia, and Adrienne) realized we were poor, broke, and impoverished and retreated to our various mountain hideouts.

Then, on my mother's birthday, I was passed a note by a very smug looking Alicia. Annoyingly enough, I can't find the exact slip of paper at the moment (and if daylight uncovers it tomorrow I'm posting it and deleting this sentence), but the gist was "Happy Early Birthday, You're Going To See Elvis Costello On Saturday [2 days from the note], Way To Steal Mom's Thunder." Needless to say I was completely perplexed, as I had no, I mean NO idea that he was still touring the US, let alone in our state, let alone at a beautiful old historic landmark theatre 50 minutes from our house. We received the tickets in the mail the next day and obtained one more so that Corin could come along.
The ticket says Orchestra Right, Row B, Seat 2. That is, the front, save for the pit, which was used for some sort of weird class oppression, but more on that later. I have no idea how there were front row tickets available two days before the concert. Corin had to settle for the front row of his loge box, alas, but reported that the loge and balcony seats were not sold out. NOT EVEN SOLD OUT. The box office was open when we got there! This world, it deserves everything it gets, I tell ya. But at least it means that broke jokes waiting for their paycheck get front-ish row seats.

I promise you that it really didn't sink in until we were seated, and the lights dimmed and then rose. I had experienced a mild little wave of agoraphobia or social phobia or whatever the hell it is that kicks in when I go out for something at night these days, but that was all swept away in the adrenaline of seeing the band take the stage. When they immediately launched into the first song without a word, I admit I began to think that this would take the form of a contemporary Dylan show, wherein he has hardly a word to spare for the audience (though plenty of devilish and mischievous looks, don't mistake me for anyone other than a Dylan defender till I die)despite having had the elaborate set to look at while we waited, but I was happily proved wrong in short order.
For the general vibe and structure of the show, I'll refer you to the man himself's site, as he's covered events pretty thoroughly, although I'm happy to elaborate if there are any questions. Also, I spent the last few days soaking in the pure joy of the experience and consequently didn't want to risk diluting it or harshing my mellow prematurely by trying to come up with the setlist from memory, but this looks like just the ticket.

Special joys for me include Substitute, which is one of my fave-favorite Who songs, Everyday I Write the Book, which I love beyond all reason, Red Shoes, I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down, High Fidelity, his wonderful acoustic Slow Drag With Josephine, and the insane, insanely great performance of I Want You. It was so amazing. I can remember my brother catching me tearing up to that listening to it once a million years ago, suspiciously asking me what was wrong with me that a song had made me cry, and having no satisfactory answer, and here it was a decade later and I was watching it meander painfully through its own heartache and that of I Say a Little Prayer For You which was woven in through the last third. Of course, on that note, let me draw attention to the beautiful, eclectic approach to This Wheel's On Fire. The surprise to me, both in its inclusion on the wheel and its prompt win on the first spin, was Clubland. I don't know why, I suppose it is after all on the best-ofs and so on, but it always seemed like the sort of song that would be dismissed as a bit fluffy, but which I always liked and for whatever reason the vocals always struck me a bit to the core. I suppose those are likely candidates for its inclusion on those best-ofs. At any rate, it was exciting to hear as was any and everything they deigned to play, and they deigned to play a lot.

Oh, the pit? Yeah, well, I'm very happy for the youngish man who got tickets down front somehow on the day of, because he was so into it and he was a fan. The soused older crowd getting tanked and getting in fights over who was sitting with whose man? Nah, not so much. At least they had a worse view than us for much of it, though they did get the pleasure of a personal visit from the man to select some more audience members to take their chances onstage. They had little cafe tables set up with a complimentary bottle of wine, though their snacks were decidedly not upscale as I saw mostly bags of Cheez-Its. It was impossible to feel too negative, though, as the show itself was so uplifting and revivifying and because the audience, despite feeling generally not that familiar with Elvis Costello, was extremely warm and enthusiastic.

Okay, should I wrap this up then? And save the second part for its own post? Probably. It's late and I have taken the LONG road on this one.

Coming up on the next blogpost: Celebrity and Entertainment, in one corner the Kardashians, in the other Costello. Stay tuned. Ain't unemployment grand?

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