Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Costello Project

Elvis is coming to play the Seanger Theater on October 15th, 2016.

Right now I have him playing through my headphones while I try to type this. "Tears Before Bedtime," off of Imperial Bedroom from a live 2006 concert is on, and it is hard to concentrate on what I'm writing.

The idea is to have me ready to be in front of the theater on the 15th with guitar around my neck and a tip bucket hanging from the guitar somehow, and playing at least a variety of 15 Costello songs.
I believe it will be money in the bank.

The Guitar Case Story

The case that my guitar is in now has a story, which involves the Seanger Theater on Canal Street, the one that I slept across the street from for quite a while.
It was a "Sue" spot.

That means that the spot had been scouted out by Sue, the Colombian lady, whose survival instincts are fit for the likes of a 5 foot 2 inch 90 pound Colombian lady. The spot, which has been referred to as "the sign spot," in previous posts, had taken that appellation due to its being situated directly underneath and behind a large sign which reads "Welcome To Downtown New Orleans" on the front of it.

The pretty landscaping around the sign provided the cover which Sue utilized in order to be invisible at night from any distance greater than 25 feet; an effect created by the contrast between the pools of shadows cast by the pretty bushes within which Sue lay, against the blindingly bright lights from streetlights which have been closely grouped overhead, due to the sign spot being betwixt the huge parking lot where many of the people who have paid a lot of money for tickets to a Saenger Theater production park their cars, and the theater itself. The light fixtures are equipped with cameras, also, as is most of the French Quarter. Purses have been snatched before, and a policeman sitting at the station has rewound the corresponding video to the time of the incident and then has followed the image of the suspect from one camera to the next, to where he discards everything except the money and valuables, and to whatever corner he bought drugs at, and finally to where he was still sitting smoking crack when the cops arrived to arrest him. In one particular incident a lady got her stuff back within 20 minutes. And this would have been the fate of anyone who might have thought of trying to rob Sue, the Colombian lady at the sign spot.

But, as the eyes adjust to those bulbs which are as bright as the stars that perform inside the theater, the area where Sue slept becomes blackness, and you wouldn't know that there was anyone there to rob unless you literally walked into the bushes.

Add to this the fact that across the street on the other side was a 4 story apartment building which had its own cameras, as well as a security officer who was stationed where he had a view of all cars entering the garage and, you guessed it, the sign spot. And Sue was very sly about insuring that the information that there was a defenseless lady and a cat at the spot got to the officers, whom where all, of course, drawn to their particular line of work because of their protective instincts and their sense of heroism.

Sue showed me the spot when we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and I continued to sleep there after she was long gone, as the wisdom of it unfolded.

So, I had been given the Takamine guitar, as I sat at the spot where my late friend Jake used to play every night; that is another story; but I needed a case for it, and that is this story.

So, I had only about 38 dollars to get a case with. I called Paul at Webbs Bywater Music store, who told me that he indeed had "gig bags," for 35 dollars.

I asked him if he would waive the tax on one, saying that, if I had to pay it, I would have to walk there. He said: "Oh, 35 is good; take the bus. Where are you, the Quarter? You don't want to walk all the way from there, take the bus. 35 is cool."

I walked there anyways. I was a drinker then. I walked along, sipping my 24 ounce beer and getting a nice guitar case shopping buzz.

I paid 35 dollars for a nice gig bag, into which I zipped the Takamine guitar, and then began the walk and sip back to the Quarter.

I needed to grab something from the sign spot, so I bent my step in that direction.

Once there, I saw that I was just in time for the gathering of the people who were about to go inside the theater and be entertained by the Steve Miller Band.

I was passing in front of the venue with my new Takamine guitar in its case when one of a group of what turned out to be 7 guys spoke up: "Oh, you've got a guitar, know any Steve Miller?"

I took the Takamine out of the 35 dollar case for the first time, and was in the middle of playing "Big Ol' Jet Airliner," by that storied rocker, which they seemed to be enjoying -singing along, at least- when the gates opened for the show. They deposited seven five dollar bills in my hand, flicked their cigarettes butts out into the road, and then joined the fray to get inside the theater. So, the first time that I took the guitar out of the case, I paid for the case by playing it. That was back when New Orleans seemed a charmed place where things like that were the norm. If I checked the date of the Miller show, though, I would probably find that it fell during the busy (and happy) season when things like that are certainly more the norm than during Skeezer Summer (July through September).

The point of telling the guitar case story is to point out that, with Elvis Costello coming in October, I see a golden opportunity for myself in walking around whatever crowd is waiting to get in, playing my guitar and singing his songs. This, like his songs, is on multiple levels.

The first level being the exact kind of crowd that Elvis Costello will attract; the artsiest of the artsy; those who withstood his disembarking from "New Wave" music that "everyone" loved, and whittling the faithful down from everyone to progressively smaller yet more faithful enclaves, through his becoming immediately more polished and less punk on his second album and then soon thereafter progressively more artsy on his third and four albums (the latter being "Imperial Bedroom," which was dubbed Elvis' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," by one typical critic) and then making a foray into country music (probably the deepest whittle) and then on to a horn section driven 5th album, produced right here in New Orleans with Alan Toussaint behind the sound board, and then on through almost anything imaginable, like an album (Mighty Like A Rose) that is kind of like Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," album, both in substance, and in sharing the irony that, they are 2 of the worst selling, yet considered the best by many, works of each artist.

There is stuff with just Elvis singing to a piano accompaniment or a string quartet, and then one album done with The Sugarcanes, which are like a Mumford & Sons type band where you hear fiddles and mandolins in the mix.

So, that is the first level of opportunity, presented by the fact that Elvis fans are not bound by any musical limits.

Secondly, Elvis himself, famously strapped on a guitar and paced back and forth in front of the record company so that when he submitted his demo tape, the executives thought that there was something hauntingly familiar and catchy to the music and signed him to a contract. This plays into the hands of a busker walking back and forth in front of the Saenger Theater.

Thirdly, there is no other artist that I have sang along to more in the past 38 years than Elvis Costello.

This started as a reaction to the teen age identity crisis which seemed to transfix my entire generation. I can remember the insecurity surrounding any expression of individuality as a 16 year old, and my contemporaries inability to wrap their minds around anything that they couldn't compare to something already in existence.

I remember once being approached by a kid in my high school whom I had hardly any interaction with, but who felt it important to carry to me the revelation that he and his clique had come to that I had evoked the comedian Martin Mull in my performance of a comedy piece during a school production, attended by parents, teachers and students alike.

I wasn't very familiar with Mr. Mull, having only seen him on Saturday Night Live a couple times and, having seen very little reflection of myself in him, I shook my head: "No, I don't think so...(not Martin Mull)."

The kid became adamant. "Martin Mull!," he repeated with added gravity; as if he was imparting me with the gift of the key for my future success. This was a path that I could take, the Martin Mull route. Study the guy's work; emulate him, model his success. It was as if we (as artists in our generation) had to connect ourselves to something which had been validated in the public eye through television, especially, or we would become non entities, causing an uncomfortable audience to muse: What's that supposed to be?!?

I had a similar experience after the first coffee shop that I played at, when I was 17. I did a song of my own called "Box of Sound," singing and playing acoustic guitar, accompanied by my friend Ted Broughey on drums. Afterwards, there was a meeting of the minds of some of the kids in the audience, out of which a representative was sent to inform me that: "You know you kind of sound like Neil Young."

The identity crisis being contagious, I was in search of my own role model, and, rejecting Neil Young and Martin Mull, decided that my best shot at becoming a successful artist was to try to become another Elvis Costello. Whatever physical resemblance to him I may have sported (with the horned rim glasses being the icing on the cake) I saw as a sign from above that I was on the right path.

The funny thing is that, as I felt like I was becoming less nerdy as I grew out of my teen years, Elvis coincidentally started to ditch his own awkward shtick, and by the time he released his "Get Happy" album, I was kind of using him as a vocal coach. I spent so many hours singing along to that album in my car, I got to where I knew when to take a breath of air, in order to sound more like Elvis.
And so, this also portends well to my doing well busking in front of the Saenger Theater on October 15th.

I think those are all the levels; outside of mentioning that there should be a good amount of people my age there; ones who stayed the course and are enjoying the fruits of having had lucrative careers and having paid off their houses, etc. This could be reflected in the tips. People who have had lucrative careers often envy the guy who dropped out of the human race and now paces in front of a theater with a guitar hanging from his neck. They would trade places with him if they could keep their money, perhaps.

And so, I need to cash in on my sobriety and do a crash course in Elvis Costello song learning.

I just got a message from someone who wants to rent my room.....


alex carter said...

The only song I can think of by Elvis Costello is "Pump It Up" and the only halfway good one I can think of by him is "Almost Blue", ostensibly written by him for trumpeter Chet Baker and I suspect probably written by Mr. Baker himself, whom Mr. Costello supplied with heroin and hung out with in his twilight years.

Daniel McKenna said...

Elvis is a master of writing songs with sexual innuendo "Pump It Up," is about a girl who teases a guy to the point of an erection and has no intention of satisfying him "Pump it up until you can feel it; pump it up when you really need it..."
"Down in the pleasure center, hell bent or heaven sent.." is a classic line about a girl who may or may not be "ready."
And, I totally believe Elvis wrote "Almost Blue," using the pet chords and tonalities that Baker favored, as Costello is a master imitator.
He even credits things that he steals to the artists: "We decided to start Oliver's Army by quoting the piano riff from ABBA's 'Dancing Queen,'" he writes in the liner notes from that (Armed Forces) album (every song in which has a military theme).
Listen to a song called "Hidden Shame," (if you can find it; it's from the bonus disc of "All This Useless Beauty" I think) and try to guess who he wrote it for (but who didn't want to record it). Hint: Elvis sang another duet with the guy and later said that, in the mix "I sounded like a little girl next to his voice"

Alex said...

um, so ... Elvis Costello not only could choose an original name, he can't do original music, and you have to read yourself to death to convince yourself his music is enjoyable, kind of like how vegans convince themselves about kale.

Daniel McKenna said...

The choice of "Elvis" was kind of an act of rebellion. As I read in the extensive liner notes for one of his discs (probably the first) he had record company people trying to come up with a stage name for him; throwing out different ones. When he suggested the name; they were like; "you can't be serious!" and then got pissed and told him that if he wanted to ruin his career before it even began then to commit the sacrilege of naming himself Elvis.
People might have thought that those were some tall shoes to fill; but McManus kind of ridicules Presley.
From "Town Crier," off Imperial Bedroom:
"Others use the splendor of their trembling lip
They're so teddy bear tender and tragically hip"
-has to be referring to the king

alex carter said...

Wow, after reading your explanation, his choosing his stupid name sounds even stupider than it already seemed to me.

I mean, I wanna career, OK, I'll name myself Alex GaGa! And totally put a lot of energy into ridiculing Lady GaGa, even though if I had a shred of self-respect I'd just go and do my thing, and let Lady GaGa do her thing, which I may or may not like but she's good at doing her thing and has plenty of fans, and why rain on that?

Frankly the name Declan McManus is a lot cooler than naming yourself after Elvis.

The only song by this guy anyone normal can think of is "Pump it up" and that was only popular because it had a nice beat and a nice sound that fit in with the times, since no one pays attention to lyrics so to 99.9% of the population the song is about being "pumped up", or enthusiastic, about being young and riding your skateboard and having a cool leather jacket etc.

Daniel McKenna said...

This is debating season so; Ok, John Dussendorf, Reginald Dwight, Robert Zimmerman, and even John Mellencamp all had stage names and for various reasons, the biggest of which was to remove any trace of ethnicity because of the bigoted world we live in; Who want's to listen to Jewish music, that's for Jews and you can dance to it without your yarmulke falling off.
Some artists are marketed towards certain groups; Bobby Vinton and his albums of polka music...
Jerry Garcia was often shown with an American Flag in the picture so you didn't have to suspect that you might be listening to music that was for Spaniards, not you.
Ringo changed Starkey to Starr.
Starr with 2 "r"s so that you could actually think that it is his real name and that he was born to stardom with a name like that
Which brings me (a third time) back to Elvis Costello...
One would "never" pick Elvis as a show business name because "there will ever only be one Elvis for all time" so that actually makes it a pretty original choice, in that sense; Google "Elvis the musician" to this day, and you might just get 2 results. Now Google musicians named Alex...
And then there is the tongue and cheek philosophy of "Look how good that guy did with that name; that must be a good one.
And, by the way, I think there is a story behind "Costello" and I think it did come from Abbot and Costello somehow.
The name is a poke at the American market; where you would see the Rolling Stones singing about the big apple and other British bands aiming at the market; at least the Beatles sang about Penny Lane and places they knew; but Elvis Costello is kind of a meld between Hollywood and the music industry; and I'm going to go back and read once again how he explained it in a Rolling Stone interview from '78 because I'm having trouble articulating it here....