"I Hear In Ypsilanti..."

Elvis Costello carries Ypsipanties in his pocket

By Mark: June 23rd, 2009

I’m really burning through my 15 minutes of fame this week. First there was the DeNiro thing showing up on Maxim, and now it seems as though Elvis Costello is making news with our Ypsipanties… Here he is yesterday, on stage at Amoeba Records in LA, holding a pair of our panties while reminiscing fondly about them.

Linette and I have had brushes with panty fame in the past, but this, to our knowledge, is the first instance of what might be called a celebrity endorsement.

Here, by way of background, is a clip from today’s LA Times music blog:

Live: Elvis Costello at Amoeba Music in Hollywood

“You have to come out to a record shop to hear a brand-new song,” said Elvis Costello, raising an eyebrow and offering up an unreleased gem midway through his set at Amoeba Music in Hollywood Monday night. The statement was patently false — Costello’s performance was streamed live on Amoeba’s website — but it suited the evening’s mood and the rock raconteur’s new persona.

Costello is promoting “Secrets, Profane and Sugarcane,” a new album produced by the country-esque auteur T Bone Burnett and flavored with several varieties of Americana seasoning. This show’s instrumentation — he played acoustic guitar, joined by Jim Lauderdale on the same instrument and Mike Compton on mandolin — spoke of Nashville, but the songs, as well as their singer’s purple flim-flam-man costume and pencil-thin mustache, spoke of other locales and eras, from the antebellum Deep South to P.T. Barnum’s Eastern Seaboard and beyond.

This stop was part of a classic stunt of which Barnum would have approved. At noon, Costello played at the Amoeba outlet in San Francisco. Then he and his mates hopped a plane for the night’s gig in L.A…

Of the fresh compositions, the first was a gallows tale that crossed the darkness of Johnny Cash with the narrative flair of Marty Robbins, very much in his current mode, while the second hinted at a future return to the spit-flinging rock he’s made with his bands, the Attractions and the Imposters…

Mostly Costello highlighted the “Sugarcane” material, which reflects his love of the historical from several perspectives. “Red Cotton” was a dramatically rendered parlor tale of slavery and moral decay. “My All Time Doll” slinked along like a tune at last call in a smoky nightclub. The heartfelt (if slightly off-key) “Crooked Line,” which he co-wrote with Burnett, is “the only true love song I’ve ever written where I didn’t leave myself an escape hatch in the third verse”…

Costello clearly relished his ringleader position. He told some jokes, held up a pair of pink “Ypsilanti Panties” he’d acquired at the noon show (a reference to a line in “Sugarcane’s” title track), and tipped his fedora with a smile that suited the shady character he’s now playing…

If you like, you can watch the whole hour-long gig here! (It’s quite good.) The song, “Sugarcane,” starts at about the 52-minute mark. The line in the song about Ypsi – “Here in Ypsilanti, they don’t wear any panties” – occurs at around the 57-minute mark. And, a little bit after that, is when he removes the Ypsipanties from his pocket and begins talking about how someone handed them to him in San Francisco.

Here’s a somewhat rushed transcription of what Mr. Costello had to say:

…We were up at the Amoeba in San Francisco earlier today and someone gave me a gift that I wanted to share with you. In the final verse of the song, Sugarcane, it makes a suggestion that the ladies of Ypsilanti are a little bit… selective about their undergarments. And I have in my hand a pair of (yells come from the crowd as he takes them out of his pocket) Ypsilanti panties. (Laughter.) I kid you not. They go back a long way. There’s an accompanying note with them. (Takes a letter out of his pocket to read it.) This is the historical part of the show. (He reads.) “Never a rip, never a tear, with Ypsilanti underwear.” (Laughs.) At a Tom Jones show, the audience throws their underwear on the stage. We like to throw it out, into the audience.

And, then, in spite of having just said that, he promptly returns the Ypsipanties to his pocket for safe keeping.

Anyway, I want to pass along a great big “Thank you” to whomever it was out there that made the supreme panty sacrifice, choosing to hand off their cherished Ypsipanties to Mr. Costello for the good of all those unfortunate souls still remaining here in Ypsi. It’s much appreciated. On top of everything else, we didn’t need Elvis Costello fans around the world thinking that our women didn’t have panties. We may just be the poor descendants of appalachian slaves, but we have our dignity.

Oh, and if you like hearing Elvis say the word “Ypsilanti,” you can order the new record, "Secret, Profane and Sugarcane"