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Biographile: Nathan Gelgud: October 14th 2015

Elvis Costello is a nice guy. Really. Sure, sometimes he seems insolent. But it’s just that he’s shy, and therefore a little withholding, but not rude. And seriously, he’s not trying to show off by naming himself Elvis.

Resolutions of these misunderstandings and many more are set forth by the songwriter and pop star in his new memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. His lyrics are misinterpreted, and the official at the airport accuses him of having a tone when he hands over his passport. He’s so nervous during a round of interviews that he drinks Pernod until he smells of anise, and then gets a reputation for being difficult.

As he points out, a bad rap wasn’t really the worst kind of baggage during the New Wave years when Costello and his band The Attractions made their mark. As a songwriter who sometimes penned leftist lyrics and a young upstart with a penchant for well-intentioned rabble-rousing, it probably would have been worse to be perceived as agreeable.

In almost 700 pages, Costello covers plenty of territory in this book, beginning with discovering a love of music through his dad. Costello’s father amassed an enormous record collection as a singer who memorized hits to perform with an orchestra. Young Costello had never paid any attention to the records his dad brought home until 1963, when he queued up “Please Please Me” by The Beatles.

From there, Costello was hooked, and in a life story that jumps around in time from chapter to chapter (sometimes paragraph to paragraph), he chronicles the path from childhood and his career as a young star to playing a Paul McCartney tribute at the White House. After that presidential gig, he realized that he’d left his guitar inside. Having just been shown the spot where Redcoats had once tried to burn the building down, Costello was hesitant to knock and ask for the instrument back in his British accent. But go ahead, Elvis, just knock. They’ll like you. You’re a nice guy. Really.

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