Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 377 from September 2, 1982. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.
In 1977, Elvis Costello emerged in London as one of the unquestioned originals of modern pop music. Just twenty-two when he released his first album, "My Aim Is True," he seemed master of every rock & roll move — on record and off. He combined the brains of Randy Newman and the implacability of Bob Dylan, the everyman pathos of Buddy Holly and the uniqueness of John Lennon. Everything was up for grabs in his music: love, money, status, hope, fear and, perhaps most of all, the very notion of control. No punk in terms of craft, he rode the punk wave because he communicated a more authentic bitterness than any punk; his demands on the world were more powerful and thus his rejection of the world when it failed to deliver was more convincing.
In 1982, Elvis Costello remains known almost solely through his music — and the scandalous "Ray Charles" incident, which made the papers across the country and across the water. Aside from a 1981 appearance on Tom Snyder's 'Tomorrow' show, Costello had not sat down for a comprehensive interview with an American journalist until this summer — and no interview has appeared in a U.K. publication since 1977.
With the release of his eighth album, "Imperial Bedroom," Costello and his band, the Attractions — Bruce Thomas, bass; Steve Nieve, keyboards; and Pete Thomas, drums — opened an American tour this July 14th at Santa Cruz, California, to a jabbering crowd of surfers and college students. There, he performed his songs, two hours' worth — plus Elvis Presley's 'Little Sister,' his first cover of his namesake. Three nights later, to a bigger, far more various and receptive crowd in Berkeley, Costello performed his view of the world — a show that ripped through the night.
The next day we met for a five-hour conversation. Wearing an unmistakable pair of bright red shoes, Costello was serious about the situation — his first real interview with a national publication — but also very much at ease. We talked about his aversion to journalists; Brecht and Weill; the presence of Hank Williams in 'The Last Picture Show'; the theological dispute between Sam Phillips and Jerry Lee Lewis that preceded the recording of "Great Balls of Fire"; Costello's course of study in high school English ("Second-half-of-the-twentieth-century working-class British literature — 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning,' 'The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,' 'Billy Liar' "); Frank Sinatra's incandescent version of "I Can't Get Started (with You)," from the album 'No One Cares,' especially the unique spoken introduction (" 'Each time I chanced to see Franklin D.,' " Costello reminded me, " 'he always said, "Hi, buddy" to me' "); Sonny Boy Williamson's "Little Village"; Billie Holiday; Mel Tormé; Charlie Rich; Peter Guralnick's 'Lost Highway'; Kay Kendall; Isabelle Adjani; and –
And, we will need another interview, another time. As for what I have taken from that conversation — what seems, given how little Costello has spoken for print, most fundamental and necessary — I've compressed some passages, left myself out of the dialogue when I did no more than say, "And then...," and stitched the result together with narrative. Five years after, one must begin at the beginning.
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