Elvis Costello Patrick Goldstein - Essay

Patrick Goldstein

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

First off, Elvis—no matter how vehemently he attacks his rock elders—is just as much a product of his influences as any other garage band veteran. He named himself after one rock idol and has capitalized on his striking resemblance to another. His lyrics borrow their venom from Pete Townshend and their resignation from Gram Parsons. And his band, the Attractions, with their Farfiso dominated mid-section, are direct Anglo descendents of Question Mark and the Mysterians.

And Elvis can strike his rock populist pose and rail against the music biz to his heart's content, but without CBS's awesome promotional muscle, our boy would be no more renowned in America than fellow Stiffers Wreckless Eric and Ian Dury. Hype may be a dirty word in the new wave lexicon, but most bands are going to live or die by its double-edged sword. (p. 65)

This is not to expose Elvis as some sort of fraud or charlatan, but to remind new wave sympathizers that bringing down the record industry's Jericho-like walls entails a bitter struggle. I merely advise Elvis to be on his guard. His gifts as an artist—whether he accepts the title or not—are assured. But his growth as a songwriter must survive the pressures of sudden notoriety and breast the fluctuating fortune of the new wave, whose rise has closely paralleled his own climb to prominence.

A more serious concern is whether Elvis will allow his recalcitrant public persona to corrupt his provocative songwriting talents.

His future depends on reconciling the tension between musical aspirations and audience expectations. Despite his studied rejection of the trappings of rock artistry, an artist he remains. This gap between iconoclasm and idolatry was too much for the Sex Pistols, who formed a hit squad for aging rock heavyweights but made the fatal mistake of standing in a circle when they fired. Let's hope Elvis' aim is true. (p. 66)

Patrick Goldstein, "Can Elvis Costello Cure Acne?" in Creem (© copyright 1978 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 9, No. 12, May, 1978, pp. 36-7, 65-6.