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Monday, October 11, 2004

What is it about Elvis?

Elvis Costello, that is. It's one of those questions that perplexes the crap out of me now that I'm a convert. You see, it took me forever.

Oh, I always liked Elvis Costello. I had a couple of his albums, they were fun to listen to, nothing serious, the usual. I liked the instrumentation, the lyrics, all great, whatever. My friends who were bug-eyed fans seemed a bit odd to me--what's the fuss? And then one night I was blindsided. I had on a live concert album and I heard the live version of "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" and I was converted.

The aching beauty of the song and the sardonic wit and the utter grace just knocked me over. How had I not seen it before? And just like that, I became one of those annoying Elvis fans always trying to get my friends to see it, those that didn't. I somewhat convinced my boyfriend by making him listen to old Elvis Costello albums, and I think seeing him in concert completely converted my boy. It's so nice to see someone who knows that there is a grace to be found in the angry loud sweating heat of a rock concert.

If anything, I guess it's that. Some of us are still believers, I guess, as corny as that sounds. All too often nowadays it seems like rock music is an armor that people wear so that their hipness is unassailable and by wearing it as an armor they miss the whole point. This weekend a friend of mine and I went over to an old friend of her's art show--he was the lead singer of a really fantastic 80's punk band and we sat around shooting the shit and talking about good shows and good music and I realized all of a sudden that most of the world is swirling around us in our tiny little corner of the world and very, very few of them had felt the feelings we had, all of us, buried in our hearts.

I make it clear as adamantly as possible that I don't believe in a god, but I definitely believe in humanity, and I don't know if I make that clear enough. Every damn day people amaze me with the depth of feeling they have, the heights of brillance they routinely reach, the beauty they create as a natural extension of themselves. It's a complete shame that our species meets our own creativity with an urge to squelch and to pass credit along to a fantasy in the sky. Worse, it's a shame that the squelching urge gets so out of control that large numbers of us are under the impression that denying any pleasure today will lead to untold riches after we pass on. I do sometimes wonder if it wouldn't be better to take some people to an Elvis Costello show and shake them firmly and tell them that this is it--enjoy it now because tomorrow it is gone completely.

Another friend of mine and I got into a long, long discussion about how hard it is to really capture the pleasures of music in writing. He felt that those who made a living at it over-intellectualized the whole thing, and I agreed. It was a funny moment--both of us like to over-intellectualize everything, but music is kind of sacred. Or really just indescribable. And yet here I am trying to describe it. And worse, trying to explain why Elvis Costello's music makes people stupid with pleasure and all it did to me was make me stupid with pleasure. That, in itself, is impossible to describe.


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