Imperial Bedroom. Elvis Costello’s masterpiece. I was a major Elvis Costello fan. I first saw him on SNL in the seventies, with his Radio Radio attack. He was supposed to do Less Than Zero, but figured it wouldn’t go over well on US TV so he switched into Radio Radio after the first few bars of Less Than Zero. On a time specific show like SNL that was a betrayal. Supposedly Lorne Michaels was giving him the finger through out the song, off camera.
On SNL, Elvis Costello and the Attractions had replaced the Sex Pistols who had imploded in San Francisco. So that was 1977-78. Between his first and second albums. He was angry, fast and very literate. Then came Armed Forces in 1979. I snagged fifth row tickets at the Capitol Theater in Passaic NJ.
On that tour Elvis and Co. were wired up. They had gotten into a fight with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett in Columbus OH, with Elvis getting pummeled due to a drunken racist remark about James Brown and Ray Charles. He later admitted it was wrong, it was stupid, he was fucked up and did countless penances.
He also held his first press conference and he was besieged by the media about it. That was the afternoon of the show I was going to. He was incredibly loud. Prior to the show and the press conference, reports from the road were about how he was playing very fast for about 30 minutes and then charging offstage to white noise feeding back from the amplifiers.
If he did that, that night, my brothers and I would be deaf. We were five rows from the speakers. But he came out and sang Hand In Hand. He played for a long time, quite disciplined and perhaps even humbled. No feedback. Played for 90 minutes then he was gone.
Saw him on New Years Eve 1982 at the Palladium in New York City. He was only doing three shows in the states, one in NY, LA and Nashville. This was for his country music album.
I found out that he was playing on New Years Eve at the Palladium and mentioned that I wanted to go to my mother. She forbade it. ‘The city is a nightmare on New Years Eve. You’re not going.’ Twenty years old, living under her roof, I had no choice. I had to lie.
The day of New Years Eve I told her that I was going to a frat party in New Brunswick at Rutgers and I won’t be back until the next day. I was going to be THAT drunk. That was fine with her. I had her blessing to have drunken frat fun.
I met up with Dave Bell, an old friend of my brother’s and mine and two of Dave’s friends. I was hopped up on caffeine pills then. We drove into the city after picking up one friend at Newark airport where he worked as a flight attendant. Wound up parking on Astor Place, and I was so wired I had barely an idea of what was going on. It was drizzling as we walked up Fourth Avenue to 14th street. It was about 11:15pm and we scalped tickets for the show. The cost of the scalping was 20.00. The face value was 19.82. Special New Years prices.
We got to our seats as Elvis was saying, ‘Thank you! We’ll be back in a little while’. Well at least he said he was coming back. A little past midnight, Steve Nieve the keyboardist came out, played Auld Lang Syne and a few classics, then Elvis and the other Attractions came out and did a two hour set.
I saw him on most every tour after that. The English Mug and Spoon tour with Squeeze. Another excellent show.
Imperial Bedroom was his ultimate though. He worked with a new producer, Geoff Emerick who had engineered a lot of the Beatles albums. Brilliant with a touch of psychedelia. I think quite a few people at that time were dabbling with the Lysergics. There was the paisley underground scene in LA. Bands like XTC were getting all trippy. Echo and the Bunnymen. Teardrop Explodes. Acid seemed to be everywhere.
Or at least it seemed to me as I was doing a lot of ‘magic’ at the time myself. I recorded Imperial Bedroom and played it for several friends. One time in my excitement I was moved to tears. Beyond Belief. Another time I wouldn’t leave the car until the final notes of Town Crier couldn’t be heard anymore.
Elvis and Co. played Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. That was great. A wonderful summer night, excellent sound. Just perfect. Somehow he pulled it off. Some jerk threw a beer can at him and it hit him on the chest, Elvis just pointed him out, and he was removed from the arena.
I did meet him once, signed a copy of an unissued 2 Tone single. Another time, he was working with Burt Bacharach at Right Track. I couldn’t bear to meet him. I was intimidated. I eventually moved on from Elvis. He released a few really crap albums, lost the Attractions and grew a beard. What the hell was he thinking?