1977 also started a 30+ year on and off love affair with another man. Nothing “gay” ever entered into the relationship – how could it, even if I had such tendencies (which I don’t) we never got closer than the 20 feet we were apart in 1977.
Elvis Costello had been around the block a couple of times before he hit “the Big Time” in 1977. “My Aim is True” with the singles “Less than zero” & “Alison” had been released early in 1977, so by the summer his star was rising fast.
It seems so amazing now but Elvis and the Attractions signed on to do a residency at a pub in London for late summer – The Nashville Rooms in Kensington was primarily (if I remember correctly) a country and western hang-out, but they did serve real ale, Fuller’s ESB!
I was starting university in Nottingham in September so as almost my last “London gig” I got tickets for and went to see Elvis early on in the residency. (I know now that it was early because as the story goes the gigs proved so popular that later on the police closed the pub down for overcrowding.)
He had such menace in his eyes and voice at this time and the band were incredibly tight behind him despite having only played together for a month or so. He ran through the first album and then into the as yet unreleased second one – including “I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea”, which he almost physically spat out. “I don’t want to go to Chelsea – know what I mean?” (For some historical perspective it was around this time that there were almost running battles every weekend between punks and teddy boys up and down the Kings Road in Chelsea.)
The rest of the gig is pretty blurry in my memory although I believe I was really close to the front, it seemed as though he was just in front of me – I consumed vast volumes of ESB and actually remember this as maybe the first time that I DON’T remember how I got home!
I’ve seen Elvis a couple of more times since 1977 and have followed his career pretty closely, buying most of his “popular” albums and intentionally avoiding some of his more esoteric offerings.
My wife and I caught him in August 1989 at the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey – there had just been a thunder shower before the start of the gig and he came on amid a smoldering New Jersey summer evening and succinctly welcomed us to “the New Jersey Sauna”. I seem to remember it as very much a greatest hits type of show with most people in the audience familiar with “Alison” but not much else.
Next time we have to jump forward to 2005 when we saw him at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. This was just after “The Delivery Man” album was released – in my opinion the best of all his recent releases and was highlighted with a rousing “Monkey to Man”, him introducing David Hidalgo (of Los Lobos) as a guest guitarist, Steve Nieve playing an instrument that didn’t require him to touch anything (!) and of me nearly getting into a fight with the guy behind because I was STANDING UP & DANCING!! Not many oldies (other than “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding) he stuck pretty firmly to his later releases.
On and off over the years stories had surfaced about Elvis’s prickly behavior. There was the famous story of his drunken tirade when he called James Brown and Ray Charles, “Ni**ers”. I had heard that he had people removed from a gig in New Orleans for smoking – this before smoking was banned. Add to this his general persona and he just came over as a bit of a blowhard.
Some of this was confirmed when I scored free tickets to a taping of his Spectacle cable TV show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NYC, in 2009. Not that he was rude but he never stopped talking and trying to impress us and his guests about how clever he was and how much he knew about obscure artists from the 1950’s. The only song he sang was very a demo he had made in 1976 when he was trying to emulate some unknown country singer. The guests that we saw (John Prine and Lyle Lovett) were great but they hardly got a look in, and just couldn’t compete with his ego.