Friday, December 12, 2008

40 Greatest Albums: Elvis Costello - 'King of America'

My junior year of college was Dickensian. Best and worst. I rented a house right near the ocean with two insane good friends, I was in a string of great plays which were insular universes of creativity and sexual tension, and I drove a Karmann Ghia, a car I'd always wanted to own.

The first play of the year was 'Biloxi Blues' and it was a magical process. The combination of the military content and the freewheeling nature of a college theater crowd made for an amazing atmosphere. We all shaved our heads and started doing pushups without provocation.

My soundtrack for this play was Elvis Costello's 'King of America' which had been released a couple of years earlier.

Now, Elvis and I have had to break up. Once I started writing songs his influence was so immense that I sort of had to denounce him and concentrate on other artists. But my singing and writing style will always be very indebted to him and to this album in particular.

While working out to get in shape for the play I would sing along to this album. This doesn't sound like a big deal but when you try to sing along it is a workout all on its own. He holds notes, bends them, modulates the intensity of his delivery...it is truly masterful singing.

The cast party for 'Biloxi Blues' is still burned into my brain. People were on the roof. A mass leap from the porch to the backyard occurred. My roommate had purchased 50 shot glasses for like 10 bucks and insisted that the party kick off with a ritual. He laid out the shot glasses along the railing of the porch and filled each with Southern Comfort, I think. Everyone had to do the shot and then jump off the porch into the backyard, a drop which varied from 5 to 12 feet depending on where you were.

Everyone celebrated in a way that I yearn for today, a simple exuberance that was unfettered by any sense of loss or fear. We were young, talented, and proud. The girls were hot and innocent and the boys were cool and tough. We were artsy-fartsy but unpretentious. We didn't take ourselves too seriously but we were truly dedicated to doing good work. And we did. And once we did it, we partied as hard as you would expect.

The show used a lot of music from the 30's and 40's to set the mood and we blasted the soundtrack at the party. I'd made a mix (cassette!!!) of appropriate tunes from my own collection. One of those songs was 'Poisoned Rose' from the 'King of America' album.

Somehow a lip-synching show spontaneously occurred with the army troop serving as a back up band. The party morphed instantly into an audience and allowed this to happen, mostly as a way to celebrate us for our performances in the play itself. It was exhilirating. To have your whole peer group validate you so unconditionally is truly wonderful.

I could go track by track and describe how perfectly played and written this album is. I could talk about how the lyrics, even on the page, are little diamonds. I could marvel at the fact that during the same calendar year that he recorded this album he recorded another with The Attractions called 'Blood & Chocolate' that is an evil twin so different it is.

But for a solid year I listened to this album in its entirety at least once a week, usually singing along at the top of my lungs. I was young and beautiful. I was the King of America too.

2 comments:

siobhan said...

i jus tlove your writing, bren. you write 'little diamonds' too.

Brendan O'Malley said...

thanks!!! tell your friends!