Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet: Use Your Disillusion

I totally missed the news that Costello was touring this year in the company of the string quartet with whom he wrote and recorded 1992's Juliet Letters. I loved that record, and still think that some of its songs are among Costello's very finest, though his fanbase and the classical connoisseurs seemed generally less enamoured.
On first hearing the track 'Jacksons, Monk and Rowe' seemed like one of the more obvious and immediately Costello-esque lyrics, and in a rather bittersweetly poppy Elvis-like arrangement to boot. Yet apparently it was written by the Quartet's first violinist Michael Thomas, about his sister Jacqueline (the cellist), and inspired by a nickname their father gave Jacqueline, derived from a firm of Middlesbrough solicitors. (That does ring true if you think about the funny things you call your kids.) Collaboration makes for a kind of fusion: as Costello once advised listeners to the fruits of his occasional joint songwriting with Paul McCartney, "The ironic part is, if [a certain bit] sounds like he wrote it, I probably did, and vice versa."
But Costello was right to say that the chorus-like recitation of 'Jacksons, Monk and Rowe' in the song is "a motif among images of both childhood and adult disillusionment" - culminating in the 'sad divorce' of the final verse (Costello, of course, is thrice-married, twice-divorced.) As a child the very last thing you imagine you'll ever keep in the room where you sleep is dusty box-files of correspondence with firms of accountants and lawyers. But so it comes to us all, sure as the final curtain...

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