Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition

By Larry David Smith | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 5
The Artist

When Bob Zimmerman invented “Bob Dylan,” he devised elaborate accounts of Dylan’s life. The imaginative youngster concocted wild tales about his character’s parents (he was, often, an orphan), his travels (with carnivals, rodeos, whatever worked), and his musical influences, experiences, and famous affiliations. He once demonstrated his mastery of Indian sign language for a doubting party audience (he was, at that particular moment, a Sioux). “Dylan” knew no boundaries as he shared his inventions with friends, lovers, and, of course, journalists. When he received a crucial break with a New York Times story, Dylan spent much of his “interview” propagating his “history” for a dismayed Robert Shelton. National newsmagazines (e.g., Time), music historians (e.g., David Ewen), and more took the fictional bait and ran with it, turning young Dylan into an effective, one-person public relations operation. When Declan McManus (and Jake Riviera) invented “Elvis Costello,” McManus not only refused to devise a personal history, he aggressively resented any inquiries into anything. “Costello” briskly resisted any discussion of musical influence, deftly avoided any talk of his youth, and fiercely attacked interviewers whenever possible—that is, when he bothered to talk to reporters. We have, then, two invented celebrity characters deploying two distinct publicity strategies: the charming folkie from Americana and the spiteful punk from Her Majesty’s United Kingdom. Fortunately for everyone, both were short-lived.

Decían Patrick McManus was born on August 25, 1954, to Lillian and Ross McManus at St. Mary’s Hospital in the Paddington area of London. Decían was born into an Irish-Catholic musical family. His grandfather was a professional musician, his father was a singer and trumpet player, and his mother worked in the record section of a department store. These

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