Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition

By Larry David Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
The Impulse

That Elvis Costello was thoroughly educated for his life’s profession is beyond all doubt. His musical lineage, his personal experiences, his professional maturation—virtually everything about his life—worked in some sort of cosmic harmony to produce one of the musical world’s most innovative citizens. As that biography indicates, the product of this systematic schooling maintains several strong opinions about his chosen vocation. Listen closely and you can hear Judge Elvis pronounce. Hear ye, hear ye: Artists are here to make music; companies are here to market it; diversification in performance is the spice of artistic life; the musical world’s various genres represent tools to be used in service of creative needs, not barriers raised to restrict entry or restrain usage. These are the guiding principles that enable our auteur to shape the subject matter before him into musical statements that serve his creative agenda. Oppose him, and he will fight you. Inhibit his activities, and he will dismiss you. “Elvis Costello” is fearless, and one only hopes that he does not end up destitute because of it. This chapter presents the artistic philosophy, the creative influences, the songwriting principles, and the compositional processes through which Costello applies his talent (i.e., his impulse) in service of his craft (i.e., his art). As with most “auteurs,” there is genuine method to the inventive process—and that, my friends, is what made him an auteur in the first place.

The foundation of Costello’s artistic philosophy involves his positions regarding industry roles, performance standards, and creative co-optation. Once he has an idea, he deploys musical structures that serve that inspiration in a strategic fashion. He readily models existing musical, literary, or cinematic techniques in service of his songs, and in so doing, enhances his lifework’s sonic diversity. When we pull back to examine his motivations,

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Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - Joni Mitchell 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Artist 5
  • Chapter 2 - The Impulse 25
  • Chapter 3 - The Oeuvre 37
  • Chapter 4 - The Exemplars 101
  • Part II - Elvis Costello 123
  • Chapter 5 - The Artist 127
  • Chapter 6 - The Impulse 151
  • Chapter 7 - The Oeuvre 165
  • Chapter 8 - The Exemplars 233
  • Part III - Conclusion 251
  • Chapter 9 - The Auteurs 253
  • References 289
  • Index 309
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