Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition

By Larry David Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Oeuvre

McManus, Costello, MacManus. Just who is this guy? An artist may change names, physical appearance, musical orientation, creative medium, industry affiliations, professional management, and much more so frequently that discussions of these personal and professional matters bend and weave with the artistic wind. This week’s country star is next month’s movie star; a pop poet becomes a punk screamer; a rock sex symbol evolves into a refined lounge act; a painter turns to architecture. The combinations, the possibilities, are endless. Creative people follow instincts that respond to impulses that may, or may not, be consciously shaped by an acknowledged artistic or commercial agenda—a program that, by rule, must also negotiate with a diverse, occasionally fickle, entertainment industry. Remember, an “artist” may revise everything, but the lifework—the oeuvre—unveils the “auteur.” When we consider “the auteur,” we examine the convergence of biography, artistic philosophy, creative impulse, and stylistic tendency as it manifests in that individual’s lifework. We must, therefore, always respect the distinction between the person and the art, and acknowledge the proverbial wisdom “Trust the art, not the artist.” Whether the artist goes by a name, a phrase, or a symbol, the art reveals the auteur.

Elvis Costello’s lifework is divided into three developmental stages: (I) the “making of Citizen Elvis” period, (2) the “punk tunesmith” era, and (3) the “punk composer” phase. Our first installment begins with Costello’s debut album, 1977’s My Aim Is True, and includes 1978’s This Year’s Model, 1979’s Armed Forces, 1980’s Gef Happy!!, 1981 ‘s Trust, and concludes with the 1981 country music cover album, Almost Blue. The brief but important punk tunesmith period opens with 1982’s Imperial Bedroom and extends through 1983’s Punch the Clock and 1984’s Goodbye Cruel World. Our most extensive—

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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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