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—