Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition

By Larry David Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The Exemplars

We now turn to a series of exemplars that demonstrate the stylistic tendencies that shape Elvis Costello’s oeuvre. Later, I examine his use of homonymic puns, internal rhyme schemes, pronoun gymnastics, and other language-specific aspects of his work in more detail. At this juncture, we explore the songwriter’s application of specific storytelling structures that are systematically deployed in service of “Elvis Costello’s” creative agenda. As we have seen, from the very outset, this writer has pursued a coherent, methodical mission through an unequivocal set of artistic principles that guide virtually every aspect of his professional life. Elvis Costello is here to shake the tree, rattle your senses, and force you to think. Not ask, not provide the opportunity, but force you to endure his point. It is his commitment to that objective that sustains his art.

Again, as we have noted throughout this study, our auteur represents a composite of three distinct entities. “Declan McManus” provides an instinctual ambition that is not just a direct product of his lifelong musical education; it motivates a relentless need for sonic diversity. McManus is incapable of docking in one musical port of call for an extended period; as a result, the oeuvre floats about the musical ocean, visiting diverse locations as mandated by the ship’s captain and his adventurous muse. Supporting that creative passage is our composite’s second component: Elvis Costello’s physical capabilities and professional attitudes. Costello’s voice and performance style respond to McManus’s stylistic course in a fashion that heightens a given work’s emotional qualities. Occasionally, we may not know exactly what Costello says, although we rarely have any doubts about how he feels. These pronounced emotional outbursts are a direct complement to his professional orientation. Once Captain McManus charts his

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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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