This is the real Elvis. My feelings about the American singer of the same name can be best summed up by the third verse of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” and that’s pretty much all I’ll say about him. Of the huge selection of heartbreak music in our collection, Mr. Costello (née Declan McManus) and his band are perhaps the most compelling to sing of unrequited love.
What I want to write about today is, in a roundabout way, love that is unreciprocated. And here comes the sentimental part, so brace yourselves: I fell in love with our daughter the moment I saw her, when she slid reluctantly into this world, blue, wrinkled, covered in blood & amniotic fluid. I fall a little bit more in love with her every day. I love her with a ferocity that I couldn’t have imagined just a few short months ago. I feel fiercely protective towards her, and end up staring at her for hours on end. For the first time in my entire life, I can actually sit still just holding her. And as I gaze in wonder at her sleeping face I can see hints of my wife’s features, which only adds to how much I adore her. Maybe you’d call it paternal infatuation, something I’ve heard other Dads talk about, but didn’t understand until now. The thing is, she literally doesn’t have any idea who I am. My wife breastfeeds her, and consequently they have a bond so pure that it’s unlike anything else. Their connection is direct and visceral, based on love, but also on dependency, sustenance, and comfort. She can’t really recognize people yet, so I’m basically “the other big person who doesn’t make the milk.” For a five-week-old baby, life is basically about sleeping and seeking food and comfort, which means that I have very little to offer, because feeding is her most basic comfort. It’s really self-centered and selfish of me, but I find myself jealous of the relationship that my wife and daughter share. I feel excluded in some way that can’t easily be reconciled. In some ways I’m hesitant to share this publicly, because it’s a little more revealing than I’m comfortable with, and makes me sound somewhat needy and pathetic. However, the whole purpose of keeping a record of these experiences is to create something that’s honest about fatherhood in a way that’s fundamentally different from most of what I’ve seen published on the subject. So if I look like an ass, so be it. I know that this situation is temporary, and once she understands who I am, I’ll have my own unique connection with her. But for now I’m a little bit heartbroken.
Now on to our man Elvis. His early records blended punk, soul, jazz and country in a way that was, and still is, timeless, seamless, and masterful. Listening to his records with the Attractions, you don’t realize that you’re listening to a synthesis of disparate musical styles, and if you do, it’s only perceived at the back of your mind. The most remarkable example of this is “Watching the Detectives,” which on paper is equal parts reggae and surf, but if anything creates the impression of soundtrack music for unreleased film noir, but transposed via time machine and style-machine to the height of the 70’s new wave movement. Via some magic of cadence and inflection, his staccato vocal style managed to sound aggressive on even the most laid-back tracks. The Attractions were obviously influenced by the burgeoning punk scene, yet schooled in the Stax tradition: frantic bass lines complementing the melody, tremolo-laden organ, falling-down-the-stairs drum fills, the works. Also punk-as-fuck in attitude, as you will see first-hand if you can track down the footage of their late-70’s appearance on Saturday Night Live. After having been pressured by their record label to feature their new single “Less Than Zero,” in support of their upcoming album, they started the song, but stopped a few measures into it, when Elvis started waving his hands and yelling “Wait, Wait!” They then proceeded to play “Radio, Radio,” a protest song critiquing corporate control of the airwaves that they had been warned not to play. Although this album is not my favorite of theirs (that distinction is reserved for This Year’s Model), I wanted the baby to hear “Alison.” Also, “Welcome to the Working Week,” is a near perfect album-opener. There are many other masters of the forlorn, the despondent heartbreak song, but Elvis hurls his epithets with a caustic wit that neither Robert Smith nor Morrissey can manage, even at their best.
Hot Track: “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes”
Words To Live By: “I said ‘I’m so happy I could die.’ She said, ‘Drop dead,’ and left with another guy. That’s what you get if you go chasing after vengeance. Ever since you got me punctured, this has been my sentence.”