Last year, Elvis Costello thrilled devotees by releasing a typically deep and witty autobiography Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. But the book is not for the casual fan. Tipping the scales at 688 pages, it's rock's answer to Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.
For the benefit of less obsessive Elvis fans heading to his Oct. 11 show at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, here are seven fascinating facts about Elvis gleaned from Unfaithful Music and other sources.
His grandma inspired his biggest U.S. hit
In 1989, the London-born singer finally cracked the U.S. Top 20 with "Veronica," which tells the story of a woman struggling with Alzheimer's disease in an assisted-living home. In his book, Costello says he wrote "Veronica" about his eccentric paternal grandmother Mabel McManus as "a wishful version of her life."
His old man was a better singer than he was
Long before Elvis found fame, his dad, Ross McManus (1927-2011) was a successful trumpeter and singer in England and beyond. He had an Australian hit with a remake of the Beatles' "The Long And Winding Road." In his book, Costello says British taxi drivers often talk about his father and say "'He was a better bloody singer than you'll ever be,' to which they would never get any argument from me."
Liv Tyler's mom inspired his songs (or maybe not)
In the late '70s and '80s, Elvis had an on-and-off romance with Bebe Buell, the former Playboy Playmate of the Month who dated countless other rock stars, from Iggy Pop to Rod Stewart to Steven Tyler (a union that produced future actress Liv Tyler). Buell has called Elvis "the love of her life" and claimed he wrote many songs about her -- a claim Elvis has called "a tragic delusion."
He inspired the title of 'Napoleon Dynamite' (or maybe not)
Costello listed Napoleon Dynamite as his pseudonym on several records in the 1980s, but filmmaker Jared Hess has said he was totally unaware of that when he made his hit 2004 comedy, claiming he got the name from some random dude he met on the street. Costello's response? "I invented it. It's two words you're never going to hear together," he told Spin.
He began his career as a hippie
Born in 1954, Costello spent much of the late '60s and early '70s performing in patchouli-scented English folk clubs and listening to the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. During a CSN&Y concert at Wembley Stadium in 1974, Costello was blown away by Young's bold guitar work: "If you ask me now, I'd say Neil Young invented the attitude of punk rock before my eyes that day," he writes.
The ghost of Jimi Hendrix joined him on 'Saturday Night Live'
SNL banned Costello for nearly 12 years after the notorious 1977 appearance in which the 23-year-old singer abruptly stopped playing "Less than Zero " -- the single he was supposed to be promoting -- and instead tore into an unrecorded new song, "Radio Radio." In his book, Costello said he was inspired by watching Jimi Hendrix pull a similar switcheroo on BBC TV in 1969 when he abandoned "Hey Joe" in favor of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love."
The infamous 'Ray Charles Incident' might have saved his life
Fueled by vodka and pills, Costello spent much of the late '70s in a haze -- including the night in 1979 when he got into a nasty argument with Stephen Stills' touring party in a hotel bar in Ohio and used the n-word to disparage Ray Charles. The bad publicity and shame Costello felt afterward prompted him to cut back on drugs and booze and slow down his "potentially fatal orbit," he writes in his autobiography.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas writer and critic. Thorchris2@yahoo.com
More about Elvis Costello's Oct. 11 show
Elvis Costello and opening act Larkin Poe perform Tuesday, Oct. 11 at the Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm Street. $59 to $69 plus fees. Details here.