Some of my friends sit around every evening
and they worry about the times ahead
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
and the promise of an early bed
You either shut up or get cut up;
they don't wanna hear about it.
It's only inches on the reel-to-reel.
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
tryin' to anesthetize the way that you feel
-From Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio”
Driving to the Elvis Costello show at Myth, I didn’t understand exactly what I was getting into. On the one hand, the show had potential: E. C. was playing in a rock club instead of a theatuh, and he was promoting a new, very-iTunes-worthy, greatest hits collection, The Best of Elvis Costello: The First Ten Years, so I would be guaranteed more of his wired-with-attitude early stuff than his married-to-Diana-Krall boring stuff. But there’s only so much a greatest hits collection and a veteran band (The Imposters, who include two of E. C.’s original band, The Attractions) can do: At fifty-two, E. C.’s both older and softer, and the whole thing was prominently sponsored by Visa Platinum. This from the guy who sang “Radio, Radio.”
As I walked in, there was Fat Elvis, wearing sunglasses indoors, singing some song I’ve never heard before, to a crowd packed with middle-aged dudes full of vodka and that specific brand of sour cynicism E. C. acolytes seem to radiate. Kind of an ugly vibe. And that was before I bumped into Neal Justin.
Earlier in the day, the Strib had eliminated Neil’s TV critic position. He was obviously hurting, shrugging off my condolences with a resigned, “Well, tonight I have Elvis and vodka.” Looking around, the place seemed to be packed with other Strib mourners, including Jon Bream and Chris Riemenschneider. As Elvis droned through another mid-tempo song from his snoozy middle period, I figured my time might be better spent watching some detectives, or anything else, really. I went out to have a cigarette and met the PiPress’s Ross Raihala and his editor Kathy Berdan. We gossiped about the carnage their former boss Par Ridder was strewing at the Strib (fifty writing jobs, including Justin’s and fashion critic Sara Glassman’s). “It’s kind of weird,” Ross said. “We’re the ones that are coming out okay.”
Finally, I heard the strains of “Alibi” and hurried back into the club. E. C. always wrote great bitter breakup tunes, which were fitting on a night a bunch of dazed Strib writers were glumly taking them in. The Imposters really found their groove on this one. In the middle, Elvis even worked in a snippet of John Lennon’s “I Found Out” from John and Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band. While Elvis mimicked Lennon’s sarcastic, “Don’t give me that ‘brother, brother, brother . . . ’ ” I thought of Par Ridder and all his empty lip service about a “commitment to journalism.” During the big meeting on Monday, one Strib staffer reportedly asked, “Is this the same speech you gave over in St. Paul?”
As for E. C., the show wound up being pretty good. He played for two hours, and got down to business in the encores, playing songs we all (or at least all of us bitter white guys) can sing along to, including “(I Don’t Wanna) Go to Chelsea,” “Radio, Radio,” “Blood and Chocolate,” “Allison,” “Dissolve,” and “Pump it Up.” During the last song, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?” I thought about Jon Bream, standing a few feet from me. Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of Jon’s writing. In fact, there are plenty of writers at the Strib who hammer out lazy, conventional columns and articles all year long whose loss I wouldn’t exactly mourn. But losing it so Par Ridder can make another fat bonus? That hurts.
Oh well, not everything is about heartbreak, change, and pain. There are still a few reliable constants in the world, such as vodka, Elvis, and—of course—Visa.