The first time was watching him perform "Radio Radio" on Saturday Night Live, in 1977. I would have been 13 or 14. Elvis Costello was a rare bird in small town Ohio in the 1970, the strong hold of lowest common denominator rock and roll (thank you to Jello Biafra for that). Until then, I vaguely knew discontentment with available music. To fight it, I would go to the mall and buy random albums from the cut out and imported disc bins just to hear something new and stimulating. Once a friend accused me of buying albums based solely on cover art and to prove his point, he pulled out an album with a giant face, screaming in agony in outer space.
Of course, I grabbed it from him and bought it immediately (not because of the cover though, but because it was the first King Crimson album and I had lately discovered Robert Fripp.) Although it is a pretty awesome cover.
I was watching Saturday Night Live at a friends house. Watching it on the TV in his living room without hi fideltity sound or HD picture, it was difficult to understand what was going on. We probably just talked through his first number. Watching the second song, I had just figured out the word "swastika" when he ordered the band to stop, apologised to the audience, saying "there was no reason to do this song here" and then the band then roared into "Radio Radio."
Elvis Costello in 1978, at the Royal Oak Music Theater. Almost decade later, I would see Siouxsie and the Banshees there
It was a moment when someone put words to what I felt. I used to stay up, slowly moving through the after midnight radio shows, listening to music that wouldn't be played during the day. To hear anyone else admitting they did the same made me feel like less of a misfit.
Years later, some guy in a bar sang an acoustic cover of Elvis Costello's beautiful ballad to unrequited love, "Allison". I drunkenly threw my arms around a girl and sang "Alison" in her ear. It turned out to be a pretty good thing to do (wink wink).
In the dark days after 911, before we even called it that, a pall fell over America. We were all scared, angry and so sad. As a nation, our hearts were broken. I was listening to Terry Gross interview Nick Lowe on her radio program, Fresh Air." She asked him to sing "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding" I always knew it a s an EC song, but Lowe wrote it. As he sang, I again had the sensation the dark and unknowable things that lived inside me coming to light and being named.
And I knew that all hope was not lost