Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…

Sundance Channel remembers Lou Reed

Sundance Channel remembers Lou Reed

In honor of legendary musician Lou Reed who passed away earlier this week, Sundance Channel will re-broadcast the episode of the interview series SPECTACLE: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH.. featuring the rock icon and Velvet Underground founder, on Saturday, November 2 at 7pm.

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello on his favorite artists

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello on his favorite artists

Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello jam on the SPECTACLE stage.

As someone once wisely noted, “There’s nothing you can say that can’t be sung,” and so it proved to be during the nearly four hours that Bruce Springsteen and I shared the Apollo stage for our SPECTACLE taping.

Given Bruce’s generosity in song and conversation, it’s little wonder our performance yielded two full episodes. There is very little I can add by way of recommendation. He was good enough to sing almost every song we discussed, and even one we didn’t really know.

Suffice to say that the version of “Point Blank” with which the Imposters and I opened the evening, as well as my heartfelt but vocally fatigued solo rendition of “Brilliant Disguise,” are two of my favorite Springsteen songs. Sadly, neither could be accommodated in the final edit.

I am sorrier still that Nils Lofgren’s wonderful performance of “Like Rain” – a song that I had loved since his days in Grin – could not be placed in the narrative either. I hope it emerges one day. Nils’ contribution to preparations for the evening’s collaboration between the Imposters and he and his E-Street Band colleague Roy Bitten was invaluable.

Five weeks or so after the taping, I found myself back in New York, just as Bruce and the E-Street Band were playing a two-night stand at Madison Square Garden.

It was among the shows in which entire albums were performed, and I was delighted to find that Bruce was performing what is still my favorite of all his records, The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, from which he had performed “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” on SPECTACLE.

I’ve spent a lot of time with this album, and it was remarkable to hear it re-animated in every detail with such nuance and vitality. It was stranger still to find myself walking out to sing Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” during the show’s finale.

But then it occurs to me that during the SPECTACLE encounter Bruce and I found ourselves talking about other artists and their music as much as our own experiences.

In some cases this was a departure from those previous occasions when we had shared the stage. So here are some songs that you might enjoy by those very artists.

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Must-Hear Songs by John Prine, Lyle Lovett, and Ray LaMontagne

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Must-Hear Songs by John Prine, Lyle Lovett, and Ray LaMontagne

Elvis Costello and Lyle Lovett.

Some people imagine I have a head start with my SPECTACLE encounters simply because my guests and I share an occupation.

However, the location of the specific common ground has often been unusual or obscure.

For example, Lyle Lovett and I both contributed to Robert Altman’s motion picture, SHORT CUTS.

I wrote the song “Punishing Kiss” for Annie Ross to perform, while Lyle, rather more crucially, was featured as a sinister confectioner. So, there was not much cause for dialogue, other than to remark upon this coincidence.

When I started my career, my unfortunate face and manner of speaking, which has often been mistaken for insolent at international borders, had me frequently described as “aggressive” or – perish the thought – “surly.”

In truth, I foolishly imagined that my songs might flourish while I remained out of the spotlight, but my natural shyness and impatience to get on with my work was often incorrectly decoded.

So while Ray Lamontagne may have found it hard to imagine that SPECTACLE’s M.C. was in anyway reticent, I can appreciate how his own natural reserve could be lazily mistaken for being “difficult.”

All I can say is that throughout our conversation Ray spoke with the same singular clarity and generosity found in his songs.

For all the contrasts between our three guests, one idea stands: they are all singers who have prevailed after initial comparisons to other performers, even when these supposed resemblances were intended to be complimentary.

I’ve always believed that a lot of good songs have been written while unsuccessfully attempting to copy the style of another writer. A lot of pop music is like this; you start out with someone else’s rhythm or voice in your head, and in utterly failing to duplicate it, you find your own.



Elvis Costello takes center stage.

With two seasons of SPECTACLE now in the can, it’s worth taking a longer look at just how Elvis Costello is able to pull off such a series. In the course of these episodes, Elvis has hosted musicians young and old, male and female, representing genres from jazz to country to soul and beyond. And not only does he need to lead a conversation with each artist, he also took it upon himself to perform with everybody.

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Favorite Songs

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Favorite Songs

Taking questions from Mary Louise Parker, Elvis Costello takes the hot seats on SPECTACLE.

As reported elsewhere, passengers on NYC’s “F” Train have been fleeing in terror after being confronted by a frightening countenance leering from every poster along subway platforms. Some say he’s akin to Spencer Tracy’s “Mr. Hyde.”

At times like this, I feel as if I may have missed my vocation. Perhaps I should have been an Albanian Politburo Chairman or Millennial Cult Leader. Nothing else could possibly justify the kind of coverage SPECTACLE has enjoyed among the advertising space of the five boroughs.

Perhaps these graphic enticements may have even worked, or you might not be reading this now, except to avert your eyes from other horrors.

This episode of SPECTACLE was to have been hosted by our Executive Producer, Sir Elton John, a chance to mirror his Season One “guest host” appearance with my wife, Diana Krall.

Unfortunately, ill health intervened, and at very short notice we were extremely fortunate and grateful to have Mary-Louise Parker take part in an utterly different, but equally enjoyable, conversation.

This is the column in which I have, up until now, listed a few of my favorite cuts by our SPECTACLE guests. In this instance, however, it seems immodest and absurd to propose my own songs.

Thankfully, television is something less grand and permanent than an inscription on a marble slab, and something slightly in advance of, in the words of Winston Churchill, “a tuppenha’ penny Punch and Judy show.”

Meanwhile, “Favorite Records” change like alibis.

So, here are five records you may enjoy. I’ll write quickly before they change again.

SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…Unsung Heroes: Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe, and Jesse Winchester

SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…Unsung Heroes: Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe, and Jesse Winchester

Elvis Costello shares a moment with Richard Thompson. In addition to using the platform of SPECTACLE as a way to champion some of his favorite young musicians, Elvis Costello has also turned the show’s spotlight to several underappreciated veteran artists. This season, a trio of singer-songwriters whose names might not be familiar to all viewers…