On my radar: Elvis Costello’s cultural highlights

Elvis Costello was born Declan Patrick McManus in London in 1954. Starting out on the city’s pub rock scene in the mid-70s, he released his debut album, My Aim Is True, in 1977 as punk was taking off. That and his next two albums, This Year’s Model (1978) and Armed Forces (1979), all feature on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, and Costello won Grammy awards in 1999 and 2020. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, the jazz musician Diana Krall, and their twin sons. His just-announced new album with the Imposters, The Boy Called If, is out on EMI on 14 January 2022.

Summer of Soul (dir. Questlove)
Rescued from 50 years of basement storage, this documentary celebrates a festival in Harlem in 1969, held at the same time as Woodstock. Careers are seen in transition: Stevie Wonder before he made Talking Book; the 5th Dimension, confounding their mainstream reputation; David Ruffin, a fragile, exiled prince; Mahalia Jackson handing the mic, if not the torch, to Mavis Staples; and Sly and the Family Stone, a visitation from the future. No mud-caked, naked flesh but the reminiscences of neighbourhood children as all this took place, not on a rural farm but in a city park.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (Crunchyroll)
A Japanese series about three girls negotiating petty school bureaucracy to protect their anime club. Each girl balances a skill with a social burden: the first, painfully shy but brilliantly imaginative; the second, easy in her fame as teenage lifestyle-model; the third, a cynical and almost sinister presence, is the business brain and necessary politician. Each episode uses different layers of animation as the girls’ creations leap from the page into their life. The series in total is a tutorial about every component of film production, from storyboard to sound design. It also has a very cool theme song.

Apple Pencil
Unlike a lot of British rock’n’roll musicians, I didn’t go to art college. I was taught art by Patrick McGoohan’s sister at a secondary modern school in Hounslow. I’ve taken a Danger Man approach to pictures even since. My gadgets are an Apple Pencil with the Procreate app. If the iPad is acceptable for David Hockney, I’m not going to be “The Prisoner” of mere paint and canvas. Under the nom de plume “Eamon Singer” I’ve been able to daub and scribble with virtual brushes, offering me contemplative solace in hours of vigil and mourning.

The Auburn Conference by Tom Piazza

My favourite recent – as yet unpublished – manuscript is Tom Piazza’s The Auburn Conference, which brilliantly conjures the voices and vanities of Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Harriet Stowe and Frederick Douglass, who along with fictional characters Forrest Taylor – a former Confederate General and memoirist of the Lost Cause – and Lucy Comstock, a writer of popular, torrid romances, are all imagined at an idealistic literary forum assembled before an audience of scholars and groups of petitioning factions with the intention of seeking a definition of America. Hilarity and tragedy ensue.

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter
Just as I love the spin of vinyl, I prefer the turn of pages and ink on paper. I cannot abide ugly new words like “blog”, for which I prefer to use “essay”, or “podcast”, for which I substitute either “blather” or “wisdom”. Yet for Jess Walter’s book I decided on audiobook form, something I’d only ever used for memoirs, including my own. The story of two fictional brothers encountering an historical figure – the union activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn – set in the brutal workers’ rights struggles of early 20th-century Spokane. I loved this story in radio play form.

Vulture Prince by Arooj Aftab
Earlier this year, in an interlude of grieving, I found I could not tolerate any music with a backbeat or electric instruments. I sat quite still (and I suppose, somewhat indulgently) for most of three weeks listening to Bach and the songs of John Dowland and William Byrd, lest more familiar melodies with specific lyrical associations became intolerable. A friend rescued me from this with the recommendation of Arooj Aftab’s voice and a particularly beautiful track, Inayaat, from her album Vulture Prince. Life and love go on.

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