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Book Report: Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink

Your Humble Blogger has been reading various threnodies to David Bowie, as have you, Gentle Reader, I imagine. The most moving ones don’t talk that much about the man who died, you know, but about the writer, how that particular writer happened on the music (or visuals, often, and sometimes both together) and was struck, and struck deep. And how that moment of being struck opened a world to that writer, transformed her, woke him, made for them all a new world. And that it happened again, and again, and then again as well: the writer is saying, in grief and mourning, that she is who she is because of David Bowie, and—this is the really moving part, for me—she is grateful to David Bowie because of that. That David Bowie made all those people into people who were happy about being people made by David Bowie.

Well. I liked David Bowie and all, he was very popular in my teenage years, but I don’t think he was one of the songwriters or performers who made me who I am. I listened to ChangesOneBowie a lot, and of course when music videos became a thing, his were always worth watching, but I can’t say that I am who I am because of David Bowie. No, there are a few dozen of those artists of various kinds, but not Bowie. Mary Renault, J.R.R. Tolkien, the Monty Python crew, W.S. Gilbert, probably Isaac Asimov, P.G. Wodehouse, Mark Knopfler, I’m sure a few others. Shakespeare.

And, of course, Elvis Costello.

And it occurred to me, as I was reading all of these things, that someday Elvis Costello will die, too, and I will try to write something like that. Something about what Elvis Costello meant to me, and still means to me. Something about the way I am who I am because of “Mystery Dance” and “Tears Before Bedtime“, “Green Shirt” and “Less than Zero”, “No Action” and “The Imposter”. And all the rest, but particularly the ones up through, oh, Imperial Bedroom; after that there are songs that I like a lot, but nothing I think that sank into my bones.

The topic has come up in this Tohu Bohu, now and then (Bootlegging after Repeal, f’rex, and You Are Warned, and also Interview’d, holding fourth) and is also coming up now because I haven’t written a note about the memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. It’s an entertaining book, also a bit frustrating. He does go into some detail, here and there, about a lyric or a musical choice, but doesn’t delve into the guts of particular songs at length. Well, it’s a memoir, more than anything. The last, oh, third of the book (wherein he is wealthy, famous and in demand) is astoundingly name-droppy. It’s actually quite sweet, though, to discover he is at this point still impressed enough to drop the names of Aretha Franklin or Tom Waits. Still and all, I don’t actually care about that. I care about the music. I care more than somewhat about his childhood, and the various choices and accidents that led to that music, and I care a lot about the music he is passionate about (at various times in his life) and I care about how those recordings happened, and how they happened the way they did. On the other hand, I think it’s worth reiterating that I read a rambling six-hundred page memoir because I care that much.

On the other hand, I also read Stephen Fry’s More Fool Me, which was awful, and he’s clearly awful, so there’s that.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.