Elvis Costello sings Springsteen’s “POINT BLANK”
For some reason, I was never as excited by Elvis Costello’s TV show as I felt I should have been. I guess it was because there was a time when I would have been completely obsessed with it, and by the time he actual got around to having a TV show, my enthusiasm had diminished just a bit. Also, I sort of felt like the program featured a lot of great performances but something about the way it was recorded felt like you were hearing music performed from underneath a layer of shrink wrap or something— it never felt like it had the full punch that almost any other live or studio Costello recording seemed to pack.
But maybe I just had a sour attitude at the time, because I love the way this just-released outtake from the Bruce Springsteen episode sounds. I think I mainly just love hearing Costello really go for it with a big, epic 6-minute Springsteen cover.
Spectacle was not nearly as good as it could have been, and I think the problem lays squarely with the direction.
I looked forward to Spectacle. Elvis knows how to talk to musicians; when I first heard of the show, I thought back to his fantastic Vanity Fair interview with Joni Mitchell from 2004. What I had loved about that interview, and what I still remembered from it, having read it once, half a decade ago, is that this was a conversation of professionals. Whatever they discuss, they are able to focus right in on the crux of it, rather than explaining slowly what they are referring to. Much in the same way that I, if asked why I dislike Family Guy, can simply say “the timing is off, and it illustrates jokes rather than building them,” and know that a fair number of comedians will understand where I am coming from, Joni Mitchell can state her ambivalence regarding Ira Gershwin simply by quoting a lyric and offering a succinct impression: “What does that mean?”
And this is what Spectacle should have had.
Were I to direct Spectacle, here is what I would change:
1) No audience. Elvis needs to talk about what interests him, not about what he thinks will keep the interest of the studio audience. Will some parts be boring? Sure. That’s what editing is for. But without the freedom to get away from the audience, the interviews stay simple, safe, boring. They are talk show interviews, complete with blue cards with pre-printed questions.
2) Don’t separate a musician from his or her instrument. The interview with Rufus Wainwright had a bit of this, but why not just put Elvis’s guitar right next to him? A question about music? He picks up his guitar and plays a couple chords, to show what he means.
3) Don’t separate the music from the interview. It should have had that feeling of spontaneity, of a couple musicians talking, and deciding suddenly to play a well-loved song. Instead, the songs were often edited into the show abruptly.
4) No audience. I am repeating myself, because I realized another part that I despise about the whole audience/musician relationship in most televised performances: the “Would you mind playing (SONG WE HAVE CLEARLY PREPARED FOR YOU TO SING)?” “Oh, I don’t know…” “Oh come on, what do you think, audience?” (Applause) “Well, I guess, let’s see, how’s it go…” (plays song) Just be honest with us. Just say “you had prepared to play (song), right?” Then play it.
Those are my opinions. Now that you have read them, you can’t un-read them.