God’s Comic

“When I was a kid there were still a few comedians who had survived the demise of the music hall and made it to TV. One familiar act was the drunk act. I wanted to make “God’s Comic” that character, and then I thought, a drunk priest would be even more despicable. And when he goes to heaven God has his head in his hands over what we’ve made of this world. There aren’t too many other songs that say what God said, literally.”Elvis Costello (536)
“I wrote that in Greenland. It’s the only song I’ve written above the Arctic Circle. It was so Godlike in a childish sort of way – y’know how we perceive God and Santa CIaus as wise old men with big white beards. Greenland was quite spiritually uplifting, the expanse, the whiteness, the whole feeling of being literally at the edge of the world. The song came out differently. It’s about a drunken sleezebag priest dying and arriving in heaven which is God’s MFi warehouse full of all his wonderful creations. God’s reading Jeffrey Archer with one eye and Brett Easton Ellis with the other, watching Sky channel on one of his five functioning TVs and It’s A Wonderful Life on another and… he’s agog at humanity. Y’know, it’s come to this! Jesus! I should have given the world to the monkeys.”Elvis Costello (981)

Coal-Train Robberies

“I read a news item about people robbing coal trains — something you’d expect to hear about in Paraguay, and it was happening in South Wales! Of course there’s an obvious song to write about that: “Oh the poor downtrodden people, they have to steal their coal.” But I’m never sorry to have a song that maybe puzzles people for a while. And I wasn’t convinced about taking on the voice of coal thief that’s in the first verse and extending it for three verses. It wasn’t credible. So I thought I’d just contrast it with some of the more noble efforts done in the name of justice inside my business. And compare it to them having their little moment.”Elvis Costello (536)

Any King’s Shilling

“My grandfather was a first-generation immigrant from Ireland and when his father was murdered — that’s another story — he ended up in an orphanage and then the army. He was a trumpet player, a bandsman. He got badly wounded in the First World War and then got stationed in Dublin, ironically. His story was, just before [the Irish uprising of] ’16, his friends warned him to keep out of the way.”Elvis Costello (536)

Chewing Gum

“I was at an airport and there were these two young Oriental girls with short skirts and these two enormous Middle Eastern guys, and I thought, this is an unlikely pairing. One of the girls literally had something in her ear that was probably cotton but looked like chewing gum, and I had this vile fantasy: She’s putting it in her ears so she doesn’t have to listen to all the shit this guy’s telling her. So the story turned into a guy and his mail-order bride and he never gives her anything. Then I saw this TV program about literacy programs in certain parts of the world where one faction argued that they were only being taught words that made sense in terms of the other’s propaganda, to manipulate them. I thought, “God, what a warped thought.” I reduced it to this personal thing where the guy only tells her the words he wants to hear back.”Elvis Costello (536)


“I do imagine a time of interactive TV, and on this I imagined a cross between a photo booth and a peep show. She walks on the set but the whole thing has been contrived to be like passive porno on her part. And the guy is leering over it, but he’s on TV as well, watched by people who don’t even have the courage of that lust. I do think the satellite is kind of like a new deity. It’s ironic that it’s up in the sky like the ancient gods. But I didn’t want to dwell on that ’cause it starts to sound like Sun Ra or something.”Elvis Costello (536)
“A woman goes into a photo booth which is really a blue screen where she can be superimposed onto any TV special of her own choice. Perfect fantasy come true. But, in order to have this moment of glory there’s a big catch. She’s gotta be in a peep show. A techno peep show where the lights peer right through her dress and she’s revealed to this slimey, slobbering guy who’s watching her on TV. And he’s on TV too being watched by a host of other voyeurs who haven’t got the courage of his lust. They’re afraid of the germs… It’s very Philip K. Dick.”Elvis Costello (981)

Miss Macbeth

“It was inspired by somebody that used to terrorize me where I lived, a horrible old woman that everyone thought was a witch because she looked like one. I thought, “What if she was? Wouldn’t that be great?” It’s always in Hollywood films that people who suffer have great perseverance. What they don’t say is that some of them are real bastards. So this is like, a dark story. But it is supposed to be funny.”Elvis Costello (536)
“On one hand you have ‘Miss Macbeth’ which is based on the old lady on the street that every child thinks is evil or witchy. So, I thought, f- it, what if she was actually evil. It goes against the scripture’s idea that the poor and crippled rise above their adversity and are ultimately good. But, what if they’re just bastards! Total f-in’ no good evil bastards. Sometimes people are just what they seem.”Elvis Costello (981)

Pads, Paws and Claws

“It’s just a story about some drunk guy who doesn’t know what good stuff he’s got.”Elvis Costello (536)

Let Him Dangle

“It’s a story that’s almost like folklore in England. I knew it when I was a kid. I wrote the song from one newspaper article, an interview with Bentley’s [the man hung for murder] sister who’s still campaigning to get a pardon or some recognition that a mistake was made. The only line I’m troubled by is the one about Sydney Miles’ [the victim] wife saying she didn’t want Bentley hanged. That was Bentley’s sister’s interpretation of her silence. Someone could pull that apart. But that isn’t the main thrust of the song.”Elvis Costello (536)

Deep Dark Truthful Mirror 

“It’s about a form of madness.”Elvis Costello (536)

Pump It Up

“‘Pump It Up’ was actually the last song I wrote for the Model album and it was conceived very much as a reaction to that tour [Costello’s last package tour, when he was the young blood battling it out on the Stiffs live tour alongside Ian Dury, Nick Lowe and Wrecktess Eric – Ed]. My feelings about that tour…well, it was fun because as far as I was concerned it was principally down to pushing Ian’s album. Like every night the encore would be ‘Sex And Drugs’, right, and Ian knows there’s more to it than that, obviously, but it quickly reaches a point where the tour started to take on the manifestations of the song. And like it was getting so ugly I was compelled to write ‘Pump It Up’ as, you know, well just how much can you fuck, how many drugs can you do before you get so numb you can’t really feel anything?”Elvis Costello (985)