I’ll do a lot for my dog, but I draw the line at picking him up because he doesn’t want to walk in the melted snow between the back yard and the back steps. You’re standing in snow! It’s already cold! Plus, you’re a dog! He runs back and forth as though there’s an invisible fence, barking with that incoherent dog irritation. DO SOMETHING. WHAT, I DON’T KNOW. 

I don’t like to listen to talk radio or news on the way to the office. Music, maestro, please, and lots of it, loud and fast.  On the way to the office this morning I was listening to the “First Wave” channel on XM, which replaced the cool New Wave / Post-punk channel they used to have. The difference seems to be a slightly poppier playlist and a DJ with a British accent – meant, perhaps, to bring back memories of “Downtown” Julie Brown. Wubba wubba. After a “deep cut” from Simple Minds and another from the Psychedelic Furs, they played “Alison” by Elvis Costello. I had an epiphany, related at length on Twitter: it’s a song about killing an old girlfriend. Costello says it isn’t, but he would, wouldn’t he? Who owns up to something like that? 

If you can imagine the song sung with the usual bile and grit and pervy nerdy fury you see the meaning. “I don’t know who’s loving you now / I only know it isn’t mine.” Fine. Let’s assume that was a conversation they had a while after a break-up, and he still cares. Or rather he still wants to possess “it.” The next verse: “well I see you got a husband now.” So either this is a later meeting – he’s following her around, perhaps – or his previous statement about “not knowing who’s loving you now” is pure willful blindness.

What do you mean, who’s loving me now? I’m married, Declan. 

That doesn’t answer my question, Alison. 

Let go of my wrist. You’re hurting me. 

The payoff comes in the last verse: “sometimes I think I want to STOP you from talking when I hear the silly things that you say.” So she’s talking about kids, PTA, vacations – you know, normal happy human stuff you’d say to someone you used to know. Banalities. But it’s not good enough; she’s deep, you see, because he’s deep, and he loves her, so they should be talking about deep things together, like fascism and war and how everyone else is so stupid for being so happy. The kicker:

“Somebody better put out the big light / ‘cause I can’t stand to see you this way.”

A mercy killing on intellectual grounds, then. As I said, he denies that’s what it’s about, but if someone in a noir movie said “He put out the big light” you’d know “he” was dead. It’s not as if it wouldn’t be consistent with the tone of the man’s early oeuvre. I still enjoy the early albums, but it amuses me that we used “Alison” as a slow-dance number in those days. Why, even the New Wave lads could be tender; here’s proof!

As I said, the song was probably titled “I Killed The Bride When She Wouldn’t Rock and Roll,” and Nick Lowe, over drinks at the local, told him to be a bit more ambiguous, mate. Then Nick stole the title for a song of his own. And a better one, too. 

It’s not unusual. We all thought “Every Breath You Take” was a love song, too. Turned out it was the Stalker’s Anthem. 


Ordinary day - thought it was Thursday all day long, and was surprised to find it wasn’t. Part of the problem: I’ve been shifting work a day ahead, because I have many more things to do now. I can either drop the updates on this site for a while or do them in my idle hours. My copious idle hours. 


I do have some. I blew 25 minutes tonight looking at the videos of Jim the Realtor, a San Diego home-seller who narrates his tours with a sardonic tone that sounds like the absolute least amount of optimism a Realtor can muster in public. They’re very funny, and oddly addictive – at least if you’re one of those people whose attitude towards the housing bust contains sufficient schaudenfreud for the overbuilt, overpriced, overtaxed parts of America. A tour of one brand-new and already fubar’d neighborhood began with a house whose facade, I believe, sums it all up. Presenting the most anthropomorphically apt house in America today:



Shock, surprise, dismay, it’s all there. 

The ugliness of some of the houses is just extraordinary.  I remember reading with dropped jaw about the housing prices in California, how 900 sq ft metal boxes with cement yards and trains that went through the living room sold for half a million dollars. No one thought that was unsustainable, did they? Oh, it might gently deflate a percentage point or two, but the rules have changed, don’t you know. (The moment someone says the rules have changed is the moment you should sell every liquid asset, except your fine whiskeys.) 

Well, the rules didn’t change, and realty suddenly reminded you that it’s spelled like “Reality,” minus the I. Goggle this chart of San Diego, if you dare: the last time this much property was underwater, they called it Atlantis. 

Watch this one. Listen to the story. Five kids, two acres, 4000 square feet – and no money to feed the family?

In the background, the rote robot chirps of the smoke alarm. No smoke. Just no juice left.


Today: Curious Lucre around noon, and Lance Lawson all day at buzz.mn. Sorry for the small Bleatage, but column & other paper duties loom. See you at buzz!


58 Responses to Thursday, Feb. 26

  1. JJ Hunsecker says:

    @rcb: You’re right about The Attractions. But the liner notes for the third (Rhino) reissue of “My Aim Is True” seems to indicate it’s “Steve Goulding and Andrew Bodnar — the rhythm section of The Rumour” (Graham Parker’s band) during the Attractions auditions. Costello writes that they played the same two songs over and over, and “By the end of the afternoon they sounded good enough for a session at Pathway to be scheduled. One of them, “Watching the Detectives” later became my first serious chart single and was obviously not included on the original U.K. release of “My Aim is True”. The newly discovered Steve Nieve — still going under his family name of “Nason” — added the organ and piano parts at an overdub session a few weeks later.”

    Costello said in an interview that he was trying to write something that sounded like a Bernard Herrmann score, but that the organ played the orchestral parts because it “was all we could afford.” That was rectified many years later with the orchestral version of “Watching The Detectives” from the album “My Flame Burns Blue,” which Costello says is how he always imagined the song should sound: like a Bernard Herrmann noir score. And if that notion isn’t catnip to Mr. Lileks, I don’t know what would be.

  2. GardenStater says:

    Lessons learned from my first house (bought for $175K in 1989, sold for $165K in 1999):

    1. Don’t assume you’ll be able to flip the house in a year or two–you never know where that boom market is going.

    2. Even if you don’t have kids yet, buy in a town that has a good (preferably great) school system.

    3. Whatever house you buy, buy with the assumption that you’ll be living there for the rest of your life. In other words, buy a house you really like, at a price that you can afford.

    You listening, kids?

  3. GardenStater says:

    Oh, one more thing:

    4. If at all possible, buy a property (2-family house, separate rental house) that will allow you to collect rent from someone else that will offset your mortgage payment.

    Good luck, folks!

  4. Bridey says:

    Ummmm, rcb, if you think the woman in “Watching the Detectives” is a perpetrator, that is indeed skewed. As in, it doesn’t seem to be supported by the lyrics at all! (And “Alison” is pretty much soaked in hate.)

    In “Detective,” you have this:

    The detectives come to check if you belong to the parents/
    Who are ready to hear the worst about their daughter’s disappearance/
    Though it nearly took a miracle to get you to stay/
    It only took my little fingers to blow you away

    Which makes it clear who the perpetrator is: It is the narrator, speaking from his warped noir fantasy.

    The woman is guilty only of not realizing she lives with a crazy person. Whether her TV shows are the origin of his fantasies is not made explicit — his delusions could be a response to her ignoring him in favor of those hard-hearted noir heroes, or she may just be watching TV.

    To each his own, but I do think you have it backwards!

  5. Jim A says:

    To the extent that Elvis is an invention of Declan’s, his persona and musical styles were works in progress during the first tour — but his musical style is still evolving. But even in ’77-’78, I think he must have known he didn’t want to be pigeonholed into any single sound. He’d recruited the Attractions in part for their versatility, after all, and for their eclectic musical tastes and backgrounds. He not only could have become a country star, he essentially did, with Almost Blue — after having been an R&B star with Get Happy!, a pop storyteller with Trust and Imperial Bedroom, and an angry young man with This Year’s Model.

    And all the songs on My Aim Is True, while often incredibly bouncy and fun, all have distinctly dark themes. All of them. Frustration, anger, guilt, shame. There isn’t a single lyric that can be called upbeat, much less an outright love song, despite the catchy tunes. And while not as dense as they are on This Year’s Model or the amazing Armed Forces, there are several instances of double-meanings and wordplay. There’s “loving some body (somebody)” and the rest of the examples cited above in Alison; “no such thing as an original sin” (Not Angry), the noir-ish double entendres (“close-up of the sign that says ‘We never close’,” etc.) in Watching the Detectives, and so on.

    The My Aim Is True outtake Radio Sweetheart, since restored as a CD bonus track, would easily have been the sunniest song on the LP, but Stiff Records — not Elvis — rejected it as “too country”. Within a year, Stiff seemingly got over trying to fit Elvis into too tight a mold, and released his cover of Burt Bachrach & Hal David’s “I just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” on the STIFFS LIVE package-tour compilation. Elvis’s transformation had begun, and it continues to this day.

  6. rcb says:

    JJ- you win. Your research Kung Fu is greater than my Kung Fu.

    Bridey- we agree to disagree, although maybe not so much. WtD _is_ a movie, and probably a noir, but that means to me (and everything I know about noirs I have learned unwillingly from Mr. Lileks here) that there’s isn’t anybody that is wholly good. I think there are three major characters in the song– but first:

    Nice girls, not one with a defect
    Cellophane shrink-wrapped, so correct
    Red dogs under illegal legs
    She looks so good that he gets down and begs

    (CHORUS) She is watching the detectives
    “Ooh, he’s so cute”
    She is watching the detectives
    When they shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot
    They beat him up until the teardrops start
    But he can’t be wounded ’cause he’s got no heart

    Long shot at that jumping sign
    Invisible shivers running down my spine
    Cut to baby taking off her clothes
    Close-up of the sign that says “We never close”
    He snatches at you and you match his cigarette
    She pulls the eyes out with a face like a magnet
    I don’t know how much more of this I can take
    She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake

    To me this sounds like she’s not so good. she’s more interested in ogling the detective than in worry about whose body is in the lake, and there’s some power play going on between her and “he,” who I think is also a pretty bad piece of work. “He” gets roughed up by the detectives, and I have the sense he kind of had it coming. Going even further into impressionism, I feel that “he” was killed by the detectives and she was getting away scot-free; until “my little fingers” intervened. All this is reading a story into a few hundred words of rhyme, so nobody has it wrong. We just frame it differently.

    Jim- I agree mostly with you, as well. The whole of the _demos_ for MAiT were far country and much bouncier, although there were nasty aspects tucked away in there, as well, such as “Raise a White Flag.” I think Elvis could have been whatever genre he picked out at the time. The whole point of the “3 1/2 years” bit was there was amazing work done in that period, which he hasn’t since surpassed, but which few have ever equaled.

  7. Bridey says:

    Ah, but the “she” in the verses is NOT the live-in, she is the femme fatale of the narrator’s private eye fantasy.

    I will grant that is debatable — but the dead narrator theory has nothing in the actual words to support it, imho. But these debates are what make the artier side of pop music so much fun! But I’ll stop now. Good on ya, rcb!

  8. BJM says:

    20 amp service and a ganja closet. Heh.

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