Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Elvis Costello: Veronica

Declan Patrick MacManus was already named for success, but at his manager Jake Rivera's suggestion he repackaged himself as Elvis Costello, one of the more intriguing stage names ever concocted.

Veronica was co-written with Paul McCartney who performs on his Hofner Bass, and features heart-breaking lyrics inspired by Costello's grandmother's struggle with Alzheimers disease. The song captures the heartache of aging-unto-death without indulging in sentiment or wallowing in sadness, which is wise, because the loss of youth and the approach of death are sad precisely because they mean the end of life's joys, of which this song is one. Were the song to be dirge-like, we would not wish Veronica, a young woman who was once in love with a globe-circling sailor, to linger. The best sad songs make us feel loss more deeply by giving us a taste of what will be missed.

The video, especially at the time, was one of the stranger efforts ever shown on MTV. Costello, overcome with emotion, sings along quietly when he can manage to do so over a perfectly serviceable mainstream video that intercuts shots of Costello singing in a room in which, sometimes, an elderly woman sits pleasantly, and that same room abandoned. Scenes from her childhood and young adulthood are mixed in, and Costello, seemingly at a loss, is almost apologizing for the video's inability to convey the emotions written on his face.

The music is tight and quick and bright like a brand new Swiss watch, but the pathos of the lyrics, "Sometimes I'm afraid she's not even sure if her name is Veronica," comes through in a chin-up melancholy melody in which the longing and yearning after lost youth and memory becomes wailing, as in the Bridge where he keens: "All/ the time/ she laughs/ at those/ who shout/ her name/ and steal her clothes -- Veronica . . ."