Mojo

An Unedifying Spectacle



Viewers whotuned into Spectacle, the Sundance Channel's widely syndicated ElvisCostello TV talk show, could be forgiven for finding it a very rum affairindeed--the phrase "poacher-turned-gamekeeper" springing rather too readily tomind.

The firstshow proffered Costello as the avuncular host, clipboard in hand, bowlinggentle daisy-cutters at fellow new wave grandees the Police. Perhaps no-one hadreminded the host of his performance on a 1980 BBC Radio One Round Table reviewshow during which he'd opined that, "Somebody should clip Sting around the headand tell him to stop singing in that ridiculous Jamaican accent..."--hisunequivocal parting shot about the Police that evening: "I can't stand them."

Spectacle offers a deeply incongruousscenario for anyone who recalls Costello as the spiky iconoclast of the late1970s--an artist trading in righteous anger and invective who carried a viciousmasonry nail as a weapon and a "black book" of music biz adversaries and wholater foreswore interviews altogether. With all that in mind, there wassomething fatally undermining about the "spectacle" of Declan Patrick AloysiusMcManus mugging merrily along with Messrs Sumner, Copeland and Summers(notwithstanding that he'd spent the autumn touring the States in support ofthe recently reconstituted peroxide constabulary). The resistance guerrillaturned Quisling, perhaps?

Naturally,mellowness comes with age. Costello is an urbane 54, happily married and anhabitué of the opera house. But while no-one expects the one-time poet laureateof "emotional fascism" to swim forever in bile, can he really have relinquishedall scruples and critical faculties just to be on the telly with some otherfamous musos?

It wasn'tjust the fawning, anodyne banality of his enquiries that stuck in the crawduring the Police show ("what's your favorite Police song" he asked the haughtySting, who faux-diplomatically volunteered two of the handful of numbers he'dever allowed his compadres to penbut the obsequious display of "showbiz" cordiality between punk's erstwhilepoisoned penman and his self-confessed former bêtes noires. Frankly,from Costello we expect a bit more.

Despitehackle-raising portents--the oh-so-witty title, executive production by EltonJohn--Spectacle's premise seemed initially promising. Costello isrenowned for his eclectic fandom, his cache of arcane cover versions andarticulate forays into music writing, notably for Vanity Fair.All the more reason to expect Spectacle to rise above the kind of tritetoadying and luvvy back-slapping so beloved of that other sycophantic new waveescapee-turned bumptious master of ceremonies, Jools Holland.

To be fair, Spectacle's subsequent cozying-up sessions with RufusWainwright and Elton John were marginally less nausea-inducing--the lattersaved by a duet on the late David Ackles' sublime "Down River".As I write the Bill Clinton show has yet to be aired; it's safe to suppose that questions about Whitewater,cigars and Oval Office interns will not be gracing Elvis's clipboard.

Don'texpect a genteel ramble through the history of US soul music with Stephen Stillsany day soon, either.


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