Seeing Elvis (Costello)
June 21, 2009 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Just a fun one (though I am serious in asking it): What one question would you ask Elvis Costello? I'll see him at a thing on Monday, want to ask a great question. I like him a lot, have some ideers, but surely the Hive Mind can come up with at least one question that's Beyond Belief.
posted by ambient2 to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What do you get when you fall in love?
posted by hammurderer at 9:23 PM on June 21, 2009

Who is Alison?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:25 PM on June 21, 2009

Play it dumb and ask, "Were you upset when your daughter married Michael Jackson?"
posted by Frank Grimes at 9:31 PM on June 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

ask him for some behind-the-scenes for the 30-rock season finale number
posted by Think_Long at 9:33 PM on June 21, 2009

Where did you get that watch?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:36 PM on June 21, 2009

Here's what I've always wanted to ask him:

"You're often (perhaps wrongly) quoted as saying that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, it's a stupid thing to want to do. Are there any music scholars or journalists whose work you enjoy? And what separates them from the pack? What makes for interesting music writing, or rather, what type of writing about music makes for interesting reading? Have your views about music journalism changed over the years?

And if you didn't say that, by the way...who did?"
posted by padraigin at 9:40 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

"If the record store's all out of Elvis Costello, what should I buy?"
posted by rokusan at 9:43 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

On Brutal Youth I keep thinking I hear a box of smarties being used as an instrument. Been driving me nuts for years.
posted by Billegible at 10:11 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I could ask any celebrity only one question, it would be "What question have you been asked the most over the years, and how has your answer to that question changed over the years?"

And no, don't ask who Alison is. I'm sure he gets that all the time. Or maybe it's "So is there anything funny about peace, love, and understanding?"
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:28 PM on June 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Padraigin's question ties in nicely to this little bit of Elvis Costello-related laziness at the NYT that's been going on for decades.

If I had my chance, I might ask him about these lyrics in the song New Amsterdam (from Get Happy!!):

The transparent people who live on the other side
Living a life that is almost like suicide

Given the song's title & subject matter, I had always assumed "the other side" was a reference to the other side of "the pond" - ie, the U.S. (home, of course, of "New Amsterdam"). Is that correct? And if so, have E.C.'s feelings about New York changed in the intervening thirty years?

Most importantly, please, please don't ask him about Ray Charles.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:50 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tough one. You have to imagine that things like the Alison question are waaaay overdone for him. Detailed inquiries into specific lyrics also may also, on their own, be a bit much. Hard to say.

I'm a person who does tend to get asked similar questions by fans over and over, (for the record, this is Adam Savage from Mythbusters here) and I must say that i don't think that you should (or even could) come up with a "perfect question."

I think that what you're really asking is how to have a genuine interaction with him. You want to hold his interest for a moment, talk about something real, and, if I read between the lines correctly, you want to give him something back (i.e. an interesting question that he finds challenging and fun to answer) because of what his music's meant to you.

Many of the conversations I have with fans are, as I said, quite similar. Some stand out. But I have lovely conversations all the time and they share this:
They're conversations. This involves each of us listening, and responding.

Personally I very much like when people start with something honest about what the work I've done means to them. I'd open with that. Not simply "I really like your music", or as detailed as "I lost my virginity to one of your songs" but somewhere in a comfortable middle. Something showing that you're familiar with and knowledgeable about his body of work, and that you're not gobsmacked speechless by meeting a 'famous person', that you're a fellow human. I'm sure, as a smart person, he's just as chuffed by a good conversation as any of us.

Then, if he seems in the mood, you might just have a conversation. But you might not. Go with the flow. Sorry if this is vague.
posted by asavage at 11:24 PM on June 21, 2009 [20 favorites]

Ask him about being an international art thief.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 11:36 PM on June 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

Ask him how he is doing.
posted by Aquaman at 11:43 PM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ask him, "What's your favorite song?"

When he begins to answer, wave both your hands and interrupt him, saying, ""Stop! Stop!" I'm sorry, there's no reason to do that question here."
posted by mattdidthat at 11:55 PM on June 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

I think it's fair to guess that he's a very intelligent, well-read person. I'd try to ask him something fresh, interesting, and a bit provocative that has nothing to do with his career. Maybe something from a great recent Metafilter post that he likely had heard of vaguely but not something as heavily discussed as the Iran protests.

If you can segue spontaneously from something that comes up in conversation at the event, then perfect.
posted by msalt at 12:14 AM on June 22, 2009

I, for one, am impressed that we have Adam Savage as a member of the askmefi knowledge-base!

I've met a couple of "famous" people at unexpected times, and had the opportunity to speak with both, and when I think back on it, I feel like I failed miserably at both conversations, with my attempts to try too hard to be witty. Of course, both the people I met are known for their sharp wit, so I was bound to fail, perhaps. Maybe in retrospect it wasn't as bad as I remembered, but nonetheless, it's hard to keep your cool when in the presence of someone whose work you admire.
posted by newfers at 12:27 AM on June 22, 2009

Where do you see yourself professionally in, say, 20 years? How will your music evolve over the next decade or so?
posted by davidmsc at 12:29 AM on June 22, 2009

I'm with Mr. Savage. If you met some random guy you wouldn't be all prepped up with a "good question" or "challenging question". You'd likely say something more like "How's it going?" or "Hey, nice jacket."

I'd go with something like that - it's a much more authentic lead in to a potential chat.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:32 AM on June 22, 2009

Wait. You're seeing him at Amoeba tomorrow at noon aren't you? Bastard! Wish I could be there but I have a j-o-b.

I'd ask him how he's been able to pull off a career where he's worked across so many genres with so many people. Is it something wanted to do from the beginning or did it happen organically?

One way to segue into that discussion might be to ask him how it was working with Michael Tilson Thomas and the SF Orchestra on Il Sogno. Since he's in San Francisco it seems relevant. And I'm going to guess not too many folks ask him about that particular recording.

And please post to MetaTalk about any cool things you may have learned about him.
posted by quadog at 12:36 AM on June 22, 2009

don't ask anything you planned beforehand. that only forces him to see this as a professional conversation when it sounds like this is supposed to be fun. just chat without a second purpose, see if he is interesting. you might then meet someone else than the public persona you already know anyway.
posted by krautland at 12:44 AM on June 22, 2009

I am a big Elvis Costello fan, and I would either ask him about genres (a la quadog's suggestion) or about the role of narrative in his work. There's a reason why people want to know who Allison is, and that is because she realistic, whole character, conjured with a few telling strokes as though by a really good story short writer. The way he drops names and details (as in The Delivery Man and Watching the Detectices, respectively, for example), we get the sense that there is a whole backstory, a whole world that the "characters" live in. Does he view himself as a storyteller? What is the role of fiction (as opposed to autobiography, as it is often assumed of songwriters) in his work? What musicians does he admire as fiction writers? And, further, to bring it back to quadog's question, how does that work formally across genres? Are there country stories and jazz stories and rock stories?
posted by lalalana at 12:47 AM on June 22, 2009

I would ask him if he regrets having given up a promising start in IT for a career in music.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:27 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

He's a massive music fan. Ask him what he's been listening to lately.
posted by davebush at 1:50 AM on June 22, 2009

I'm torn. On the one hand, you could ask a great question and help spark an experience that would be fun for both of you. On the other hand, it would be so incredibly easy, even with the best intentions and a great, fun question from your list or something suggested here, to just hit him at a bad time, or require him to be witty or deep under pressure on a night when he already feels like a juggler running out of hands. So consider what Adam said, and maybe Stephen Fry, too, especially this passage:

It is obvious and wholly understandable that when people approach you they want to present themselves as separate from the herd: they are not aware that the more they attempt to be different the more they are in fact identical. When I had a crush on Donny Osmond I was convinced that if he could only get to know me he would discover that I was so different from everyone else around him that he would understand how we were meant for each other. This is Stance A, the Standard Defining Fan Feeling, and covers the beliefs of all fans from obsessive to faint admirer.

Just offer a quick, sincere compliment, and if there's time, ask any thoughtful, silly or other question on your list or from this answer that you think Costello would enjoy answering given his available time, mood and energy level. But don't let your quest for the Perfect Question accidentally tip you toward asking a Perfect Hard Question That Shows What A Deep And Special Fan You Are.

That said, I like tim_in_oz's type of question. Asking him about throwing away IT for music works as a quick comment, and allows him to smile and walk on, or pick up on it and play further if he wants. There are also some funny questions here, like the ones alluding to 30 Rock, but they require him to switch gears from whatever he's thinking and doing at that moment to remembering the details of something he shot weeks and weeks ago. If you get into an actual conversation with him, try one of these questions if he shows that he's paying full attention to you and is open to play.

But I would not, NOT ask him any important or deep questions about his work, as much as you'd love to know about these things. He almost certainly won't have the energy or be in the mindset tonight.
posted by maudlin at 3:29 AM on June 22, 2009

(Preview, not post!)

A quick question about music he's listening to, as davebush suggests, or a compliment/question about him and his guest on his Spectacle show, might also work. Again: quick, light, easy, ingrained in his life or already on his mind to some degree, rather than switching gears to something obscure or half-forgotten.
posted by maudlin at 3:32 AM on June 22, 2009

I might ask him about the Saturday Night Live / Radio Radio thing. (I'd be real curious if the next time he did Radio Radio, did it feel like a different song?)

After that I might ask whose idea this was.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:07 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Funny, I came in here to say that you shouldn't grill him at all but found that Mythbusters Adam has stolen my idea. Drat.

Unless you're a journalist doing an interview, don't ask him questions. He's heard them all, believe me. If you're a huge fan, tell him how much you like him and why, ask about the very latest thing that he did or just chat about something you care about like food or opera.

Er, and whatever else asavage said.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:24 AM on June 22, 2009

Adding to some of the good advice in this thread:

"Would you care to talk about what you are working on right now?" Or some variation. And just take it from there.

Phrasing a question this way gives him the option to politely decline if he doesn't feel like talking, but it's likely that he will want to talk about whatever he is currently doing. This opens up the option for a conversation rather than an interview. I would imagine that he is asked about his previous work a lot.

One of my professors once told a story about attending a party and sitting on a couch next to Yoko Ono. They spent most of the party discussing children. That probably wouldn't have happened if there was a artist/fan dynamic. It was just two people talking about something they were both interested in.

If you really want to differentiate yourself from the herd, be relaxed, pleasant, and don't expect anything from him.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 5:38 AM on June 22, 2009

Where'd you get those glasses?
posted by essexjan at 6:20 AM on June 22, 2009

Who cuts your hair?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:20 AM on June 22, 2009

ASK: why do you have such a stick up your ass about Noel Gallagher ? I mean, for all of his faults, he wrote "Live Forever" for f*ck's sake.

(ok, sorry, big Oasis fan here..... proceed)
posted by mrmarley at 6:31 AM on June 22, 2009

The obvious question now is to ask him about his favorite episode of Mythbusters.

I'd be interested to know how his work has influenced his wife's, and vice versa.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:23 AM on June 22, 2009

And if you didn't say that, by the way...who did?

I always thought it was Frank Zappa, but I've also heard Steve Martin. It's probably none of them, it was probably originally said by someone whose name has been forgotten and was then just attributed to a more famous name.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:53 AM on June 22, 2009

Talk about anything but music.
posted by Zambrano at 8:40 AM on June 22, 2009

Just offer a quick, sincere compliment.

This is exactly the route I took when I unexpectedly ran into Mr. Costello at a pub watching the FA Cup Final a few years ago. I thanked him for what his music had meant to me and said I just wanted to shake his hand (he obliged). I also wished his team luck in the remainder of the match.
posted by trox at 8:42 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a friend back in college radio days who always started his interviews by asking "What kind of car do you drive?" and never failed to get an interesting response, everything from Ice-T rhapsodizing about the gangsta-special he'd just bought to William S Burroughs going off on a rant about how evil the automobile was.

Either way, it was conversational.
posted by philip-random at 9:20 AM on June 22, 2009

He has twin toddlers. I'd probably ask him if he did anything special for Father's Day.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 9:57 AM on June 22, 2009

I'd ask him the same thing that I would ask Oprah:
"What's it like growing up with such a funny name?"

Also, Oprah can just be "Oprah".
You say Oprah and we know who you're talking about.

But Elvis?
You could mean either Elvis Presley or Costello.

You're kind of forced to call him "Elvis Costello", because
the other one so eclipses him.
posted by Sully at 10:00 AM on June 22, 2009

Dancing about architecture

My gut was Lester Bangs or Greil Marcus or one of those other classic rock journalists, but I can't find a source.

Here's a fairly rigorous analysis of the question, with specifics. No firm conclusion though.
posted by msalt at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2009

I'd ask him the same thing that I would ask Oprah:
"What's it like growing up with such a funny name?"

I would not ask him this, as Elvis Costello is not his real name.
posted by rebel_rebel at 12:35 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

In case anyone's wondering... . I'm not a Big Fan, wasn't committed to asking The Perfect Question, just thought it was an uncommon opportunity to maybe get an insight/thought/observation from an interesting person and a sense the Hive Mind would have some interesting prospects--and it did. (I got a huge laugh out of "Play dumb and ask if he was upset when his daughter married Michael Jackson.")

I asked if he might at some point have a go at electronic distribution via the Radiohead model or something else, if it interested him that he could record something topical or otherwise, finish it at 10 p.m., put it out via the Net and people all over the world are listening to it at 10:15.

He said they were looking at all that, didn't have any plans at the moment to do any one-off, record-and-release songs, was sure they'd do some Net-based stuff (dramatic pause, looks up to make eye contact) "I live in the future."
posted by ambient2 at 3:22 PM on June 22, 2009

I live in the future

So nice of him to come visit us in the here and now. (Cool story! I'm a big fan of his.)
posted by msalt at 5:13 PM on June 22, 2009

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