Elvis Costello thinks he knows the shared origin story of all the world’s villains. Appearing on Friday’s Late Show to promote his new album with The Imposters, The Boy Named If and generally be elfish and charming, the legendary rocker told Stephen Colbert that it’s all about the F chord. Specifically the “mechanically nearly impossible” transition into the F chord when playing a guitar in C, a beginners-thwarting hand movement Costello claimed was what sent so many frustrated guitarists on to become everything from dictators, to chiropractors, and other sadistic types. “They were all ex-guitar players who were frustrated,” stated Costello confidently.
And while it’s worth checking into, say, the performing ambitions of the young Donald Trump and your dentist, Costello told Colbert that what’s kept him going so long without killing anybody (The Boy Named If is his 32nd or so studio album) is keeping alive the “inner idiot” that still views the creative process with the same childlike curiosity that saw the young Declan Patrick McManus plucking out his first chords. Costello noted self-deprecatingly that he still only knows a few such chords (Colbert pointed to the complicated throwback progressions of “A Slow Drag With Josephine” as proof to the contrary), and that his dizzyingly diverse discography is all down to not forgetting the “play” part of playing guitar. (Costello also noted that he’d wanted the vinyl version of The Boy Named If pressed onto old-time shellac, but conceded that he “didn’t want to kill so many beetles.”)
Costello also told Colbert about his recent foray into disc jockeying in the basement studio of a Liverpool record shop (Defend Vinyl at Liverpool 15), where he broadcast (to YouTube) a set of all-vinyl recordings from his new album and musicians he likes. Telling Colbert that his mother’s recent death at 93 inspired much of his choice of records (and that his former record shop assistant mum would laugh at him accidentally playing some Freddie King at the wrong speed), Costello explained how, for him, the three-and-a-half-hour set was a way of finally saying goodbye after having to hold a virtual funeral for his mother, thanks to this COVID bullshit.
Colbert, seeing the floodgates open (aided by Costello’s reminiscences of having written songs alongside Paul McCartney and then seeing the former Beatle at the London premiere of Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back), then chimed in with his own heart-wrencher of a mother story. The host emotionally thanked their years-ago duet on The Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream” for providing him with the then-fresh knowledge to provide his own dying mother with a proper musical sendoff. Colbert explained that it was Costello teaching him the harmony that allowed him to accompany his sister Margo in singing that song to their mom in her hospital bed back in 2013. Thanking Costello for preparing him for that moment, Colbert recalled his mother asking, “Is this already Heaven, because my children are singing to me,” and is it getting a little dusty in here?