I define myself largely as a musician and songwriter. By extension, this means that I regard myself as having refined, informed taste in music. Why, then, do my tastes diverge so very far from what's generally considered the canon of what's good? I mean, it would be one thing if I liked all the critical favorites and then had my proudly open dirty little secret prog love on the side - every music lover has that one thing that they know is impossible to defend, yet they love it without irony. So if my library and pantheon were to consist of the acknowledged greats - a little Graham Parker here, some Patti Smith, Laura Nyro, Radiohead, etc. - I could justify my love of emotionally distant and pointlessly intricate tripe* as a mild eccentricity.
But no. Twenty years after I'm supposed to have moved on to more mature stuff, I still find the greatest listening pleasure to be had in comparing live performances to studio versions of Supper's Ready.
For all of that, my other favorite music is new wave, the explosion of (mostly) ultra-pared-down rock that ruled from 1977 to 1984 or so. It's where punk went to get top 40 action - the love child of disco and garage rock. Many of the artists of new wave took their cues (as had the generation before them) from the black soul and r&b artists of their youth. Talking Heads took more from Al Green than just the one lone cover. Gary Numan polished up the Parliament synth groove so successfully that he ended up being a favorite sample of hip hop producers thirty years later. The Police rode in on the ska/reggae wave that swept through the UK, also with Madness, the English Beat, UB40 and... uh, Eric Clapton?
Anyway, I'd suspect that a lot of the reason I like new wave is for the weird ghostly echoes of black musical forms. So why, then, do I finally have to admit that I have little love for Elvis Costello - a man who is generally perceived as being among the finest songwriters and performers of his generation, who was at the vanguard of the new wave and who slathers his work with deep soul references?
Listening to the radio in the car this morning, it hit me: Christ, this fucking Costello song sounds like the wall of sound on the morning after. Byzantine, echoey production with tambourines and clanging piano, like the shit you'd fire a wedding band for playing. Really, they all sound like that. Billy Joel got it out of his system with one song, but Costello's entire career is one long weird ironic take on The Shirelles. Even as a producer, he drags down Squeeze with that slop.
The dead giveaway - the real hand-tipping moment - was when Costello paired up with Burt Bacharach (who I actually rather like) for new songs that were supposed to artificially generate nostalgia for that 60's period of Bill Building dominance. In a way, it worked: upon seeing Costello and Bacharach performing a song live with a Montovaniesque string section on Letterman one night, I became instantly nostalgic for the period before I heard them do it.
Anyhow. I finally have a definitive answer as to why I do not like Elvis Costello. So stop pestering me about him.
*Curious note: though the phrase 'emotionally distant and pointlessly intricate tripe' can easily apply to Phish, I do not like them. At all. The earheart is a strange creature.