In the unlikely rock-star mini-feuds department, Elvis Costello and Rod Stewart — who decades ago had discussions about making an album together — renewed what seems to be a frenemy-ship in recent days. They’ve tangled on social media in a humorously feisty way over what Costello considered to be a botched royal performance by Stewart, and what Stewart considers to be an unbecoming hairline on Costello’s part.
According to the Daily Mirror (which Costello additionally took on… because hating the Daily Mirror is one thing almost all music stars can agree on), Costello took a few moments in a Glasgow show to get in a little dig at Stewart, who’s known as a major booster of Scottish soccer. “I was in Brighton the other night when the Jubilee was happening.” Following a smattering of boos, Costello reportedly quipped, “But the show was good, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? No, it was shite.”
He went on to lob some volleys at Stewart’s contribution of an old Neil Diamond song to the royal festivities. “I mean, I know you all love him and he’s one of yours and everything, but Rod. What the fuck? I must say, listen we all have bad nights vocally, but for fuck’s sake, ‘Sweet fucking Caroline’? Are you fucking kidding me? I mean I’ve been in show business 45 years, so I do know a thing or two. How is it that nobody suggested Rod sing ‘You Wear It Well’?”
Stewart read these remarks and slapped back at Costello on Twitter.
“Yes my voice was rough cos of Covid. I apologise,” wrote Stewart. “I thought it better it to make an appearance rather than let everyone down so sorry. By the way, where’s your hair gone mate????? Sir Rod.”
In responding in turn on Twitter, Costello downplayed the idea that his original knock had been primarily about the quality of Stewart’s vocals and said it was more about him resorting to doing a Diamond bar-band favorite.
“Dear Lord Stewart,” wrote Costello, “you know I love you. Think the Queen would have loved ‘You Wear It Well’ or even ‘Hot Legs.’ As to gigs, I had a stinker the other night in Liverpool. They come and go, like hair, which I keep sewn in my hat. Up The Republic.” He signed his missive, “Elvis O.rrible B.loody E.erbet,” turning his own royal O.B.E. title into a different kind of acronym.
The Daily Mail did its part to keep its own sparring with Costello going, characterizing Costello’s response to Stewart as “groveling.” Costello responded to the tabloid’s epithet by tweeting back: “More lies in ‘The Suburban Fascist,’ sorry, ‘Daily Mail.’ Get a sense of humour, you Tory bastards.”
In Glasgow Costello had also brought up Diana Ross’ song choice — or in his view what was possibly literally a command performance — of “Chain Reaction.” In remarks that were further picked up by the Daily Mail, which seemed to miss the comedy intended, “Listen, Diana Ross had a whole playlist of songs that would have fit the occasion: ‘You Keep Me Hanging On.’ ‘I’m Living In Shame.’ I’m not saying ‘Love Child’ — you never heard it from me,” he joked, alluding to possible royal scandal.
He was not kidding around when he responded to the paper, seemingly furious that they reported his joking about Ross’ part of the setlist as serious. “This is typical Mirror shite. If you read my actual remark, it about the wrong-headed idea of asking Sir Rod pass up ‘You Wear It Well’ to lead a fucking singalong. Ms. Ross is deity. Have some damn respect. I was joking about the many uncomfortable choices 9in Ross’ catalog) that were overlooked.”
The “stinker the other night in Liverpool” to which Costello referred in his reply to Stewart was a gig problematic enough that the singer-songwriter felt compelled to explain it on Facebook. There had been serious sound problems early in the Liverpool concert, but when the audience started shouting at him about them, he mistook that for heckling his performance. Costello apologized for being surly in response to the yelling, saying that he misunderstood and was already emotionally fraught because it was his first gig in his hometown since his mother, who attended the last one, had died.
“When people start yelling at me at work – at first, incoherently – I tend to get a little testy. I’m sure you have known times at the Phil when people – perhaps befuddled by drink – have tried to insert themselves into the show but in this case I must apologize for my sharp and rather graceless reaction but adrenaline and emotion were running high,” he wrote. “ I’m sorry if you felt affronted or left early to demanded a refund but you should appreciate that the excellent Philharmonic Hall staff had no more control over the situation than we did on the stage. For those who stuck with us, I hope you took something out of the night. Should our paths not cross again, it’s been nice knowing you, well, everyone that is except that ‘drunken tw*t’ who tried to pick a fight with me on the doorstep of my hotel. He can fuck right off.”
The bantering with Stewart aside, Costello has had much more unambiguously happy relations with members of the music aristocracy in recent days. Keith Richards posted a cheerful photo of himself with Costello before a gig by the Rolling Stones, to which Costello replied, “So kind of you to spend a little time before that astonishing show at Anfield. You never sang better. ‘You Got The Silver’? You got it all. Love and Respect.”
In response to Mick Jagger’s tweeted announcement not long after that he was diagnosed with COVID, Costello replied, “Dear Lord Jagger. You were absolutely astonishing at Anfield. Hope you get well soon. Lots of love and respect from Elvis Costello & The Imposters.”
And the lovefest really got thick when Dionne Warwick posted a photo of herself with Costello in her dressing room, writing, “It’s always wonderful when a friend and fellow entertainer takes time out of their busy schedule to come hang with me like Elvis Costello did last night.” He replied, “Such a beautiful show. Wonderful band, focused strings and an incredible songbook, sung with grace and a peerless sense of time and space. The performance of ‘Alfie’ made it seem like the greatest song written. But you knew that already. It meant (so) much.”
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