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Deconstructing “Elvis Has Left The Building”

January 14, 2013

Moving onto the second track on my album “Other People’s Hats

Elvis Has Left The Building” was written the day after an Elvis Costello concert in Dublin’s Vicar Street.If you’d like a free download of this song follow this link.

It was a sunny day and I was sitting in the garden with my guitar, notebook and phone (for recording). I wrote the line “It was a photograph…” in my notebook and the rest of the song flowed from there.

It was a photograph from so long ago that I had almost forgotten

I didn’t think to ask because I didn’t know how deep we had gotten

When the songman sings on the radio the words are real but he doesn’t know

No one is listening

Elvis has left the building, we’re waiting outside.

Elvis has left the building, we’re standing in line hoping this time it’s him.

In my notebook I wrote stream-of-consciousness for about 20 minutes. Not thinking and just writing whatever words came into my head. I find this is a useful way to tap into memories and develop a song storyline. I was thinking of some fun times I’d had with Paul and remembered a visit to Mac’s Secondhand Records in Dublin’s George’s Street Arcade sometime in the 1980s

It was a picture sleeve of a childhood dream the man didn’t notice

So we made a deal and got out quick before he could spot us

When the video plays on the TV screen it brings me back to all of our schemes

And all of our dreams

Paul and I are fans of the Beatles: a little known beat combo from Liverpool. You might not have heard of them…  Anyhow we would often visit Mac’s of a Saturday to see what new arrivals were there. Mac himself wasn’t there on this visit and he had a young assistant covering for him while he had lunch. There was nothing new out on the racks but a box of 7″ singles had arrived in but had not yet been priced. We asked to take a look and flicked through various scratched and insignificant discs until stumbling across a relatively rare picture sleeve of the “Strawberry Fields Forever” single. We were a little excited at this find but played it cool. It got better as we continued looking and found a second copy !  Finding one was lucky, finding two was almost spooky.   Now these singles were relatively rare and usually would have been out of my budget and by the time Mac priced them up out of most people’s budgets ! We took a chance and offered the guy £20 for a handful of singles from the box (not wanting to draw attention to the rarities). He took the money and we ran… just as Mac was returning from his lunch.  The video is the classic promo video for “Strawberry Fields…” which always reminds me of endless conversations between Paul & I about what we would do and where we would go. Youthful dreaming.

The verses of the song use a simple Aminor to Gmajor chord sequence. As I was playing this and humming a melody I could hear pedal steel guitar in my head.  “Nice idea” I thought and parked it away thinking I’d never find a player. Of course as you’ll have seen on this blog, heard on the album and seen on the live video I did find a player who played exactly what I heard in my head.

Will you come and get it ?

Won’t you stand to see him ?

Won’t you try to make it ?

The real show has just begun

Although the initial spark for the song was the experience in meeting Elvis I wanted the broaden the story to express what it’s like to be a fan of a musician/songwriter. In the first rush of fandom you want everyone to feel what you feel and you’ll shout it from the rooftops evangelising the new gospel according to the new Elvis/Dylan/Floyd.  You’ll do silly stuff like hanging around outside a venue in the hope of meeting them, you’ll discuss their music with other fans, you’ll buy every record and search for those bootlegs and live tapes. You’ll go to the crappiest venues and pay over-the-odds for tickets.

After the guitar solo I take you back to the stage door where we’re waiting for Elvis

It was a so-so night and a so-so show

But we couldn’t care less

The door opens up and out he steps into the half-light

The man in the suit said it’s ok you can hang for a while but don’t you dare

Overstay your welcome

I took a bit of license here. The show most definitely wasn’t “so-so” but fans will forgive artists when they’re having an off-night.  The man in the suit is the security guy.

Elvis/Declan/Napoleon Dynamite eventually did appear and was very gracious signing anything offered and chatting with us. Now I was a bit tired-and-emotional having put away a bottle of wine during the show so I rambled some nonsense which EC seemed to find amusing if the photos are anything to go by.

Getting that photo taken with Elvis righted a wrong from many years ago.  The first time Paul & I went to see him live was for a series of 3 shows on successive nights in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in December 1986. Through a friend I had managed to secure front-and-center seats for each of the 3 shows. On the third night Costello brought out the Spinning Song Wheel, resurrected for his 2011-2012 tour, which he would invite audience members up on stage to spin. Whatever song it landed on the band would play.  I was shouting for him to get Paul up on the stage to spin the wheel using the ruse that it was Paul’s birthday. I don’t recall if it actually was Paul’s birthday that day (I think it might have been a couple of days later) but I thought it would be a laugh if he actually did this. Unbelievably Elvis stopped and asked what were we shouting… he brought Paul up on stage and got the theatre to sing happy birthday to Paul.  I was snapping photos like crazy and couldn’t wait to give this very cool souvenir to Paul.

The following day I took the camera and would the film back before opening it up and sending the film for processing. As I opened the camera my heart sank when I saw that the film had snapped inside the camera and was now exposed to the light. All of the photos were gone and to this day we’ve never been able to find photos from that show with Paul on stage.
155724_118332674899837_7264283_n Finally. Outside Vicar Street. We met Elvis.
We had our photo taken with him. We got there eventually in the end. I do recall trying to explain the whole “camera” incident to Elvis but he was looking at me as if I was speaking in tongues…probably best to leave it there. We thanked him and wished him well. If you’d like a free download of the song follow this link. While you’re thinking that over here’s a live version of the song recorded with my band at Dublin’s Grand Social venue.

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