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20 December 2017

Meg Rosoff on This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello: “My first rock’n’roll God”

From the Long Players series: writers on their most cherished albums.

Genesis? Aerosmith? Steely Dan? No wonder I hated 1976. I moved to London in 1977 – 20 years old and desperate to escape Boston. My mentor, the sculptor Dimitri Hadzi (who had no more idea what he was doing at Harvard than I did), suggested art school. “They’re all stiffs here,” he said. Within a week of arriving at St Martins I found myself at the Live Stiffs Tour: Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Ian Dury & the Blockheads. It felt like a bomb going off in my head. Weird, smart lyrics, heavy percussion, rough, tough sound. Two thousand people got up and danced to “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”.

In 1979, I returned to Boston, finished my degree, moved to NYC and took a series of grim, low-paid jobs. A guitarist friend lent me his 1968 Fender Telecaster Bass. If Tina Weymouth can do it, he said, so can you. I practised for hours in my fifth-floor tenement apartment on Christopher Street, learning bass lines from The Clash, Television, Talking Heads. Some were impossible to follow (Ian Dury’s bass player, Norman Watt-Roy, was hopelessly out of my league) but Pete Thomas on This Year’s Model was perfect.

I started with “Pump It Up” and “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea”, moved on to the mad runs of “Lipstick Vogue” and “Beat”. Costello was my first rock’n’roll God, but Thomas was all seven archangels at God’s right hand. I probably played that album ten thousand times. No one ever suggested I quit my day job, but the band wasn’t too bad, and we played at CBGBs, once. It was the antidote to my entire life so far.

Read the rest of the series here

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This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special