Hey, What’s So Funny?

My friend was sad last night. Maybe she was angry. It could have been the wine. It’s hard to tell sometimes on an email. (UNLESS YOU’RE WRITING LIKE THIS, of course, which is awfully loud and means you’re either angry or just confused about that whole “caps lock” nonsense.)

Anyway, my friend has to write me by email, because my old Droid can’t pick up the iPhone emojis she regularly texts to me.

She’ll send me texts that are simply a line of empty squares where the emojis are supposed to be.  Like this …emojiless

I have no idea what she’s talking about. She does it all the time. When I told her that I couldn’t see her emojis, the blank squares started coming in even faster.

But, last night her email was mad-sad. Because the world is ugly and the uglier the world gets the angrier, it seems, the smaller world around us gets. The hatefulness just starts to open its net wider and wider, and all of a sudden everybody just hates everybody else.

“Talk to me so I can hear the accent, but minus the hate,” she wrote.

What do you say to someone who is mad-sad about the state of things? Just like you?

I’ve been reading Elvis Costello’s memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink”, which, of course, has led me to listen to all my old Elvis Costello albums.

unfaithful music

There’s a point coming, but, first, let me just say this about Kindle books.

I heard someone on the radio this week recommend Costello’s memoir, but warned, “It’s 671 pages.”

Wait, what?

I’ve been reading it on my Kindle for weeks now, and I had no idea that it was a long book. I mean, sure it seemed to be taking awhile, and just when I think it’s winding down, he wanders down another tangent. You know, like your friend who sits with you at the bar after midnight and says, “Come on just one more beer, ok?”

Kindle books should carry a warning, “Hey, Book Worm, before you tap open page one, you oughta know, this is a 700-page book. It’ll be awhile.”

Bob Dylan’s memoir-ish Chronicles was barely 300 pages. How was I to know that Elvis Costello wrote the War & Peace of rock books?

Still, very good book. But, I may not be done until Opening Day.

Home stretch

Home Stretch.

Anyway, so I’m listening to all sorts of Elvis Costello, but I keep coming back to that one mad-sad song that seems to fit the times – no matter the time or year or decade. It just always seems to fit.

(What’s so funny ’bout) peace, love & understanding?

Which was a mad song when the “Angry Young Elvis” sang it in 1979.


But, it’s a bewildered, dreamy, and sad song when Nick Lowe sings it. (He wrote it, by the way.)


(And, don’t feel bad if you always thought Elvis Costello wrote the song, because, as Elvis points out in his book, John Lennon thought so, too.)

Here’s Nick singing it in 1974, the year he wrote it, with the band Brinsley Schwarz. Elvis calls the original version “almost tongue-in-cheek.”


But, it’s never felt tongue-in-cheek to me.

Here’s Keb Mo, and his bluesy, folky, Americana take.


A few years ago, Stephen Colbert did it on his Christmas show, with Elvis, Willie Nelson, John Legend, Feist, and (for realz) Toby Keith.


For you Australian fans in your 40s, here’s Midnight Oil.


And, look … here’s Taylor Momsen and the Pretty Reckless!  (Yes, where is the harmony?)


Here’s Natalie Merchant, once with 10,000 Maniacs and now just a maniac on her own (and not spinning around as much).


(Can you hear the riff from George Harrison’s version of If Not For You tucked into this version?)

Hey, Grunge fans … it’s Chris Cornell, with Spanish subtitles.


Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi (Bon Jovi’s the awkward guy who’s just a tiny bit off key … clearly, there is no sweet harmony).


The gospel-y Holmes Brothers.


And, the one that made me cry. Israeli Peace Activist David Broza, recording at a Palestinian studio in 2013 with the Jerusalem Youth Choir, the only choir that includes both Israeli and Palestinian teens …

Yay, the sweet harmony is back!

I’ve left out plenty. Covers by Jakob Dylan and The Wallflowers, Steve Earle, The Flaming Lips, Simple Minds, and more. The Googler can find their versions for you if you ask.

So, what’s the point of all this?

Well, a few things …

  1. Hey, it’s just a great song.
  2. The Internet, with all its videos and stuff tucked into nooks and crannies, can be an amazing treasure chest to paw through on a Sunday morning.
  3. When you’re mad-sad about the state of things, music won’t necessarily fix anything, but it’s nice, sometimes, to know you’re not alone.

It’s been three weeks since baseball.


12 thoughts on “Hey, What’s So Funny?

  1. I’m a huge Elvis Costello fan going all the way back to the beginning of his career, so it’s nice to find out you’re a fellow fan as well. I had no idea that this particular song of his has been covered so many times. And yes, it does seem like fear and anger are spreading like wildfire in this country. Maybe we should all just spend much more time listening to the music we love, and turn off the T.V. and radio news talk shows for a while.
    Anyway, great post.

    • Thanks, Bill … I hope you’re reading his memoir, it’s beautiful and very much like an Elvis song, painted all sorts of ways — from subtle to dark. He slides back and forth and round and back in time, so some things are dreamy and nothing is chronological, but nothing really needs to be. Plus, as I’ve discovered, it’s quite long and should help you while away some of the hours until pitchers and catchers report! There’s a “soundtrack” that goes along with it, and which has a few unreleased songs.

    • I’ve always been conflicted by the basic smiley emoji … :) It’s fine as a simple smile, but don’t you find that some people use it as an opportunity to say critical things. Things they would never have the nerve to say to your face, but they can write it and believe that the smiley at the end negates the harshness of their criticism and shows that they’re just trying to be a good friend. You know, something like this …

      I’m just saying if it were me, I wouldn’t wear that dress in public if I thought it made my butt look that fat. :)

  2. Well, what is so funny about peace and understanding?

    Here’s something a little funny to me – funny, meaning odd, not ha ha – I did not know (or remember?) that this is an Elvis Costello song. I haven’t listened to him much for some years. I dug it when I first heard the Impostors. I had a very large poster of Elvis Costello on a 45-degree slanted ceiling in a closet that made opening the door fun.

    It was War and Peace last year, right? I am re-reading Crime and Punishment in this off-season and find myself wishing for a shorter baseball season.

    Music doesn’t fix things, but can be a nice salve for days like this.

    (I did hear Dylan’s guitar “If Not for You” in Natalie M.’s version. BTW, if you’re wandering around the tubes looking for music, there is a Dylan/Harrison version of the song out there. Fun to see the two of them play together.)

    • Yes, last winter was my off-season of War & Peace. It was wonderful! I think Crime & Punishment is a great re-read. Russian literature always does best in the winter, doesn’t it? This off-season, I have a pile of books … mostly memoirs and biographies … Chrissie Hynde (skip it, it was awful). Now Elvis C. Next up … Patti Smith’s new one, the Tom Petty bio, the Roberto Clemente bio … and assorted other baseball-y and rock-and-rolly books.

      I’ve always loved “If Not For You” … I think of the riff and the music as more prominent in George’s version, the words more prominent in Dylan’s. It was the perfect song for George, don’t you think? And, since the original recording was a collaboration between the two, I often think that George may have composed that riff … it sounds much more like something he would come up with, than Bob. Now, you’ve inspired me to pull out “All Things Must Pass” …

  3. The Natalie Merchant comment made me laugh out loud…and no, I had no idea there were so many covers of that Elvis Costello song (by way of Nick Lowe, of course). Thanks for the post…with things going on in the world, we need music to lift our spirits.

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