stranger than fiction

Mr. Getgood moved up to Self-Made Man Row
Although he swears he’s the salt of the earth
He’s so proud of the “kick-me-hard” sign that
they hung on his back at birth.
He said “I appreciate beauty, if I have one, then
it’s my fault”
“Beauty is on my pillow, beauty is there in
my vault.”

Spike by Elvis CostelloNow just who did Elvis Costello have in mind when he wrote and recorded “…This Town…” in 1988? Perhaps Donald Trump? Back when Trump was simply content to be the Blowhard of the United States of America? Hardly a pleasant gentleman, Trump was still decades from placing the nation at risk. Compared to what we see today, he was then nothing more than an amusing annoyance, like a flamboyant car dealer’s commercials. And perhaps that’s how Costello saw it then. In the March ’89 issue of Musician, he discusses “…This Town…” and the American money-making culture that emerged in the age of Reagan:

It’s almost become a virtue and you’ve got your entrepreneurs who are like, “lovable eccentrics.” Like Donald Trump or Cal Worthington.

At the time, Cal Worthington was the most successful car salesman in America, with his chain of dealers grossing $316.8 million in 1988. His TV commercials, bizarre and homespun, were no doubt seen by thousands of traveling musicians like Costello, while winding down in California hotel rooms after a gig.

Costello played Atlanta numerous times in the ’80s. On one occasion, he may have learned of a flamboyant car dealer in rural Georgia who put a $100,000.00 bounty on the head of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, calling his offer “100 percent American.” The story faded from newscasts quickly enough, the bounty seen as nothing but another sales gimmick: We’ll give you $100,000.00 plus a customized Chevy Van with a tape deck for your trade-in and Gaddafi’s corpse.

But car dealers are always pushing gimmicks to bring customers into their showrooms. They’ll serve up hot dogs and Cokes on the weekends, pay your ad valorem taxes or even call for the assassination of a sovereign leader as long as they can sell more cars. That’s all they want; it isn’t like any of them want to be President of the United States — like Donald Trump, no longer an amusing annoyance but now a threat to the Republic we’ve come to know and love since 1789.

Elvis Costello, no doubt the best songwriter to emerge in popular music since Lennon and McCartney parted ways, is also sharp as a tack. And he proved most prescient with “…This Town…” Donald Trump, like the character in the song, really enjoys being a bastard. Think of all the bullies you knew in school or your worst bosses. Trump is the embodiment of all their worst qualities — and he’s proud of it.

My Aim Is True… In Annie Hall, Woody Allen as Alvy Singer laments that “Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat, college…” That assessment took place in the mid ’70s, when parents, just as they did before and have done since, also advised their children on the larger matters of life: the importance of good manners and considering the feelings of others. Such advice, when taken, should lead to peace with one’s self and, if diligent in other honorable pursuits, success in life, maybe of the mercantile sort.

With Donald Trump’s dad advancing him sums as much as fourteen million dollars in 1975, the would-be billionaire was on his way to success of the mercantile sort, though his personal history is devoid of showing consideration of others. One can imagine parents who knew him telling their own children, “Don’t be like that Trump boy, breaking in line, always ready to throw the first punch, demanding that others do his homework and then stiffing them on the bucks he promised. Such a nasty kid.”

The chorus in “…This Town…” has the Trump attitude down-pat:

You’re nobody in this town
You’re nobody in this crowd
You’re nobody ’til everybody in this town thinks you’re poison,
Got your number, knows it must be avoided
You’re nobody ’til everybody in this town thinks you’re a bastard

“. . . This Town. . .” is a lively piece of music, one of only three rockers on Costello’s ’89 album, Spike. Costello, accompanied by Paul McCartney, Roger McGuinn and T-Bone Burnett, takes command, delivering the album’s opening track with luster and muscle. Such a nice performance about such a nasty man — and other miscreants. The song includes characters perhaps too extreme for Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, published sixteen months before Costello released Spike. In the late ’80s, through literature and popular music, the conspicuous wealth and the bad behavior that came with it, particularly in financial capitols, was prominently displayed. Going full tilt at the time was Trump’s development — or trashing — of Manhattan and Atlantic City. Nothing exceeds like excess and there to wallow in it were Costello’s creations in “…This Town…”

Entertaining the patrons of the sleazy world of new money was one Charlie Sedarka, who “was a playing the piano like he was pawing a dirty book.” Behind closed doors, Costello delivers a more graphic scene: “The girl with the eternity rock went down on her bookie to buy some stock.” That girl would later declare, “The corporation thief is The New Jesse James.”

Another scene, perhaps too hot and sinister for The Bonfire of the Vanities reveals this private exchange:

They made love while she was changing her dress
She wiped him off, she wiped him out and then she made him confess
A little amused by the belief in her power
You must remember that it was the fetish of the hour

Now what would Billy Bush think of all that?

Waiting For The End Of The World… The denizens of Trump World would certainly be comfortable with such characters as they’re no worse than a guy who approves of Howard Stern calling his daughter “a piece of ass.” That’s right; the guy who receives the nomination for President of the United States from the godly Republican Party. All this takes the Seinfeldian Bizarro World many steps further. Try imagining this only two years ago: exemplars of upright living that includes active church membership, duty to country, and faithfulness to friends and loved ones vocally supporting a man who has dragged the nation through the mud in a crass and never-ending ego trip. These people, desperate for one reason or another, or just plain delusional, identify with the worst our country has to offer. They feel comfortable with hatred and recognizing lies as truth. They’re all in for a “bastard.”






Image: Elvis Costello as Satan presents Donald Trump in This Town is a composite image created by (parody/fair use).

Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran

Jeff Cochran worked in advertising at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 27 years before accepting a buy-out in the Summer of 2008. In the seventies/early eighties, he handled advertising for Peaches Records and Tapes' Southeastern and Midwestern stores. He also wrote record reviews for The Great Speckled Bird, a ground-breaking underground newspaper based in Atlanta.