Thursday, 30 April 2009

Beyond Belief

One of the things I love about that supreme example of Elvis genius, 'Beyond Belief', is precisely that it is hard to get quite right in your ear. Or at least, that was the way when I was first listening to this album, in the 80s. Not now: now we have many websites dedicated to listing song lyrics. Testing my belief about the words in this song against this site, I discover I am wrong about some things ('Keep your finger on the button issues/With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues' is indeed, as I listen, '...important issues...'). But these sites are, clearly, not flawless. Its anonymous scribe has: 'I'm just the oily slick/On the windup world of the nervous tick.' But doesn't Elvis actually sing 'oil'? And, crucially:
So in this almost empty gin palace
Through a two-way looking glass
You see your Alice
You know she has no sense
For all your jealousy
In a sense she still smiles very sweetly
Listening to the way Elvis sings 'sense', in that last line, convinces me that the vital fourth line is: 'You know she has no sins.' The toxic mix of booze, heterosexual erotic obsession and tumbling solipsism which is the idiom of the song is (I'm tempted to say 'of course' ... look at the title of the piece, for heaven's sake!) refracted through Elvis's fascination with religion. I think with 'religion' more generally conceived, rather than with Elvis's more usual Catholicism (it's rose and thistle at daggers'-drawn, not rose and shamrock...') I think this explains 'the bone orchard', one of my very favourite Costello images: the spirit-denuded material body that still, somehow, bears fruit (the banging of bones in sexual congress, even boozily mediated as here, can indeed result in more life).

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