Elvis Costello Rocks and Reads at the Chicago Humanities Festival

Every fall since 1989, the Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) has made it their mission to extend the joys of the humanities — through access to cultural, artistic and educational opportunities — to everyone, regardless of age or income. Tickets to various programs are affordable, if not free (many programs are free for students and teachers), and CHF brings bright thinkers, artists, musicians, novelists, historians, playwrights, theologians and policymakers from around the globe to Chicago to celebrate ideas in the context of civic life. This year’s theme was “Citizens” and included Elvis Costello, the legendary musician, singer-songwriter, record producer and now author.

Elvis-Costello-Chicago-Humanities-Festival-Unfaithful-Music-and-Disappearing-InkCostello joined former WBEZ 91.5 host and current CHF associate artistic director Alison Cuddy in a conversation about his life as depicted in his new memoir, “Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink.”

“May I stand?” asked Costello, as he prepared to read an excerpt from his book.

“May I watch?” quipped Cuddy.

And, so it began. An audience full of super fans at the Francis W. Parker School’s Diane and David B. Heller Auditorium hung on Costello’s every self-effacing word. Costello was articulate and full of swagger, in his three-piece suit, white wide-brimmed hat, black boots and, of course, his trademark glasses.

“Putting on my glasses was like Superman in reverse,” Costello said.

Costello has a storied musical career that spans four decades and now, with his book, he gives us insight into his journey and creative musical process. He talked about his upbringing in a musical family in London and Liverpool, as the son of a jazz musician and he expounded on his prolific career, which has been full of influences, collaborations, setbacks and successes.

Costello thoughtfully shared about how he was teased as a kid for how his flat foot would turn over and in, and how that same foot brought him swoons from girls as he became well known. When asked about his rise to fame, he said, “It’s luck, what you’ve been given and a lot of work.”

After watching a slideshow of photographs and a video of Costello’s father performing, Cuddy opened up the discussion to the audience. One man stood up and thanked Costello for playing in Chicago a couple of years ago. “You dropped a pick and a young lady picked it up. Then you dropped another pick, and I picked it up. We’ve been together a year and a half now,” he said.

To everyone’s delight, Costello played a few songs with his acoustic guitar, but not before popping some gum in his mouth. He played “Everyday I Write the Book” (a fitting homage to his book tour) and “Alison” (which surely pleased interviewer Alison Cuddy). Costello, surprisingly, closed with an Elvis Presley/Elvis Costello mash-up, which brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation. What an evening spent in the enchanting presence of one of rock music’s most enduring talents!

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