Song of the Day #246: ‘Shot With His Own Gun’ – Elvis Costello

trustWith today’s selection, I’m breaking from my usual rule of featuring only album cuts. This is an interesting clip of ‘Shot With His Own Gun’… it appears to have been filmed as a simple music video more than a live performance. I’m not sure where it originally aired.

I’m OK using the non-album cut in this case because the song as it appears on Trust is similarly bare-bones. It’s just Costello on vocals and the fabulous Steve Nieve on piano. I do regret that this version leaves out the nice piano solo in the middle of the album version, but mostly it’s spot on.

This is another song that confounds me lyrically, though I’ve always had the creepy suspicion it has something to do with incest. I love the play on words in the bridge: “On your marks, man, ready, set. Let’s get loaded and forget.” I wonder if he comes up with those things first and writes songs around them or if they occur to him halfway through the task.

As for the album, Trust is a minor masterpiece, its busy, ambitious arrangements paving the way sonically for Imperial Bedroom. It features the classic ‘Clubland’ as well as one of my all-time favorite Costello tunes, ‘New Lace Sleeves’ (I featured ‘New Lace Sleeves’ on the blog awhile back).

How does it feel now you’ve been undressed
by a man with a mind like the gutter press
So disappointed to find it’s no big sin
Lying skin to skin

Shot with his own gun
Now dad is keeping mum
Shot with his own gun

Now somebody has to pay for the one who got away

What’s on his mind now is anyone’s guess
Losing his touch with each caress
Spending ev’ry evening looking so appealing
He comes without warning
Leaves without feeling

On your marks, man, ready, set
Let’s get loaded and forget

The little corporal got in the way
And he got hit by an emotional ricochet
It’s a bit more now than dressing up dolly
Playing house seems so melancholy

Oh it’s too sad to be true
Your blue murder’s killing you

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #246: ‘Shot With His Own Gun’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    Now see, if I were doing my holy trinity of Elvis albums, this one might well make the cut. I find this album to be better than Get Happy by a fair measure.I’m not sure there is a weak song on it, and the standouts rank among my favorites. New Lace Sleeves is probably my favorite Costello song ever, and would rank among my top 10 favorite songs by any artist, period. Then, you add songs like the one you feature today, but let’s not forget Strict Time, Watch Your Step, From AWhisper to A Scream and White Knuckles as standouts. This is Elvis edging toward his best work of all time. And the songs that didn’t make the original album, but were found in bootlegs and later bonus tracks such as Hoover Factory just underscore that Costello was peaking here.

    As for today’s song, nice live clip, but I do miss that great piano solo. I too have always been confounded by what this song is talking about, but listening today with the lyrics in front of me, here’s my thought: Dad had an affair, child somehow got in the middle, maybe supporting his mom and hates his father for hurting mom and family Mom forgave dad, or at least didn’t leave him, so now both mom and child have to live with this man who betrayed both of them. Indeed, tehre is some suggestion that the affair may be continuing, but the mom remains too weak to leave the man. What do you think?

  2. Clay says:

    Hmm, interesting interpretation. The “little corporal,” “dressing up dolly” and “playing house” references definitely suggest a kid’s perspective. As for the “dad is keeping mum” play on words, I’ve always wondered which definition of “mum” should be considered the primary one there, though clearly he intends to suggest both.

    Trust is probably my 4th or 5th favorite Costello album… I agree, it doesn’t have a weak track.

  3. dana says:

    Or maybe it’s just about a drunk guy who accidentally shot his pecker off wheb his gun went off in his pocket talk about the little corporal getting in the way! Doh!

  4. ElvisFan says:

    Nah..The more I listen to it the more the incest theme seems to fit
    so many multiple meanings
    shot with his own gun – overtones of suicide? hoist with his own petard? penis?

    now dad is keeping mum – keeping quiet? not partaking in incest again and gone back to normal with his wife after mistakenly sleeping with daughter?

    it’s a bit more now than dressing up dolly – sudden crash into the adult world? lost innocence?

    playing house seems so melancholy – the awkwardness after the event? both parties miserable and regretting the event? confused emotions? if the dad killed himself explains the melancholy

    blue murders killing you – if the event caused dad to kill himself, kid blames herself .

    very rich imagery and clever wordplay in this song. really good, one of his best

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