Song of the Day #2,585: ‘How to Be Dumb’ – Elvis Costello

mightylikearoseI don’t return to Elvis Costello’s 1991 album Mighty Like a Rose very often, but when it first came out I was in love with it.

A sticker on the album’s cover promised it was his best, most inventive work since Imperial Bedroom, which was overselling it, but it does have its share of baroque gems.

Among them is the majestic (if confusingly titled) ‘Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4,’ which counts among my favorite Costello songs.

Today’s randomly selected track is the most blistering cut on the album, commonly accepted as a screed against former Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas. Thomas had written a novel about an obnoxious rock star, calling out Costello in all but name, so Elvis exacted his revenge through song.

I was hell-bent on destroying my powers of concentration
While you were living like a saint
And all the time the very one you trusted
Was washing off somebody else’s paint

Now you’ve got yourself a brand new occupation
Every fleeting thought is a pearl
And beautiful people stampede to the doorway
Of the funniest fucker in the world

They’re here to help you satisfy your desires
There’s a bright future for all you professional liars

(chorus):
Now you know how to be dumb
Are you ready to take your place in the modern museum of mistakes?
Don’t you know how to be dumb?
Like a building thrown up overnight in one of those reverse earthquakes

They emptied out all the asylums, they emptied out all the gaols
The “New Bruise” was the name of a dance craze
By “Jesus Cross and the Cruel Nails”
Followed up by “Torturing Little Beaver”
With their contraption of barbed wire
Between the fear and the fever lies all the rejection they require

They’ll be howling by midnight, they’ll be drooling by dawn
Skulls shrunk down to the size of their brains
Heads shaven and shorn

(chorus)

Trapped in the House of the Perpetual Sucker
Where bitterness always ends so pitifully
You always had to dress up your envy in some half-remembered philosophy

Now you’re masquerading as a pale powdered genius
Whose every bad intention has been purged
You could’ve walked out any time you wanted
But face it, you didn’t have the courage
I guess that makes you a full time hypocrite
Or some kind of twisted dilettante
Funny though people don’t usually get so ugly
Till they think they know what they want

Scratch your own head, stupid
Count up to three
Roll over on your back
Repeat after me:

Don’t you know how to be dumb?
Are you ready to take your place in the modern museum of mistakes?
Don’t you know how to be dumb?
Like a building thrown up overnight in one of those reverse earthquakes

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One thought on “Song of the Day #2,585: ‘How to Be Dumb’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Dana says:

    I really need to give this album another full listen. It’s been quite awhile. Interesting story regarding the background on this song.

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