Song of the Day #3,741: ‘Deportee’ – Elvis Costello

I recently discovered Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast, in which the brilliant writer dives into episodes from history and draws out lessons that weren’t clear the first time around.

Sometimes Gladwell tackles serious issues such as war or politics; in other episodes it’s basketball or popular music. The stories, and his telling of them, are as fascinating as his essays and books.

In an episode titled ‘Hallelujah,’ from the first season of Revisionist History, Gladwell discusses “the role that time and iteration play in the production of genius,” and he does so in large part through a dissection of an Elvis Costello song.

Gladwell, like me, is a huge Costello fan. He makes that point abundantly clear before talking about his disappointment with Costello’s 1984 album Goodbye Cruel World. To be fair, this is the album Costello himself considers his worst. And it is pretty dreadful, no question.

Gladwell singles out one song in particular, a noisy, incoherent mess called ‘The Deportees Club.’ Years later, he encountered a wholly revised version of the track on a reissue of Goodbye Cruel World and it became one of his very favorite Elvis Costello songs.

Retitled ‘Deportee,’ the song had been slowed down, its lyrics partially rewritten, its production stripped to vocals and acoustic guitar. A throwaway track had become something transcendent.

Some artists create amazing work right out of the gate, with very little revision. This could be an artist like Picasso, an author like Herman Melville, or a musician like Bob Dylan.

Other artists, like Costello, are never quite finished with their work. A song might take many different forms before he lands on the right one, if he ever does. The same lyric will show up in different songs, sung in different melodies. For Costello, and those like him, the genius is in the process and the process never ends.

The episode’s title, ‘Hallelujah,’ comes from Leonard Cohen’s iconic song, which has become a modern classic covered by hundreds of different performers. Gladwell traces the complex evolution of that track as well.

I encourage any music lover to give this episode of Gladwell’s podcast a listen.

[Verse 1]
In the Arrivederci Roma nightclub, bar and grill
Standing in the fiberglass ruins watching time stand still
All your troubles you confess to another faceless, backless dress

Schnapps, Chianti, porter and ouzo
Pernod, vodka, Sambuca – I love you so

[Verse 2]
There’s a tattooed beauty talking in riddles
Rome burns down and everybody fiddles
But a thousand dollars won’t buy you a Yankee wife, alas
There’s a thousand years of history drowned in this chaser glass
Oh how I wish that she was mine
I could have been a King in 6/8 time

Oh, it’s a brittle charm, but she’s had enough
Still she wrote her name upon his paper cuff
And you don’t know where to start or where to stop
All this pillow talk is nothing more than finally talking shop

When I came here tonight my pockets were overflowing
They took my return ticket without me even knowing
Well, I pray to the saints and all the martyrs
For the secret life of Frank Sinatra
But none of these things have come to pass
In America the law is a piece of ass

So it’s Schnapps, Chianti, porter and ouzo
Pernod, vodka, Sambuca – I love you so
Deportee [x2]
Poor Deportee

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,741: ‘Deportee’ – Elvis Costello

  1. Peg Clifton says:

    Definitely sounds like it’s worth listening to!

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    You’ve definitely got my curiosity piqued about this podcast. I’ve also never heard this alternative version before, though, in fairness, I’m not even sure I paid any attention to the original. I definitely like this stripped down version, however.

  3. Amy says:

    I’m definitely checked no out Gladwell’s podcast!

  4. Huge Elvis Costello fan. Huge Malcom Gladeell fan. When the two came together on this podcast, I did a Nerd Dance around my kitchen.

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