I’m here to help

I always tell people: doing security at the places I work is 90 percent helping people, 5 percent telling people that they can’t do something, and 5 percent ‘tough guy shit’. This blog is going to focus on the 90 percent that is helping people out. The part of the job that I love the most.

My boss at one of the music venues where I work security always says, “You don’t need us until you need us. Then we’re the most important staff there.” It’s true. You often think security people aren’t doing anything, and look bored. That’s why they give us other duties to fulfill throughout the shift. But when something goes down and some situation needs to be dealt with quickly, security staff become the most valued personnel there. Nobody really wants the difficult jobs of breaking up a fight, denying entry to a visibly intoxicated person, denying entry for an expired ID, intervening with sexual harassment, confiscating a fake ID, physically hauling someone outside, 86ing someone from the establishment, detaining someone while the police are called, calling an ambulance for a medical emergency, etc. That all falls on us.

When we’re not doing that ‘tough guy shit’, we are usually given other jobs to pass the time. I more often feel like a host, greeter, or concierge. I answer all of the questions, even the ridiculously stupid ones. It usually feels more like hospitality, rather than ‘bouncing’. We check everyone’s ID in accordance with the O.L.C.C. (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) regulations. Sometimes we check bags, or even pat down or wand people for weapons depending on the venue and the event. Often I end up bussing tables simply because I like to keep moving and help customers. That’s technically a barback and bartender duty. Some venues put us in charge of scanning and processing concert tickets, and assisting at box office. We usually are the ones who change the marquee sign. We answer the telephone. We monitor alcohol use. We guard the venue stage and/or green room. We act as tour guides to out-of-town guests (which I love, since I’ve lived here since 1996 I do know where lots of cool spots are). We help the bands load out their heavy touring gear into their tour bus and trailers. We lock the place down and set the alarm at the end of the night. There are numerous additional duties we take on to help the team and make the night run smoothly. We’re the first and last people you see when you are here, so we must make a good impression.

But, like I said, the most rewarding part is helping people out. That’s what I’ve primarily done for every job I’ve ever worked at since I was 19, if you distill the jobs down to their base function.

Nothing makes me happier than people making comments to me like, “You’re the nicest security guard I’ve ever met.” I hear that every couple of weeks. Or, “You win the award for nicest bouncer ever.” Another memorable one was a woman who said, “You have the most sincere smile of anybody in here.” My philosophy is that if you win people over coming through the door, you’ve got them on your side for the rest of the night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up having to ask a patron to leave, but since they remembered me “being cool” to them earlier, they do what I’m asking them without any hassle. And no punches. Some people even shake my hand as I’m having them leave. It’s a trip.

One particular night I was working the venue and a very sweet older African-American woman was there with her family to watch her daughter perform that night. I’m always appreciative when I see older people/parents attend concerts. My parents have been coming out to see my various bands perform since I was about 19.  I appreciate when the bouncers take extra care with them and help them find seats away from any mayhem or danger. Door guys have offered to walk my parents to a good table, offered them earplugs, and even waived the cover charge.

So on this night, this very kind woman was asking me the usual questions about where she should sit, where would the best view be, what time her daughter’s band was starting and finishing, etc. I helped situate her and her family members at a bench along the side of the room that had great view of the singer. She asked if she could leave to go to her car and get some pillows, since the bench was just hard wood and not that comfortable for long periods of sitting. She did that and returned to her area. I was stationed by the curtain leading back to the green room and backstage area, so I continued to check on her and her family throughout the evening.

She came up to me and asked if there were any other tables in the venue so that she and her family could have somewhere to set their drinks. Some nights there are just a couple of tables, other nights there are zero tables, and some nights there are 10 tables set out with candles on them. I told her that I would see what I could do. I could’ve just told her that I didn’t know where any additional tables were, but that didn’t seem right. I left my post for a minute to look around backstage. No tables. I went outside the venue and looked in the indoor parking garage. Sure enough, there were a few tables out there. The tables are moderately heavy, but I picked one up and walked with it across the parking garage and back into the venue. Through two doors, down some stairs, and through the curtain.

If you’ve seen the 1990 Martin Scorsese mafia movie GOODFELLAS, you remember the nightclub scene. Ray Liotta is trying to impress his new lady, so he takes her to the club that he has partial ownership of. He walks her around the VIP line and through the basement of the building, walking through the kitchen and tipping everybody he sees. They enter the club and a famous comedian is performing. There is nowhere to sit at all, but since he is who he is, the staff brings out a small table and puts it down right in front of the performers. They throw on a tablecloth and silverware and a candle, and set them up in the best spot there is. His girlfriend is duly impressed. And it’s all done in one long continuous shot. I felt like I was bringing in the table for this woman in similar fashion. In I come with a table just for her and her crew. I put the table down right in front of her and held up my finger in the gesture that means, “Hold on a minute.” I then went and got a candle and put it down on the table for her. She clasped her hands together like she was praying and smiled a huge smile at me. Her face was aglow with gratitude.

Later I was out near the front doors saying goodnight to people and this woman found me and thanked me profusely for the special treatment. She gave me a side-hug and put a 5 dollar bill in my shirt pocket. I was so touched. That wasn’t the biggest tip I’ve ever received there, but it may have been the most heartfelt one.

One night we had a blind man with a guide dog come in for the concert. I walked them into the venue and found a logical place for them to enjoy the show where the dog could lay down and not be underfoot. That dog was so chill. I’ve worked with dozens, if not hundreds, of dogs in my life. I used to run a non-profit dog rescue so I’m quite familiar. Most dogs I’ve ever had were agitated by loud noises, in particular fireworks and gunshots and thunder. But a loud rock concert could certainly be included in that group of relatively unpleasant experience for a canine ‘fan’. This dog was right at home watching all the people walk around him and ignoring the raucous rock music. This little guy didn’t even have earplugs.

Later on in the evening a female friend of the blind man asked me to come over. The man was hoping to step outside and get some fresh air and take a break from the concert. We left the dog under the charge of the woman and exited the venue. This man grabbed my shoulder and let me lead him through the crowd and out to the sidewalk. He told me about how he traveled here from Eugene for this show and how much he loves this band and Portland in general. We, of course, talked about how great his service dog was to be so calm in a noisy rock concert. We walked the block several times, with him still gripping my shoulder as I steered him around obstacles and homeless people. Observers would probably think that this man was my Dad.

It’s these little connections that make my job so unique. I spent a good 20 minutes with this man, and I’ll never see him again. But he trusted me completely and we talked and bonded on music and animals and life in general. Later I helped him call a cab and watched him and his service dog hop in the car to go back to their hotel. Everybody knows when you lose one sense, the other ones get stronger. Being a blind man, I guarantee he heard that concert more acutely than I’ve ever heard a concert. I’m actually a bit envious of how he experienced and heard this show. And I really wish I could talk to his dog and ask him what he thought of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am the wristband concierge

Sometimes one of the music venues that I work security at contracts with an outside promoter. This promoter sets up shows with some national touring acts a handful of times throughout the year. These shows are sponsored by an energy drink. This sickeningly sweet beverage perhaps rhymes with the word Dreadful.

The thing about these shows is that everybody on staff hates them because of the terrible way they are set up. I honestly can’t understand why they do it this way. It is always a shit-show. We are left with a ton of unsatisfied people who make the night unpleasant for everyone involved. These dreadful events meet all the criteria for the term ‘clusterfuck’.

Normal ticket prices for concerts at this venue run anywhere from $10 to $30 on a regular night, depending on the acts. We have a 300 person capacity venue, so shows here sell out pretty regularly. For this dreadful event, they pre-sell reservations online for tickets for only $3. This ensures that way too many people will show up than will actually get in. A line will run down the side of our building and around the corner in front of another business. People will stand in this line for hours. They sell more than 300 RSVP tickets to this show, so this is technically intentionally overselling an event.

They hired two sexy women who barely looked 21 to walk around with little sponsor backpacks full of these energy drinks. I carded them even after the first door guy did because I just didn’t think they were 21. Either they actually were 21, or they had immaculate fake IDs. They actually had trouble giving away their little cans of dreadful, so they left a ton of them back in our kitchen area. I think I drank one and took one for another time. I need all the caffeine I can get tonight.

On a normal night, we have 3-4 security staff working the event. One person works the door checking IDs and assessing people for being too intoxicated. Another person scans the concert tickets and stamps your wrists. Another person sits in the venue at the curtain doing crowd control and checking for wristbands granting access to the green room. Another person is the rover, and they check the patio and perimeter and help the other staff as needed.

But on this night, we would have all security staff on shift. Maybe 5-6 people. I was given a brand new job just for this event. My job is to take the wristbands given to each person at the box office and affix them to your wrists as I attempt to explain the batshit crazy way this event works. And monitor admission numbers with the clicker. If you get all the way up to me and get a wristband from the box office, you’ve won. You already paid the measly $3 to reserve your ticket at the box office. And if you got in line hours early, you were one of the first 300 people to get processed. You were then able to pay the remainder of the ticket price to get your actual ticket, which in this case was the all-holy green wristband. Maybe $8-12 more dollars.

You can already see the flaw in this plan, can’t you? If you happen to be behind the 300th person in line, you don’t get a ticket/wristband. Even though you already paid the $3 online to reserve your spot. And after you already waited in that goddammed line for hours. So you lose that $3, you waste hours of your time, and you are extra pissed off because paying the money online sort of convinced you that you got a spot.

There’s an art to affixing those wristbands to 300 people’s wrists. They want one person to do it all so it’s uniform. You want it on the same wrist, not too tight but not too loose. The first few times I did it I sort of fumbled with it and made small talk about which band they were most excited to see. But I quickly got the hang of it and was putting those wristbands on people’s wrists without leaving any exposed sticky parts to pull on their arm hair. I got my technique down and everything. One guy appreciated my helpfulness in answering his questions and getting the wristband on so quickly. He said, “Tonight you are the wristband concierge.” I grinned at him and said, “Indeed I am.”

As my clicker nears the number 300, we walk out to the expectant faces in the line and tell them that we are 20 tickets away from being sold out. We count back 20 people and tell everybody else that they are essentially shit out of luck and should go home. Of course now we have a ton of disappointed angry people who then try to get in the bar to drink their sorrows away, and perhaps try to sneak past all of us to get into the venue. And everybody wants to argue with me about how the system is flawed and they deserve to get in. Some people try to buy their way in by offering me the ticket cost in cash. Some people just linger outside the doorway thinking that we just made that up and that somehow miraculously the venue will expand in size, adding 45 more tickets that we can sell. I’ve been telling people ‘no’ all night, and now my skills of telling people ‘no’ are activated at the highest level. And I’m apologizing for the fracas on behalf of a company that intentionally set this shit-show up this way.

Due to the over-capacity crowd in the venue, and the massive crowd of disgruntled people trying to get in the bar/restaurant section, we did something I haven’t done before at this venue. We stopped letting people in all together. We stood at the doors and told people that we are over capacity in both the venue and the bar, so nobody can come in right now. People just don’t compute that. They try to beg, bribe, and argue their way in. Some entitled assholes just act like they can’t hear me and try to walk around me. I put my hand on their arm and speak again directly to them in my loudest angry voice. “We are over-capacity and not letting anyone in. At all. You need to go somewhere else.”

I continue to tell people various forms of ‘no’. I don’t think I’ve ever told people ‘no’ so many times in one night.

“No there are no more tickets to the show.”

“No there is no guest list with your name on it.”

“No you can’t buy a ticket from me.”

“No you can’t come in to use the bathroom.”

“No you can’t come in the bar.”

“No you can’t come in if one person leaves.”

“No you can’t just go look in the venue.”

“No you can’t order food, the kitchen has dozens of active food orders.”

“No you can’t talk to a manager right now.”

One very attractive young woman was trying her best to flutter her eyelashes and stand really close to me and sweet-talk her way in to the show with her two friends. Numerous polite but firm ‘nos’ were given to her. She left for a while and then came back with a ripped up green wristband on her wrist. She talked somebody who was leaving the concert into removing their wristband and giving it to her. This is ticket-clipping, done by snowboarders and festival goers since the dawn of time. What this woman didn’t know was that I was the wristband concierge, and had personally attached all 300 of the wristbands to everybody here tonight. Also, the wristband was barely staying together on her wrist, as it had been cut. She was trying to hold it together under her coat sleeve. I told her I knew exactly what she just did and that I did not put that wristband on her. And that now she needed to leave.

The stupidity continues even in the venue. The energy drink sponsor set up a drink special where their product is used as the main ingredient/mixer. Bartenders were instructed not to pour the entire can into the drink and then recycle it, like they would normally. They were supposed to pour most of the can into the drink, add the hard liquor, and then give the drink cup and the little can of dreadful to the customer. The can only had a few ounces of sugary caffeinated liquid left in it. I later found out the strategy behind this. They wanted every photo taken to have a huge crowd of people with every single person holding a can of dreadful. Product placement at it’s finest.

The problem was, people don’t like to carry around a drink in both hands for very long. Double-fisting gets old fast. So they would primarily just leave the can of dreadful somewhere. On the side of the stage, the tables, guard rails, the floor. These cans get knocked over or fall off their perch, and the sticky yellow liquid gets all over the concrete floor. All night long. After hundreds of drinks being served like this, and several hours of this happening, the floor was universally covered in a sticky film of sugar, taurine,  and B-vitamin juice. If caffeine had a smell, the place would have been a hotbox of dreadful stank. When your shoes stick to the concrete floor with every step, it makes dancing and walking around distracting and troublesome.

And just when I thought this entire thing couldn’t get any worse….
The headlining band shot off a bunch of confetti at the end of their set. This confetti all inevitably landed on the floor. The floor that was covered in a centimeter of yellow energy drink paste and alcohol. Now we have thousands of little bits of paper landing in the sticky swamp. Genius. Maybe this is how you make napalm. And maybe that’s the solution tonight. I’m just glad that mopping up the venue floor does not fall under my job description. After tonight I need a drink. However I don’t think I want to drink a little can of dreadful ever again.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll gladly enter The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil is my kind of horror movie. Because it is one giant homage to classic horror films of the 70’s and 80’s. A slow burn to a riveting nightmare finale.

The House of the Devil came out in 2009. Seeing it in theaters made me feel like a kid again, sneaking out to watch scary movies on my parent’s TV in the wee hours of the night. Everything from the songs they chose to the slow pacing brought me back. Even the poster art evokes classic haunted house films from the 70’s and 80’s.

 

I am, of course, a huge horror fan. Analyzing the films that I deem ‘the best’, it’s clear that I love the slow build. Most of the films I cite as the best horror films are from the 70’s and 80’s. They do not use CGI. They use practical in-camera effects. They actually let you get to know the characters so you care about them when they are in peril. They don’t go for predictable and trite jump scares every 10 minutes. They use unique orchestral music on the score, and/or perfect songs from the time. They have a psychological factor that makes things even more disturbing. Think of these films: The Shining, The Omen, The Exorcist, Halloween, The Fog, The Burning, Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thing.

So Ti West must share my love of these films, because he made a film that takes everything from these movies and recreates them in 2009. From the opening credits you know that this movie is a throwback retro experience. Even the grain of the film and slightly faded-out daytime shots feel like they were shot on 35mm film stock from 1978. Apparently he actually shot in on 16mm to give it that dated and grainy look. Nothing digital on this movie. The fonts even look like horror films of the 70’s, as do the almost random freeze-frames during the credit sequence.

The plot is simple, as it should be. A poor college student takes a babysitting job to get money to move into her new apartment. She arrives at the creepy house and makes some demonic discoveries. The plot is pretty much a collection of any horror film’s generic tropes. The plot isn’t what matters, it’s the mood and the building of creepy tension. After they show you a particularly graphic and surprising bit of gory violence, you are then always on edge. Waiting for the next one. You now know what the film is capable of. So any scene of the heroine walking around the house is fraught with danger and anxiety.

The lead actress is perfectly cast. A pretty brunette actress named Jocelyn Donahue. I have to say, her features reminded me of several classic 70’s horror movie heroines. Check out photos of Margot Kidder from The Amityville Horror, Barbara Hershey from The Entity, and Jessica Harper from Suspiria. I’m not saying that the director intentionally cast Jocelyn because she might remind people of these actresses, but it sure did make me think of those characters. And also Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween. All women were attractive, slender, and portrayed vulnerability and terror very well.

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I love when a film chooses songs that I have a personal connection with and that bring me right back to that time in my life. This film nailed that. The first song we hear is an instrumental that made me think of The Car’s song, “Moving in Stereo”. It isn’t that song, but the chord progression and eerie vibe of it is strangely similar. The next song used is Greg Kihn’s song “The Break Up Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)”. Then they really got me by using a lesser-known favorite of mine by Thomas Dolby called “One of Our Submarines”.

One of our submarines is missing tonight
Seems she ran aground on maneuvers

Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye
Shallow water – channel and tide”

All of these songs have an eerie mood to them, or at least a memorable minor chord structure. Then the song they play while our heroine dances around the creepy house is the classic 80’s song from The Fixx, “One Thing Leads to Another.” This places the film’s events in 1983 based on that song’s release date. (The date is never given in the film) And all of these classics place me in middle school. The Walkman that she listens to in the movie was possibly the exact model that I also had in the 80’s.

Another excellent casting choice is Tom Noonan as Mr. Ulman, the man who hires our protagonist for the babysitting job. For me, I will always think of Tom Noonan’s very unsettling performance as The Tooth Fairy serial killer in Michael Mann’s amazing 1986 film, Manhunter. His tall frame and calculated manner of speaking just add to his oddness. He uses a cane with a metal eagle handle, which may or may not be a tip of the hat to Angel Heart, where Robert DeNiro has a very similar cane. And that character was indeed, the devil himself.

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This film truly takes it’s time with the story development, and reminds me a lot of another 70’s horror classic, Burnt Offerings. This is a 1976 haunted house movie starring the great Oliver Reed and Karen Black. One of the agreements they make, just like in The House of the Devil, is to be there to take care of the mother upstairs. This person may exist, they may not exist, they may be something else entirely. But the caretaking of an unseen person (force) in the house is done well in both films. And Karen Black also fits the requirement of being a slender brunette heroine. I used to watch Burnt Offerings anytime it came on. It was a rare horror film that was rated PG so it could be shown uncut on network TV. I am certain director Ti West watched it as well, as the similarities are myriad. Or to reference The Exorcist, the similarities are legion.

It isn’t giving away any spoilers to say that this film has something to do with Satanic cults. The preface of the film talks of how a majority of American citizens in the 80’s believed in abusive Satanic cults, and how this film is based on true events. So comparisons to another lesser-known 1971 horror film called The Mephisto Waltz are appropriate. That film starred Jacqueline Bisset and Alan Alda, and I also would watch this on TV whenever it came on. The poster had a naked Jacqueline Bisset drawing a Satanic pentagram on the floor. This film, along with Rosemary’s Baby, dealt with Satanists in mainstream cinema, and also treated them as ordinary regular likable people instead of ridiculous cartoon characters. Perhaps normalizing them makes them even scarier.

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The whole Satanic cult theme even resonated with me, as I read several books about this phenomenon during the 80’s. I remember sort of hiding them because I didn’t want my parents or anybody thinking that I was into Satanism or anything. One book was called “Say You Love Satan” and another was called “Devil’s Child.” I had these books on my secret bookshelf so as not to draw attention. I was fascinated by the topic, and loved reading horror stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Clive Barker and others. I was a huge fan of heavy metal, and followed the silly lawsuits against artists like Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne. The PMRC was trying to ban or label musical works that they deemed offensive. I became a huge fan of Slayer, with “South of Heaven” being my favorite album from them. I even read some books by Anton Szandor LaVey, the founder of the Church Of Satan. Satanism is hugely misunderstood, and was basically an invention in San Francisco created to piss off religious people. The core of Satanism is to reject any religious dogma, and believe in personal power instead. So a 70’s throwback horror film dealing with a Satanic cult? Sign me up.

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Not to oversell it, but the climax of this film is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. After a long tense build, when the film finally opens up the gates it’s a bloody nightmare. Our heroine  escapes from a Satanic ritual and engages in battle with numerous things in the house. A lunar eclipse occurs while all hell breaks loose. She is wearing white shroud that gets covered with blood, evoking memories of Sissy Spacek from Carrie. Mrs Ulman reminds me of Billie Whitelaw’s evil nanny character from the original film The Omen. Some musical cues sound like they are straight out of The Shining. She wields a kitchen knife up elaborate wooden stairs, which is reminiscent of Psycho, Halloween, and Suspiria. I don’t believe any of these directorial choices are accidental. The filmmakers want us to be thinking of all these other classic horror films as we watch this one. You’ve gotta know your history. The final 20 minutes of this movie is a horror fan’s dream come true.

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I guarantee that some people will dislike this film and call it boring. They are probably more suited to hyper-edited manic horror films with killings and maimings every 8 minutes like clockwork. I would even surmise that people 21 and under won’t like this film because of the films they’ve been raised on. But people 21 and over will probably enjoy this film for its loving embrace of the tenets of 70’s and 80’s horror cinema. For me, this film delivers everything that I want out of a horror film. I’ll gladly enter the House of the Devil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Lace Sleeves

Sometimes there is a song that just gets to you at the right moment in your life. Then it sticks in your subconscious and kicks around in your brain for a few decades. Always striking you like it did the first time you heard it. It’s lasting power means that it never sounds dated or “of it’s time”. It just sounds perfect to you, forever.

I have a theory that the songs you listen to when you hit puberty imprint upon you in a special way, deeper and stronger than other times in your life. You move from being a child to being an adult. Your brain is awakening, your body is changing, your hormones and body chemistry are raging. You’re thinking about sex all the time. Song lyrics and feelings hit you hard. Those songs stick with you your entire life in a personal and special way. But that is a topic for a completely different blog.

This blog is about the Elvis Costello song “New Lace Sleeves.”  I first heard this moody song when I saw the video around age 11. Yup, puberty.

I almost switched the channel when I saw a black and white music video start up with musicians who looked like they were in bands from the 50’s or 60’s. But I stuck it out. Close ups of the musicians playing their instruments, and lyrics like I had never heard before kept me hooked. The singer was wearing a suit but was actually pretty nerdy. Reminded me of Buddy Holly with his machinist sunglasses that he kept peeking up over the top of. Gap-toothed and slight, he didn’t strike me as a lead singer of a band. But damn, was I wrong.

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The video starts with a cool shuffle beat on the drums. This was before I had started playing drums myself, but even as a kid I appreciated the odd gallop of the hi-hat and snare drum. It definitely wasn’t a generic four on the floor beat like I was used to hearing. Then a close up of Elvis playing just one string of his Gretsch guitar. Then a pretty badass bass line comes in, followed by haunting keyboards and piano. The balance is perfect, with everything sitting where is should in the mix. And then the vocals come in. And it was all over from there.

Bad lovers face to face in the morning with
Shy apologies and polite regrets
Slow dances that left no warning of
Outraged glances and indiscreet yawning
Good manners and bad breath get you nowhere
Even Presidents have newspaper lovers
Ministers go crawling under covers

That’s poetry. Some of these lyrics remind me of the great Charles Bukowski. These lines struck me as so profound that I sang along to them over and over again. I was happily surprised to find a lyricist that wasn’t just singing cliché after cliché in simple rhyming patterns. Even his phrasing was unusual to me. Stretching out short words like “Even”, and using vocabulary words not often found in pop songs. He’s almost crooning like Sinatra. I thought he said “Irish glasses” when he in fact says “Outraged glances”. It’s not about getting drunk, but is about awkward interpersonal communication. Listen to the note he chooses when singing “Even ministers go crawling under co-VERS.” It wasn’t until many years later that I would understand his words about the awkwardness of morning-after small talk with someone who you just slept with.

She’s no angel
He’s no saint
They’re all covered up with white wash and grease paint
When you say
The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies that you believe
Oh you know you have been captured
You feel so civilized
And you look so pretty in your new lace sleeves

Here’s my favorite part of the song. I’ve recited this clever lyrical passage countless times. And I can always picture Elvis holding up his hand and wiggling his fingers when he sings, “With their continental fingers that have never seen working blisters.”  This is class envy of the beautiful people, mixed with judgment and derision for them. But he still wishes to be in their circle, or at least be around them. The unattainable women.

The salty lips of the socialite sisters
With their continental fingers that have
Never seen working blisters
Oh, I know they’ve got their problems
I wish I was one of them
They say Daddy’s coming home soon
With his Sergeant stripes
And his Empire mug and spoon

I always thought that he said, “They say that he’s coming home soon.” Which I interpreted to mean that the woman who Elvis just slept with has a husband and he will return soon. Turns out he’s talking about a father returning from the war. Empire mug and spoon is the standard issue gear given to soldiers. The majority of the song is about post-war adjustment and aimlessness.

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No more fast buck
And when are they gonna learn their lesson?
When are they gonna stop all of these victory processions?
You say
The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies that you believe
Oh you know you have been captured
You feel so civilized
And you look so pretty in your new lace sleeves

These lyrics moved me with their originality and ambiguous/confusing content. I had to figure this song out, and live it. I found my tape recorder and recorded the song the next time it came on. This was way before the days of being able to just google any song to find the lyrics. Hell, this was before the internet existed. If the band didn’t print the lyrics in the sleeve of their record, you really had no way of accurately determining what was actually being sung. Best-guess. I played the song over and over again, line by line, and guessed at what the lyrics were. I scribbled down the entire song this way in pencil. Then I would sing along and memorize the lyrics I had deciphered. Years later I learned how wrong I was on some of the lines.

“Even Presidents have newspaper lovers.” What the hell? I had to look that up. Silly little 11-year-old that I was. I also swore that when he said “No more fast buck,” it was really “No more fast fuck.” I don’t know why I thought that, because that doesn’t really make sense. But in the video his mouth movement doesn’t quite match up with the audio. I thought that could’ve been intentional as a distraction. There was so much sultry singing with abstract lyrics that I convinced myself he had somehow gotten away with dropping the f-bomb on daytime cable television. For all I knew, he was talking about a quickie with someone in a back alley. Wishful thinking, maybe.

There’s no cheesy conceptual distraction in this video, which I greatly appreciated. It leaves the imagery and interpretation of the lyrics up to you. It’s just the four men playing their instruments, and Elvis looking directly at the camera as he sings. Cigarette smoke rises endlessly from the ash tray on the piano behind him. There’s certainly no sexy woman wearing lace sleeves, old or new.  They probably got this video in 2-3 takes. Elvis’s voice is striking and unique. At times smooth and silky, other times slightly nasal and borderline congested. But it works. I love his voice. His phrasing of intelligent and unusual lyrics has influenced me to this day in my own lyric writing. Elvis is the man.

This song is found on the 1981 album TRUST from Elvis Costello and the Attractions. I’ve delved through lots of his other music since then. I’m a huge fan of “Watching the Detectives” (which is a karaoke staple of mine), “I Want You”, “Radio, Radio”, “Alison”, and many others. But no song gets me like “New Lace Sleeves” does. Every time. I feel like I’m eleven years old again. Sucked in and mystified by how good a song can be.

Watch the video here:

New Lace Sleeves

TRUST album cover