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Complicated Shadows: The Life And Music Of Elvis Costello [Paperback]

Graeme Thomson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 July 2005
Complicated Shadows paints a detailed and accurate portrait of an intensely private and complex individual. It draws on nearly 50 exclusive interviews with schoolmates, pre-fame friends, early band members, journalists as well as members of The Attractions, producers, collaborators and musicians from all stages of his life and career. Thomson also unearths many previously unknown details about Costello's early years and his personal life, as well as examining his entire musical output using the recollections of those who were there at the time, the majority of whom have never talked on the subject before.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 1448 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; New edition edition (18 July 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841956651
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841956657
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 168,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Graeme Thomson is the author of several books. UNDER THE IVY: THE LIFE & MUSIC OF KATE BUSH (Omnibus, 2010) was described by The Irish Times as "the best music biography in perhaps the past decade" and by MOJO as "superb". Record Collector called I SHOT A MAN IN RENO (Bloomsbury, 2008) "one of the most informative and fulfilling music books you're ever likely to read."

BEHIND THE LOCKED DOOR, his definitive biography of George Harrison, will be published in the autumn of 2013:

Graeme Thomson has written for the Observer, New Statesman, Oxford American, the Telegraph, Time Out, MOJO and Rolling Stone, and contributes regularly to the Guardian, Uncut, the Herald and The Arts Desk. He lives with his family in Edinburgh.

"The best music biography in perhaps the past decade... an absorbing, painstakingly researched and downright fascinating book" - Irish Times

"Superb .... A compelling examination of an artist in a constant state of becoming - Mojo

"Respectful, fascinating and full of insight" - Q

"A masterful biography. Thomson's descriptive language is gorgeous" - The Word

"Sheds a light on the women behind the inspiration of many a modern-day chanteuse - NME

"That rarest of rock & roll studies: expertly researched, restrained yet stylish, and in perfect tune with its subject's work" - Austin Chronicle

"Those with even a remote interest in rock music of the past 30 years will find his book utterly mesmerizing" - Library Journal

"A vital read ... Thomson here returns one of rock's most elusive figures to flesh and blood ... Definitive." - Uncut
"Brilliantly written . . . in the absence of Elvis Costello putting pen to paper himself, this is far and away the next best thing." - Record Collector

"Better musical surveys are hard to find, and the results are positively life-affirming." - Paste

"Its contents more than live up to the billing.... a rich and masterful read." - The Word

"Shows an electric ability to craft delectable imagery with informative reporting..... Dude knows the best musical death trips!" - KEXP, Best Books of 2008

"An essential volume for anyone interested in pop as an all-pervasive social force that soundtracks our lives right up to our last breath.... One of the most informative and fulfilling music books you're ever likely to read" - Record Collector

"A wildly cheering history of the subject of death in popular song." - Observer, Best Music Books of 2008

"An excellent biography. Thomson is too shrewd a biographer to take [Nelson] at his own estimation." - Paul Du Noyer, The Word

"Thomson tells the Nelson story with incision and insight. Sharp writing, astute observation and a wry attitude .... make for a lively read and a vivid portrait of an often baffling talent. Recommended." - Neil Spencer, Observer Music Monthly

Product Description


"Brilliantly written... in the absence of Elvis Costello putting pen to paper himself, this is far and away the next best thing." Record Collector; "A substantive record of the man's energy and brilliance after nearly 30 years of standing up when we might have expected him to be falling down." Observer; "A cracker... meticulously researched and fluently told." Observer Music Monthly; "Thomson's pop scholarship is strong: he has gone deep into the archives and immersed himself in the music." Guardian; "As believable and fair a picture of the man himself as I suspect is actually possible. He'll not like it though." Herald; "Vital" Uncut"

About the Author

Graeme Thomson is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to several publications, including MOJO, the Herald, the Observer Sports Monthly, Four Four Two and Maxim. His work also features in the books The MOJO Collection and Ten: The Best of The OSM's Tens.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a great book 10 Oct 2004
I've read all the other costello biogs and they've ranged from OK (Hinton) to terrible (Clayotn Lea).
But this is a must buy for all EC fans and all serious music fans. really well written, brillianytly researched and packed with great moments, it is a full picture of Costello as we have never seen him before.
He doesn;t come out of it as a very nice man, but Thompson makes sure we all know that his music outshines his personality. A great book, adn one that I've returned to twice in the few weeks I've had it.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent musical biography 25 April 2007
My brother bought me this for Christmas, remembering the shared passion we had for EC in the late 70's / early 80's. At that time, we'd both read Krista Reese's book, which was one of the first attempts at a biography. Written during a period when EC's air of mystery and antagonism didn't allow him to talk to journalists, she did a pretty good job considering how little cooperation she got from her subject. For example, his manager wrote trying to persuade her not to write anything at all; characteristically, the letter ended, "Thank you for including your address. If this matter goes any further I shall pop in for a visit the next time I am in New York." Nothing daunted, she published the book and included the letter as a frontispiece.

Although EC has mellowed somewhat with age, cooperation is just as sparse this time round, but that hasn't stopped Thomson from writing an excellent biography. This is partly due to the fact that his subject remains fascinating: the fearsome work ethic, the struggle to break through, the way in which fame was handled, his relationships with women, the wide-ranging musical interests and the variety of collaborations. But, of course, the main thing is always the music. Here, I'd rate at least three of his albums as totally essential, but the fact that they have widely different styles (they're "This Year's Model", "Imperial Bedroom" and "Painted From Memory") indicates the breadth of his application.

Also, Thomson is a good writer, well above the usual hack standard that seems prevalent for this sort of book. He even manages to incorporate a couple of Jamesian turns of phrase: "By the time they returned, [...
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still many shadows in a complicated character. 22 July 2007
A long-time fan of EC, but with heavy reading commitments, I finally found the time to read this acclaimed bio - and devoured it. Thomson faced a difficult task here, chasing the hyperactive Costello from tour to studio and back again - often several times in one year. The book is certainly well-researched and comprehensive. It's therefore a must-read for every EC fan. The atmosphere of the early tours is evoked, the complicated relationships between band members well-covered, and the reflexions on EC's music and its development are interesting and perspicacious. I have one major reservation: that the insistence on facts and detail (e.g. the precise sets played at almost every concert) end up by giving the impression that we know everything EC has done, but we're still not quite sure who he is, in particular outside his immediate relations with his musicians. There are hints here and there (EC is a movie buff, he reads lots of books...) but they are no more than that. There is not as much on the character of the man and his motivations, nor on the private Elvis - or Declan - here, as one might have hoped, and which could have shed more light on the music, and on his songwriting in particular. It's true that he is a very private man, but then he has given many interviews, which I don't think are sufficiently exploited here. So overall: a good musical biography and wealth of information, but paradoxically a little lacking on the man himself.
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