I am listening to Elvis Costello cover Van Morrison’s ‘Full Force Gale’. We were neighbours, briefly. For four years I lived at 55th Street and 5th Avenue. If you drew a cross through a tourist map of Manhattan, my building would be roughly at the centre. It was a terrible place to live, though it took me a while to realise this. I was a couple of blocks from Tiffany’s and directly upstairs from the Manolo Blahnik store, but I had to schlep to Ninth to buy groceries. There was no such thing as a neighbourhood restaurant, though L’Espinasse and La Caravelle were just steps away, as the brochures say. Every subway stopped near my apartment, which was just as well since I had to take one to get to almost anywhere I wanted to be.
‘But the park!’ I used to witter. ‘We’re right by Central Park! And people love it when they come to stay; we’re smack in midtown.’ Except they didn’t, really. They thought we were weird for living in Touristland in an apartment with no natural light. With no daylight, I could barely get out of bed before 10 am.
It had its compensations. Sharing a block with Prada meant excellent celebrity spotting opportunities. Nicole Kidman is astonishingly beautiful. So is Salma Hayek, though she’s about 12 inches high. Heather Locklear has a lollipop head on a child’s body and looks too cheesy for New York. Goldie is raddled in the flesh; not holding up as well as Warren (very tall). Edward Norton wears grey sweats and runs a lot faster than me. Quentin Tarantino’s chin needs its own zip code. Claire Danes doesn’t wash her hair much. Et cetera.
For several months, when he was making Painted From Memory with Burt Bachrach, Elvis Costello lived on my block. He may have lived at the Shoreham hotel, which is not a bad choice if you can’t live in Brooklyn. I used to see him regularly in the dingy little liquor store on 55th. Two customers could just about fit in at once. Elvis always wore his hat and glasses, and usually stuttered a request for a bottle of Veuve. They didn’t sell anything better than the Orange Label stuff, but I was pleased he had a champagne lifestyle all the same.
I was careful not to look at him. I had just moved to New York, and was more or less a shut-in while waiting for a work permit. That might be why I was too shy to say hello. These days I’d buttonhole him, back him into the corner by the cooler full of cheap wine.
‘Elvis,’ I’d say smoothly, ‘Or should I call you Declan, since you’re as Irish as meself?’ (Too much? Lay off the brogue? After all, he sounds more South London than anything else these days.) ‘I’m a great fan of your music. The Brodsky Quartet effort was dodgy, but otherwise a splendid collection. And I loved your list of essential albums. Though I cant remember any just now.
I’d drop a few obscure track names, just to make sure he knew I wasn’t some fly-by-night who recognized him from Austin Powers. I’d tell him about the better liquor store that delivers, over on 57th. He’d be shy and embarrassed, but flattered too. He’d invite me over to the Shoreham for a glass of champagne. We’d chat about Burt Bachrach: did Dusty Springfield do the definitive Bachrach interpretations, or was it Dionne Warwick? (Dus-ty! Dus-ty!) We’d debate William Blake and Patrick Kavanagh. As we finish the second bottle, I’d assure him he was well rid of Cáit O’Ríordáin.
(At this point in the original daydream, Elvis would confide that he and Diana Krall had just broken up. Shortly afterwards, he writes a Grammy-winning song called Dervala, favourably compared to the earlier Veronica. I play tambourine and sing backing vocals and the roadies are forbidden from sneering in my presence. He gets his teeth fixed and we toast our wedding with crates of Veuve Clicquot.
Then I Googled him to look for that list of 500 essential albums and realized that, well, hes not my type. So we remain friends. I am glad he has found love with Diana. But Elvis, you can still write songs about me if you like. As long as I get to play the tambourine.)