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45 at 33: Elvis Costello’s Veronica

Veronica’s story deserves to be told, and Elvis Costello does so with grace and passion. Inspired by his own grandmother, the deeply personal performance from the Twickenham-raised rebel who articulated the angst of a generation is rich with genuine emotion about an elderly lady suffering from dementia. And it‘s a corker.

The veritable Veronica was the first fruit of a batch of songs Costello co-wrote with wacky Macca thumbs aloft himself, Paul McCartney, toward the end of the 1980s. Some appeared on McCartney’s 1989 album Flowers In The Dirt, while others were on Costello’s splendid Spike earlier that year (that’ll be the one with the Thatcher-baiting Tramp The Dirt Down then), and, following in 1991, the far angrier Mighty Like A Rose.

A highlight of Spike, Veronica became Costello’s biggest mainstream hit in the US by far, reaching No. 19 on the American Billboard Hot 100, though stalling a lowly 31 on British soil in mid March 1989.

The video, co-directed by John Hellcoat and Evan English, even earned an MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video.

Over an intrusive drum track that sounds like someone banging on a Tupperware box, parts of Veronica are sunny and upbeat, as much a celebration of life as it’s a portrait of a woman lost in her own mind. He portrays Veronica as suddenly having vivid flashes of memory amidst the fog, singing with wrenching emotion, “She spoke his name out loud again!” as a newspaper photo suddenly triggers the memory of an old love that lifts from the depths of her mind like a bubble rising to the surface of a pond and popping into the air.

In other words, if I can paraphrase his hero Frank Sinatra, her story is not too sad to be told.

We can only hope our own stories will be told so well, sometime.

Steve Pafford

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