Skip to main content
Musician Elvis Costello

A Pub Rocker and Pop Songwriter on Their New Collaboration

Musicians Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello join us to talk about their new collaborative album, "Painted From Memory." (Mercury) The two have been working together for nearly two years, beginning with the Grammy-nominated single "God Give Me Strength" (from the film "Grace of my Heart"), included on this album. Singer-songwriter Elvis Costello has recorded over 17 albums in his 25 year career. Composer Burt Bachrach is said to have revolutionized the sound of the sixties, with dozens of top ten hits, several Grammys and Academy Awards.


Other segments from the episode on December 23, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 23, 1998: Interview with Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello; Review of the ten best books of 1998.


Date: DECEMBER 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122301np.217
Head: Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach would have been unlikely collaborators in the '70's when Bacharach was famous for his harmonically and rhythmically complex, highly orchestrated pop songs. And newcomer Costello was performing unpolished, high-energy pub rock. This unlikely duo was formed three years ago when they were asked to co-write a song for the film "Grace of My Heart."

They continued to write songs together, and now have a CD featuring the results. It's called "Painted From Memory." Costello sings with Bacharach conducting the orchestra and playing piano. There's also a new Burt Bacharach box set that includes the songs he's best known for such as "The Look of Love," "Walk on By," "Anyone Who Had A Heart," "I Say A Little Prayer," and "Alfie."

Before we meet Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello, let's hear their song "In the Darkest Place" from their new CD.


In the darkest place
I know that is where you'll find it
Even though you didn't have to remind me
I shut out the lights

Your eyes adjust
They'll never be the same
You know I love you so
Let's start again

Since you put me down

GROSS: Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello welcome to FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Who did what on that song?



Elvis played the piano, and we split the girls' part at the end.

GROSS: I meant in the composing.

BACHARACH: We shared it, you know.

COSTELLO: Like most of the songs. I think there's a couple on the record that I wrote most of the music just because one of us would propose the opening of a song, and if there was nothing to add -- there's no point -- if something's beautiful the way it is. But most of the songs were like a dialogue in music, I think. Isn't that correct, Burt?



GROSS: So, where did "In The Darkest Place" start?

BACHARACH: It started really with -- Elvis had the first six bars or something. In the darkest place...

COSTELLO: ...yeah. I know there's a tape of me on the plane like talking into a -- I think I was flying out to see you, and get started on one of these things. You know that when you get the noise of the plane in the background, and there's this, like, voice going, in the darkest place.

Just the littlest outline of the melody, you know. And then I developed it and played to Burt, and whatever came next is what you suggested.

BACHARACH: Yes, probably six bars, seven bars of that original verse, and then it branches off into a B section then comes back to the six bars that initiate it. You know, it's just like a stockpiling that song basically -- I would write something, then we connected, you know.

GROSS: Now, I know for "God Give Me Strength" you both worked through fax machines and phone answering machines. You weren't in the same room together ever while writing that. Did your collaborative style change and evolve for the new CD when you were writing a whole bunch of songs together?

BACHARACH: Well, certainly the situation now of being in the same room together and being able to know one another, and being able to be verbal about, "I don't like that as much as I like this." Or, "I don't like that at all." Or, "I'll just try it this way." You know, you're kind of walking on eggshells with a five day time period to get everything done on that first song, "God Give Me Strength."

And not being in the same room, in different countries, and tentative about it, you know. You know, it's like that first date. You're super careful in what -- you don't want to offend the other person, and you don't want to be offended yourself.

GROSS: Elvis Costello, what have you learned from working with Burt Bacharach about the construction of songs, about harmonics, and metre and all of that?

COSTELLO: Well, I -- obviously, you have different dispositions about harmony, and also, I mean, I've always been intrigued by Burt's use of uneven metre and I can't say I've imitated, but I've found myself doing it. I think if you're not an overly schooled musician you might do it in a very natural way, and I think the reason that those odd bars now and again in Burt's compositions work so effectively is because they're never done with self-consciousness. They're done to enhance the naturalistic way in which people express themselves.

I think it mirrors the way we speak or the way we think, and even -- phrases we don't think all exactly in 4/4. And therefore, you know, we confide and then we suddenly blurt something out. But I think that that's where the pressure lies in his compositions.

BACHARACH: I've tried to never do it for a fact. Sometimes I get a little bit perplexed when I try to write it down, and suddenly realize, my God, it's a 7/8 bar.

COSTELLO: When we perform "Anyone Have A Heart" I never think twice about what it is. I mean, we've been performing some of Burt's songs that -- and there are some aspects -- "My Thief" has a bar of 5/4 in the first verse. In each, you know, in each of the opening verse. It never -- it doesn't seem unnatural.

BACHARACH: Well, we want to not only make it feel natural for you -- the comfort level as songwriters, but also the listening audience out there it's not going to see that as a pimple going by, that 5/4 bar.

COSTELLO: Throw them all another foot. It's not as if we're making dance records, but...

BACHARACH: ...we're not?


We're not? Now you tell me, Elvis.


BACHARACH: You said, come on, we're going -- after "God Gave Me Strength" it will all be like dancing.

GROSS: Well, you know, when I, like, for instance listen to "Promises Promises" I never thought to myself, gee, what a tricky set of signature -- time signature changes. But, on the sheet music, if you look at the sheet music, the line, "Promises, those kinds of promises take all the joy from life."

There's one bar in 3/4 followed by a bar of 4/4 followed by a bar of 6/4 then 3/4 then 3/4 then 4/4 then 6/4. And then "Promises promises my kind of promises." That's 3/4, 3/8, and a 4/8. I mean, who even sees 3/8? So, Burt Bacharach, these kind of shifts just come into your mind and then you write them down and that's when you realize how tricky they are?

BACHARACH: Well, I think it was driven -- yeah, that certainly was driven by the intensity of what that had to say theatrically onstage.

GROSS: Because that was written for the show "Promises Promises."

BACHARACH: Right. So, it had to have a drive of its own. And I heard it, played, and started to notate it, write it down. Oh my goodness, we got a 3/8 bar, and here comes another 3/8 bar. Because it can't be a 6/8 bar, putting the two 3/8 together. It's a 3/8, it's a 3/8, it's a 4/8. And even when I'm doing it like with a symphony orchestra now trying to get them to think -- to add one thing.

Instead of just counting the 3/8, 3/8, 4/8 to hear what the girls are singing or hear the musical content rather than reading those eighth notes, and go "Promises promises and one." So, right there that takes care of your 7/8 bar, you see? "Promises promises and one." But if they don't sing it in their head then -- I mean, the background voices and the strings are playing.

The girls are going "Promises promises." The trumpet players have to come in one beat later. So, it would be, "Promises promises." But if they can hear it in their head, "Promises promises and one." If the count that way it's a breeze. It's simple.

COSTELLO: There's an easy lesson for you.

BACHARACH: Of course a symphony orchestra sometimes would look at me with great dismay and say what is this man saying?

COSTELLO: I mean, this is the kind of stuff that you can everyday work up, you know. Obviously, we -- to go back to your question about harmonics or harmony, I should say. I mean, I've written a good degree of music now, particularly when I've worked with musicians from the classical and jazz field who are more used to the written page. But when it comes to popular song -- of course, working in a rock band you hardly ever write anything down.

Sometimes a string overlay of a rhythm section, but the rhythm section parts -- the chord progressions are very simple, and it would be stupid to write them down. They're too easy to remember. You would inhibit yourself in the communication.

GROSS: But don't you think that orchestration aside, that a lot of rock musicians don't even know most of the chords or many of the chords that Bacharach would use in his compositions? You know, the more complicated jazz chords for instance?

BACHARACH: Very possible.

COSTELLO: Although some of them know -- they don't know them by name or they don't know them instantly. But you do here some very complex things happen in records, they're just not necessarily schooled in that.

GROSS: Right. Right. Right.

BACHARACH: But, you know, the interesting thing for me is the rock musician, and this is a generalization, that have trouble and don't necessarily play that minor second on that chord or don't hear it or don't understand how to hear it enough to play on the guitar or on the keyboard. I find that, like, the same level of not knowing, not being able to translate onto paper what they're playing -- R&B players, it's a different thing.

They go to the minor seconds like it's in their system, in their blood. It's a natural thing, they go into different kinds of loops, both rhythmically and harmonically because it's -- and they may not be able to write it down.

COSTELLO: There's also the other side of it, isn't it, that it can be a loop and you get jazz players who defer to particular intervals that allow them to speak in a language that's understood by other jazz musicians but, you know, you're starting to hear these voicings all the time. And they can't play a plain chord.

It's almost like a heresy to them. There's a little bit of a trap in that only being able to voice in complex harmony and to not see that there is a beautiful thing with just plain harmony, you know.

BACHARACH: I understand that it would have to go to a choice of, do I end it with just a straight C?

GROSS: Well, Burt Bacharach, what influenced you harmonically? What music were you listening to that you think formed your basic, you know, musical harmonic mind?

BACHARACH: I think when I did get interested in music it certainly was the French impressionists Ravel, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff. And suddenly to hear what was going on in the world of jazz opposed to the world of jazz that I knew before, coming from listening to the Dorsey band or Harry James.

Suddenly it opened this giant door, and there was Dizzy Gillespie and Tad Dameron (ph) and Charlie Parker and the Thelonius Monk. It was like another light year away.

GROSS: And why do you think that rather than becoming, say, a bop musician or a bop composer-arranger you went into pop instead?

BACHARACH: Oh, I don't think I would have ever been a good enough jazz pianist and bop pianist. You know, I was influenced by -- but the same reason I never became a serious classical composer starting with Darius Milo (ph) and Henry Carroll (ph). It was a learning process.

I liked the music, appreciated the music. I always felt that if I pursued it, I'd be writing it maybe on a commission from a symphony then I'd hear the work two years later. I'd have to supplement my income by -- or make money teaching at a university. It's a hard road, you know.

I like a nice place to live and I wasn't going to get it that way. I like the comfort level -- and the other thing is I just didn't want to do it enough. There will never be a regret coming from me, you see, where I'll say, oh, God it would have just be different if I'd written that one great Symphony.

Well, that's off the list. That doesn't -- that's just a fabrication in my mind. I have one regret that my mother was so disappointed because Leopold Stakowski (ph) asked me to write a piece years ago. Probably when "Promises Promises" was out there. And I was commissioned by the American Symphony, and they said, we'll premiere it in three years. And I was used to the gratification, you know, of write a song, going to the studio, and make the record. And hear it on the way home or the next morning when you turned on the radio. Three years.

COSTELLO: That's a long time, isn't it?

BACHARACH: A long time. And I took a pass, and I was fine taking a pass on it. But my mother was very disappointed.

GROSS: My guests are Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. Their new CD is called "Painted From Memory." We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guests are Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. Their new CD features songs they co-wrote.

I asked Elvis Costello what he learned from working with you, Burt Bacharach. What did you learn from working with Elvis Costello? Do you feel like you were exposed to any new ideas and new ways of working?

BACHARACH: Well, there's a comfort level working with Elvis because we both share a similar platform which is we care immensely about our work -- obsessive about it. When things aren't working it drives us equally nuts. I've worked with writers that -- you don't treat it light.

I come in at ten in the morning, I work till five and will not think a thing about this piece of music that I'm working on until tomorrow.

COSTELLO: It's impossible.

BACHARACH: When the office hours...

COSTELLO:'s impossible.

BACHARACH: Elvis and I are working, and, you know, it's just double obsession going on -- nighttime, daytime.

COSTELLO: That's the album title. Now you say it.

BACHARACH: Double obsession.

COSTELLO: Double obsession.


GROSS: Well, I hope that the obsession is often along the same lines. Because if you were both obsessing in different directions that would make it difficult.

BACHARACH: No, we just go after what -- to make every cut on this record, everything that we write as good as we can make it. In the writing process, as good is we can make it in the recording studio, and very careful with it. Careful in the sense that not just examining it too closely, but making it really shine through as much as we're capable of. And we're both hard on ourselves.

GROSS: Let me play "God Give Me Strength" which was the song that you first collaborated on for the movie, "Grace of My Heart." And it's the last track on your new CD, "Painted From Memory." Do you want to say anything about writing this song before we hear it?

COSTELLO: If anybody's seen "Grace of My Heart," I mean, it follows the story of a songwriter who goes through all sorts of tribulations romantically. And where the song appears in the story it had to fulfill a certain role. So that actually helped us, I think, in getting our collaboration started. It got us past the -- you know, we might have said, right, we're going to write all songs about, pomegranates or something. You know, I mean, we could have taken an abstract idea, you know.

Instead of which we had a very very definite framework, and once we created that song, particularly after we recorded it six months later for the end titles -- initially just for the end titles. I think it was inevitable that we would write more songs together. It just felt too good, and the experience of recording together felt too good.

I hope you can hear that in the record. The record starts so gently, it's the quietest record I've ever made up to that point. I think where it ends up -- it also has one of the biggest crescendos of any record I've appeared on.

And not a record that comes in, you know, and gives you everything about it in the first four to eight bars, but something that really develops. I couldn't believe it when I came to the studio and Burt played me the orchestration -- at the piano played through. But it was going to be something like this and to be in the studio with -- singing with the rhythm section, and then to hear the orchestration added to that. It's absolutely a thrill. It's still a thrill when I hear it.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is "God Give Me Strength" written by Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello, and now featured on their new CD, "Painted From Memory."


Now I have nothing
So God give me strength
Cause I'm weak in a way
And if I'm strong I might still break

And I don't have anything to share
That I won't throw away into the air
That's always something
This spell is broken

She was the light that I glanced
She took my last chance at happiness
So God give me strength
God give me strength

GROSS: That's "God Give Me Strength," originally written for the movie "Grace of My Heart," now featured on Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach's new CD, "Painted From Memory."

"God Give Me Strength" opens with a lovely flugal horn line. And, Burt Bacharach, I mean, your arrangements are filled with flugal horns and trumpets. I mean, they're so many songs of yours where that's just -- I've come to think of it as a signature. I was wondering if you ever played trumpet or, you know, why you hear trumpets in so many of your songs?

BACHARACH: It's a very expressive instrument. For a singular -- it's one of the few instruments where I could, say, make a statement set up on an intro or a figure. It speaks more vocal than like a flute would have or clarinet or a saxophone is a little bit of another picture.

But I used to write dummy lyrics on flugal horn parts just an introduction. Just so they weren't just notes, so the flugal horn player would be able to see the note, sing the note. Even though it made no sense it was a lyric, but it made no sense. But it just had the right sound vocally, vowel wise for that right note.

Trumpet players, in the original time when we were recorded it, until they got to know me thought I was nuts. But there was something about it, you know. Just sing it.

GROSS: Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello, they collaborated on the new CD, "Painted From Memory" on Mercury Records. The new Bacharach box set is on Rhino Records. They'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with more of our interview with Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. They have a new CD featuring songs they co-wrote, with Costello singing and Bacharach playing piano and conducting the orchestra. There's also a new Bacharach box set featuring his many hit songs including, "Don't Make Me Over," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "Wishing and Hoping," and "That's What Friends Are For."

So, Burt Bacharach, I want to get back to the idea that you often have a dummy lyric in your head when you're writing a melody or even when you're just writing an instrumental line in the arrangement. Can you give me an example of a song that you wrote a dummy lyric for just on the trumpet line?

BACHARACH: Say I had a figure that went, da da dun dun da da, OK? And those trumpets will play that. Now, rather than just notate it that way I might write something -- I might put a "hold on" in it. I like that expression, it's just kind of -- it fits a lot of different configurations.

So, that could have just been, hold on and I'll be there. See, in the hands of a good flugal horn player he'll get that, he'll understand that. He'll understand that better because he'll understand it's not how long you hold a note because it's notated. I got an eighth note, sure that's how it will probably speak. But he understands if you sang it just when you release that note.

COSTELLO: There's one example, isn't there, in "This House Is Empty?" Where Burt was just playing the opening music and -- the opening statement of the verse. Da da da da da da da da. And he just went, remember.

And that was the only word -- the word "remember" seems so central to the emotional weight of that passage and music that I took and kept. I tried to protect that word "remember," I wrote the lyric around that word that Burt put in.

So, he effectively did write one word of that lyric. You know, the point is that it had some emotional weight, and it was obviously -- it was immediately apparent to me that it was a song of some kind of reminiscence. Some sort of, maybe, quite tragic reminiscence, as well, as it turns out in the way the song developed.

But that was a good clue for me. You know, I'm looking for clues like that. And funnily enough, I don't know whether this has anything to do with some sympathy we have musically, but of course I'm the third in four generations of musicians in my family, and I'm the trumpet player that let the side down. I've never taken the instrument up. My grandfather and father are both trumpet players. So, I have a real love of the trumpet too.

So, it's no problem, if trumpets appear. Although my disposition if I'm left to orchestrate is towards dark reeds, funnily enough. Not even saxophones, but charango (ph) and bass clarinets are my two favorite orchestral instruments.

BACHARACH: And that chases me right out of the room. Right out of the studio.


COSTELLO: Although I did manage to persuade him to put in an oboe.

BACHARACH: The oboe was a very good idea.

COSTELLO: Because, you know, sometimes you want to get away from the -- like in the song, "Long Division" where you have -- that's the closest to a groove song on the record where there's a kind of an R&B groove going. And the song is harmonically quite different than many R&B songs, but there is a groove throughout with percussion and drums and soft keyboards.

And I felt that a saxophone on top of that would maybe just be that little bit too much like another piece in the puzzle that fits naturally. And I thought wanting an element like an oboe would maybe make the record more distinctive and it ended up on it.

GROSS: Well, you mentioned "This House is Empty Now" as having music mostly by Burt Bacharach with Elvis Costello, you, doing the lyric. Why don't we hear that since you just mentioned it. From the new CD featuring collaborative -- collaborations from Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach.


These rooms play tricks upon you
Remember when they were always filled with laughter
But now they're quite deserted
They seem to just echo voices raised in anger

Maybe you will see my face
Reflected there on the pane
In the window above the lock
And broken home

Still this house is empty now
There's nothing I can do to make
You want to stay
So tell me how

How am I suppose to live without you

GROSS: That's "This House Is Empty Now" from the new Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach record, "Painted From Memory."

I want to play another record here and I thought that we'd play the Elvis Costello version of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself."

COSTELLO: Oh, my God.

GROSS: This is a great song, and there's great recordings of it. Elvis, I love your version of it, and then there's, of course, the Dusty Springfield version which is a classic. And on the new Rhino box set it also features the original version of the song by Tommy Hunt. So, before we hear all three versions, Burt Bacharach would you tell us about writing the song?

BACHARACH: In the Brill Building days where Hal and I would work every day we had a whole roster of artists that were potentially artists to record. And I guess that was going to be either for Chuck Jackson or for Tommy Hunt. And I went in and wrote the orchestration and made the record with Tommy.

That was the initial record. I like the record. I like the way he sang too. So, every other record afterwards is a different record, in a way, than what the original was. They might be better, but the original often comes right out of the bed with me.

GROSS: So, after Tommy hunt recorded "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" did you rethink the song for Dusty Springfield when you arranged it for her?

BACHARACH: No, Dusty -- I didn't do Dusty. Dusty did it with whoever was writing arrangements.

COSTELLO: I think one of the things -- we've been through this process. Being as this is the song that I have the longest history with as a professional singer, we wanted to include this song in our concerts -- in our recent concerts. And of course there's a question, the parts for that original Tommy Hunt record are long-lost, and it was a question having somebody transcribe a hybrid from the two records.

Because I learned the song from Dusty's version. And that's imprinted on my mind, and we went back and had the skeleton of the arrangement transcribed. In fact, you can hear how whoever transcribed this record -- it's a shameless copy, in certain respects, of your orchestration. But there are certain voicings that are wrong. If you compare them to actually -- you know, they're wrong, you might say in a sense they've misheard what's going on in the Tommy Hunt version.

They're trying to keep so close to it, I don't think they've changed them deliberately. I think they're just mishearing. And if you listen on to me and the Attractions stumbling through it in 1977 you'll hear still a further mishearing of a chord or two. And that's part of -- you know, I get slightly embarrassed when I hear that record now, because I hear the naivete of the approach, but I also hear the feeling.

GROSS: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.

COSTELLO: That is a journey that a song can go on, and some of Burt's songs have gone on more extraordinary journeys -- if you listen to "I Say A Little Prayer" as done by Aretha Franklin or as done by Roland Kirk you'll hear an even more radical transformation.

GROSS: Well, right now why don't we hear "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself," and first we'll hear Tommy Hunt, then Dusty Springfield, then Elvis Costello.


I just don't know what to do with myself
Don't know just what to do with myself
I'm so used to doing everything with you
Planning everything for two

And now that we're through
I just don't know what to do


I just don't know what to do with my time
I'm so lonesome for you to cry
Going to a movie
Only makes me sad

Parties make me feel as bad
When I'm not with you
I just don't know what to do
Like a summer rose

Needs sun and rain
I need your sweeet love to be o.k.
I need your (unintelligible)
I just don't know what to do


I just don't know what to do with myself
I just do know what to do with myself
Baby if you're new love ever takes you down
Come back I will be around

Just waiting for you
I don't know what else to do
I don't know what else to do
I don't know what else to do

GROSS: Those are three versions of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song. And we heard Tommy Hunt, then Dusty Springfield, then Elvis Costello. And my guests are Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, and they have a new CD of their song collaborations and it's called, "Painted From Memory."

Burt Bacharach, when did you first hear Elvis Costello's version of that?

BACHARACH: You know I'm not sure I did back when it was recorded. I did hear Elvis do it about four years ago, live, at the Troubadour with Steve Nieve -- piano -- an acoustic concert. And I thought it was brilliant and it was great.

I often -- you know, I have to confess. I often did not listen to covers of things that would come in. I don't defend that position. If Elvis' records had come in and somebody called it to my attention -- was it 1974?


BACHARACH: When that record came in, I think probably, at the time, I wasn't listening to anything -- any covers that were coming in, you know.

COSTELLO: I think, anyway, that's a fairly obscure release, you know. It wasn't like a single where we covered it and tried to...

BACHARACH: ...but this is my nature. What it's been is, well, that's written. That's done. Somebody else do it. Oh, Elvis Costello did it, great. But I was too into, OK, we've got to work today. We got to write a song. I was into the next song. I figured when I stopped writing and ancient, they'll bring in all these old records and I'll spend the last days of my life listening to all the records of my songs that I never heard.

GROSS: My guests are Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. Their new CD is called "Painted From Memory." We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guests are Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello. Their new CD features songs they co-wrote.

It seems to me your career started in really opposite places. Elvis Costello, you started in pubs in England, and Burt Bacharach, you started being music director for people like Vic Damone, and the Ames Brothers, Joel Grey, then Marlene Dietrich. And you were in, like, the big nightclubs.

BACHARACH: Yeah, but I was in bars too, at first.

GROSS: Were you?

BACHARACH: I had a job playing in New York City, and up in Playhouse Restaurant. I got fired. Wow, that hurt.

GROSS: Why did you get fired?

BACHARACH: They didn't like the way -- maybe I didn't have a big enough repertory to know all the Rodgers and Hart songs -- I don't know why I got fired. It really hurt. I thought I played well enough. I couldn't come home, I was in high school or something up in the Cape.

So, I took a lesser job in a lesser club and got lobster every Tuesday night and very little money. And didn't get fired.

COSTELLO: You see, it's not that different. I remember the very first time I ever got paid to play, and it was like in a music pub, and as you said, they had a good music scene in London when I was there in the mid-'70s. And I got paid 50 pence and a plate of sandwiches. Fifty pence is like half a Pound, you know. That was the share of the door that night, and I would do a residency there, and they would just give you the 50 pence. It wasn't even my fare, you know.

BACHARACH: I took a job on Fire Island in a bar and restaurant. Some woman I saw the other night, she said, I remember you were there. I said, you know, there used to be 10 people on a Saturday night in this bar.

COSTELLO: And she remembers being there?

BACHARACH: Well, ten people at the start of the summer. It was called Bayview in Ocean Beach -- Fire Island. And they offered me the job, 10-11 regular bar people there. Some guy wrote a review in the newspaper, and then you had to have a bouncer. But I was only getting $40 a week. I had a chance for a percentage. Forty dollars a week and all the food and all the martinis I wanted to drink.

COSTELLO: The places you played you got lobsters and martinis, and I was getting, like, yesterday's ham sandwiches. Slightly better, Burt. You were slightly better.

GROSS: Burt Bacharach, I'm wondering what you learned from watching Marlene Dietrich perform. What you learned about what songs went over with an audience, and how people put songs across to an audience. She helped you later in your career as a composer.

BACHARACH: I don't know that I learned things about what songs were. I did understand the theater of it all with Marlene. I did understand how she drove for every detail until it was perfect. I mean, we would go into the Olympia Theater in Paris, rehearse an orchestra -- this was her request -- this was her wish -- for eight days, you know. This orchestra is over rehearsed by the second day. What she did with an orchestra to keep them going for eight days -- over and over. By the sixth day -- so you just have to...

COSTELLO: Particularly a (unintelligible) orchestra.

BACHARACH: Yeah. Really good. I mean, it just -- it was -- and she'd stand in front of a light and be lit, and call the directions standing rigid there for, like, four hours, five hours until she got it exactly the way she wanted.

COSTELLO: We thought we were obsessive.

BACHARACH: We obsessive about good things.

GROSS: What was it like for you when you started writing for rhythm and blues acts and rock and roll performers after working for older performers and for older audiences in clubs? When you started writing people like The Shirelles, The Drifters, Jerry Butler...

BACHARACH: ...all the time I was really conducting for Vic Damone or the Ames Brothers, I was always thinking I got to try to write some songs. This is what I should really maybe do. And so I was still writing songs. I was writing songs when I was conducting for Dietrich.

I'd be somewhere in Warsaw and The Shirelles record was sitting at number four in the country or something. If you really looked at it and looked at the kind of material I was doing with Dietrich and the kind of musical stuff that was coming out there, and hearing Jerry Butler doing "Make It Easy on Yourself," at the same time -- or Chuck Jackson. It made no sense at all. It was like a 360 degree turn.

COSTELLO: There's something in there, though, somewhere -- don't you think out of -- we talked about this before and I don't know -- I wouldn't put you on the spot, but I mean, I'd say there's bits of "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and "What's New Pussycat?" "What's New Pussycat?" could come right out of Germany.

BACHARACH: Kurt Weil, sure.

COSTELLO: It all comes out somewhere. Somewhere along the line, maybe a couple of years later, you know.

BACHARACH: It's possible. I just remember playing the Olympia once with Dietrich and Quincy Jones comes backstage, and I was having hits. Quincy was my friend. He came backstage and said, what are you doing man?

I said listen, Q, she's great. I get to see the world. She trusts me. It's a challenge for me conducting this orchestra, making her sound as good as I can make her sound. It's about music.

GROSS: Well, that reminds me. Do you know if a lot of people are lining to record the songs that you've written for your new CD?

COSTELLO: Well, I know some people have already lined up to record them for a Verve album which is coming out in the new year, I understand. Bill Frissell arranged for a beautiful ensemble of Curtis Fowlkes (ph), and Billy Bruise (ph), Don Byron, Ron Miles, Victor Krause, and Brian Blade.

So, it's a horn and reed lineup. No keyboard at all. And they've done Bill's interpretation -- transcriptions of the songs, largely instrumental. And Cassandra Wilson makes a guest appearance on that singing "Painted From Memory," a very beautiful version.

And I make a guest appearance on the record, but beyond that we've heard of one or two things about people covering the songs. But, I mean, it's early days yet. I think it's sort of surprising that somebody didn't attempt to cover one of them.

GROSS: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that -- Burt Bacharach, I don't know if you've been writing a lot of songs lately, but does this have you going again writing songs? I know you're also scoring the new Bette Midler film about Jackie Suzanne. But just in terms of writing songs, has this kind of we reinvigorated your songwriting?

BACHARACH: Sure. This was the real purpose. This was a goal. This was, like, we're going to make an album. Different than me making a writing date in L.A. and saying well, let's write a song and see if maybe we can give it to Babyface or one of his artists.


Or send a note to Clive Davis, and see if Whitney might consider it.

COSTELLO: That's a different kind of game, you know, that's kind of like currying favor with Roman Emperors, you know.

BACHARACH: Hard game.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us. It's really been great fun. Thank you very very much.

COSTELLO: Thank you very much.

BACHARACH: Thanks for having us.

GROSS: Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach collaborated on the new CD, "Painted From Memory" on Mercury Records. The new Bacharach box set is on Rhino Records.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello
High: Musicians Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello join us to talk about their new collaborative album, "Painted From Memory." The two have been working together for nearly two years, beginning with the Grammy-nominated single "God Give Me Strength" from the film "Grace of My Heart." Singer-songwriter Elvis Costello has recorded over 17 albums in his 25 year career. His hits include "Pump It Up" and "Watching the Detectives." Composer Burt Bacharach is said to have revolutionized the sound of the 60's with dozens of top ten hits, several Grammys, and Academy Awards. His hits include "What's New Pussycat" and "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head."
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Profiles; Elvis Costello; Burt Bacharach

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello

Date: DECEMBER 23, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 122302NP.217
Head: Maureen Corrigan
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: 1998 may not have been such a good year for the politics of peace love and understanding, but it was a very good year for fiction. Here's book critic Maureen Corrigan's best books of the year list.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Those lit-crit Grinches who look toward the end of the millennium with dread and continue to tiresomely pronounce the death of the novel, clearly haven't bothered to read much new fiction lately. For if they had, they would be overwhelmed by the bounty of good books that writers, both fresh and seasoned, have cranked out this year.

Every time a superb first novel, like Martha Cooley's "The Archivist," appears it's hardy voice drowns out the mulings of literary doom sayers. "The Archivist" focuses on TS Elliott's private life and reveals that the great poet was by no means a hollow man.

"The Hours" by Michael Cunningham is another old English majors delight. It recreates, times three, the situation of Virginia Woolf's novel "Mrs. Dalloway."

Ethan Canin's amazing "For Kings and Planets" invokes the mood of "The Great Gatsby." Far from being shamed by the comparison, Canin's novel shimmers. And shifting literary sources somewhat, Robert Hellenga's magnificent "The Fall of a Sparrow" turns to the classics for inspiration. Like Homer's "Ulysses," Hellenga's hero stumbles into unwanted adventures including a confrontation with terrorists before sailing home to a measured peace.

Onward now to the old pros. The antique grace of John Irving's "A Widow for One Year" made this awe struck reader fall down and worship. Irving's story opens in a death haunted house and ends four decades later with a wedding in that very same house. Like the great Victorian novelists, whose work his own sprawling books consciously resemble, Irving is an author God whose grand fictional designs encompass the whole of life.

In Philip Roth's latest novel, "I'm Married A Communist," a character does a riff on the televised Nixon funeral that's so brilliant it alone should win Roth the Medal of Freedom. One of the few prizes, along with the Nobel, he hasn't been awarded.

Alice McDermott's charming "Billy" which just deservedly won the National Book Award is a controlled masterpiece about lost and fleeting time, and the foolish valor of remaining loyal to dreams that will never come true.

Another National Book Award winner, "Holes" by Louis Sachar, is an amazing young adult novel that takes place in, of all unlikely places, a boys juvenile detention camp. It's a marvel of a story. Buy it for a kid you know and read it first yourself.

Other literary genres also produced sugar plums in 1998. Lorrie Moore's short story collection, "Birds of America," is distinguished by her trademark laughing in the dark tone. Dorothy Herrmann's nuanced portrait of Helen Keller in her biography, "Helen Keller: A Life," gives us a human Helen who liked her martinis and mink coats. And who advocated birth control, women's rights, and Socialism.

"Everybody Was So Young," Amanda Vail's captivating biography of lost generation patrons Gerald and Sara Murphy, corrected my mistaken impression of the Murphy's as artistic parasites. Rather, its world-class moochers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald who come out looking shabby here. Vail demonstrates that the Murphy's deserve to be celebrated in their own right, if for no other reason for bringing to perfection the concept of summer vacation.

Vacation always makes me think of mysteries, and I stumbled upon a treasure this year. Charles Todd's remarkable post World War I novel "Wings of Fire." Todd's hero is a Scotland Yard inspector who's partnered with the ghost of a shell shocked corporal. This detective pairing of the quick and the dead might have produced something contrived and cute. But the mournful and highly literary texture of Todd's mystery places it in a category closer to Pat Barker's World War I trilogy than it does to "Topper."

The mystery of why Ted Hughes decided, this year, to break his long silence about Sylvia Platt in his poetry collection called "Birthday Letters" was sadly solved last month when Hughes died of cancer. Some of these narrative poems are marvelous. Baffled and angry, vivid and raw; all those years of living in the shadow of Lady Lazarus clearly taught the once taciturn Hughes a thing or two about the pleasures of finally giving way to fury.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches Literature at Georgetown University. Her list of the years best books appears on our WebSite

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan chooses her picks for the ten best books of 1998.
Spec: Entertainment; Media; Maureen Corrigan

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Maureen Corrigan
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Rep. Adam Schiff weighs in on the raid at Trump's Mar-a-Lago home

Schiff reflects on the significance of the top-secret documents seized from Trump's residence. He led the first impeachment and serves on the House's committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Robin Thede wants her sketch show to open doors for other Black voices

Thede's HBO series, A Black Lady Sketch Show, is the first sketch comedy show solely written, directed and starring Black women. "It is a nonstop job," she says of the various hats she wears.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue