Apr 09

Day 9 of Positive Influences: Elvis Costello

Apart from his uncharacteristic racist rant a few years ago, Elvis Costello has always been one of my favorite artists and performers. I don’t know what happened to him that day, but I am assuming low blood sugar and bad traffic that morning. As for the rest of his life, two verses in one song stands among a career of consistent experimentation and quality songs.  “I used to be disgusted/now I tried to be amused.”

That, folks, is all he needed to ever write to make an impact in my life.

The song is “Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes.”  The verses in question pop out of the song, straight into my psyche. There they burn a scar broad and wide as the heavens.  When things are too much me, they are there for me. When I am losing patience with tomfoolery, they sing to me. When I want to walk away from all that is my life and find a cave in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee to wait out the rest of the century, they beckon me to laugh.

Declan MacManus came into this world a poet. An angry, frustrated poet.  He arrived on the music scene with a ridiculous professional name and rode on the wake of the Sex Pistols to overshadow and outlast the post-punk movement.  His first album, My Aim is True, gave me the name for my youngest daughter, and the motto by which I judge all of life. That’s the album where you can find these lyrics.

Before the dot com bust, I worked at a company that valued relationships and integrity more than technical skill, and they valued technical skill greatly. During the initial interview process, they met for ninety minutes with candidates to figure out what type of person the candidate was. If a person was deemed worth working with, then went into a technical cycle of interviews. One question that they asked lingered with me, “What are your three life mottos?”

I had no answer prepared, so I was honest. I pulled from the Golden Rule of Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do until you.”  Then I followed with Epictetus’, which I paraphrased as, “There are things which are within my control and things which are not.”  For the third motto, I went less lofty, but oh-so-accurate.  I quoted Elvis Costello.

I used to be disgusted

Now I try to be amused.


Life can be draining without a sense of humor. Petty things take on bigger weight.  Our grievances become deeper, our hurts more throbbing, and our forgiveness less ready. Being amused, seeing the comedy in others and ourselves.  It lightens the load, greases the wheels of healing, and fills the tires of forgiveness. The down side of this is when other people aren’t so ready to get over their hurts, weights, and grievances. Then I find them amusing. That, of course, doesn’t always make things better. But, it’s better than being disgusted.

I used to be disgusted, honestly. Now…now, I try to be amused.

Thank you, Elvis Costello.


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