90s nostalgia: Kevin Brennan | nostalgia rocks!

Last week I announced a call for content for 90s nostalgia pieces, prompted by the 25th anniversary of the Nirvana release Nevermind, a great way for me to recognize some of my favorite readers and writers by celebrating your stories and writing.

Today’s featured writer is from one of my best blogger friends, Kevin Brennan. Be sure to read through to the end for links to his books and more.


One nostalgic musical thread that weaves through my life is Elvis Costello.

I’d seen him many times over the years, from the late ‘70s on, but when we heard he was playing the Fillmore in San Francisco just him and his Attractions piano player, Steve Nieve I knew we’d have to spend the big bucks to see him there. It was the Fillmore. It was Costello. This was a done deal.

We paid about three times face value on the tickets through a broker. A fair price.

This is 1996, and Elvis was doing a stripped-down tour for his latest record, All This Useless Beauty. Of course, we didn’t know what to expect, since we hadn’t heard even one cut from it yet, but the anticipation was soaring as we sat on the floor of the Fillmore’s ballroom (no seats at the Fillmore) while “The Girl From Ipanema” played on the P.A.

Lights down, spots on the stage, and here come Elvis and Steve, nothing but a piano and a mic stand out there, Elvis slinging one of his vintage acoustics over his shoulder and launching into “Just About Glad” from the new album. It was a slightly chubby Elvis who showed up that night, in a polka-dotted print shirt. Sometimes he was chunky, sometimes thin. You never knew till you got there which Elvis would be showing up. We were only about fifteen feet away from him and could see the sweat starting to bead on his forehead just a few bars in.

The way these two guys played together was like the sawyers of old, one on each end of the long tool, so in tune to each other’s timing they were probably breathing in sync.

Even the unheard of new songs were spectacular, from “Distorted Angel” to “Poor Fractured Atlas,” and Costello surprised everyone by singing much of “All This Useless Beauty” in Italian: Tutta questa bellezza inutile. He demonstrated how the basic riff of one of the new tunes, “Little Atoms,” ripped off “Deutschland Über Alles.” And he did his version of “Alison” that alludes to “Living A Little, Laughing A Little,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “Tears of a Clown,” and “No More Tear-Stained Make-Up.”

Oh, how he brought down the house with The Dead’s “Ship of Fools.” This was the Fillmore.

Walking up Geary to our car after the show, we just kept mumbling, Unbelievable. Incredible. Never forget it.

I recalled the very first time I saw EC (or the original Napoleon Dynamite). I was sunbathing on the roof of a London youth hostel in Bloomsbury when suddenly I heard loud rock and roll echoing off the walls of the surrounding buildings. When I went to the parapet to see what was going on, a parade of flatbed trucks was passing by on the street below, with colorful banners proclaiming “Rock Against Racism!” And the truck going by just then carried Elvis Costello and the Attractions doing “Accidents Will Happen” (or something else from the new Armed Forces).

I always think of that day when I hear the crap-talk about Elvis and Stephen Stills. You can look that up if you want.

The gig at the Fillmore is the one I’ll remember most vividly as I go along, even though we saw him again at the Beacon Theater in New York, when I visited my agent and editor that year. It was the When I Was Cruel tour, and a great show, but it didn’t make its way into my guts like the Fillmore show did.

Funny about nostalgia, that for something to really “take” you have to be in a certain frame of mind. But more mysterious than that, you can’t really put yourself in that frame of mind.

It just happens.

Kevin Brennan is an indie novelist who lives in fabled Cool, California. His latest novel, Fascination, is available directly from him via what he likes to call #guerrillapublishing — a writer-to-reader mode of getting the word out. You can buy Fascination here. You can also grab the ebook edition of his novel Town Father for just 99 cents Wednesday through Friday this week. 

Categories: music, musings, writing

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7 replies

  1. Fun memories. Especially liked the part about never knowing which Elvis you’d get and your observation on the unpredictable nature of nostalgia. It frees me to take it all in and see what sticks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s a great Malcolm Gladwell podcast on Elvis Costello that I listened to while mowing the yard a few weeks ago. Loving hearing the different voices on your blog Bill.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on WHAT THE HELL and commented:
    Check out Bill Pearse’s blog, pinklightsabre, where he’s currently inviting guest posts on ‘90s musical nostalgia, ’90s music, ‘90s nostalgia, or just music and/or nostalgia. Today he’s running my piece on a 1996 Elvis Costello concert. And, if you really want to get into it, you can listen to five numbers from that very concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco here: https://youtu.be/ATE0WRAWdhw. (The SF portion begins at about 26:20.) My wife and I are in the crowd, standing just feet from the stage and roaring with delight (and future nostalgia) with every chord.
    Read some of the other posts too. They range from funny to moving to poignant. Great series, Bill!


  4. great story and yes, nostalgia happens –

    Liked by 1 person

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