Elvis Costello at 55: his face still framed by black plastic specs, this season he has turned to a late-period-Dylan moustache and a series of wide-brimmed hats. In his albums, concerts and Sundance Channel chat-and-music show “Spectacle,” he continues to indulge, celebrate and expand his encyclopedic knowledge of music. He’s the Englishman who knows more about America’s musical culture than we do. In interview, he seizes the question and tussles with it for minutes, though at the end, he admits to being distracted. Costello had just got off the phone, having heard that John Ciambotti, the bass player from Clover — who backed Costello on his 1977 debut LP — had passed away. The interview went ahead, with Costello covering everything from his show and resurrecting old tunes to his thoughts on the latest “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie.
There have now been two seasons of “Spectacle.” Did being the interviewee for so many years help in becoming an interviewer?
No, I think it helped to be truthful, to be in the same location as the subjects. I really think that the success or otherwise of the conversations hinged largely on the fact that the people had a degree of trust simply because they knew that I knew what they do, even if our methodologies turned out to be different. The other (thing about the show is) they are not set up to really promote a new product the way a chat show is. Because the host in this case is not a comedian but somebody who … I mean, I can appreciate the humor in certain situations as much as the next person; but it doesn’t matter to me if the conversation becomes serious or reflective or emotional. And we get to also speak for a fairly long period of time and then try and edit the best bits into something like an hour. And all of those things put us, I would say, at some advantage to most of the discourse on television. So I don’t put too much thought into my own technique.