The Song: "Alison," Elvis Costello. Words & music by Declan Patrick MacManus (Elvis Costello). Track 5 of My Aim is True, 1978 (US release).
How/when acquired: Purchased cassette, c. 1987
I watched the Sunday morning news shows yesterday instead of going to Mass. My mistake.
Elvis Costello was 23 when he recorded this song, which regularly makes lists of the best pop songs of all time. Like much of humanity's greatest artistic achievements, it seems inspired by a painful breakup. The singer of "Alison" suggests that he plans a more permanent remedy to his heartache — the last line, which provided the album's title, is "My aim is true." Better for all of us that Elvis Costello chose music instead of bullets as his weapon.
I bought this cassette from a cut-out bin — probably at Kemp Mill Records in Georgetown, if that store was still open in 1987. Kemp Mill was probably the most important music retailer in the Washington, DC area during the 1970s and '80s; they expanded and collapsed, and now seem to have only one physical store, in Hillcrest Heights, MD.
This weekend I saw The Social Network, which posits that the entire Facebook empire happened because of a breakup. It's a terrific movie; I'd heard so much about it I thought it was bound to be oversold, but no. Even if you take it as fiction (which is probably safest), it's an important picture of the transformation of information delivery in the first decade of the 21st century. Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, tells the movie's main character that he destroyed the record companies and changed the music business forever, and it's hard to deny that.
Still, I miss the old Kemp Mill stores. I miss cut-out bins. I miss the adventure of walking into a store with five bucks in my pocket, pawing through a box of old cassette tapes and coming away with treasure. Browsing iTunes offers nothing like that experience.