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My Penitent Buffoon
That Fatal Mailing List #43: Lost Songs, Pondering - "Couldn't You Keep That To Yourself" (2000)
I was…well, pondering which song to write about today when I stumbled across a track from an old bootleg CD-r entitled 45 Alibis.
You youngsters out there may not realize that there was a time when you couldn’t punch a few phrases into Google and summon up just about every grey-market and bootleg recording ever released. No, this was a CD-r that I actually traded to receive, sending a quantity of blank CD-rs to a fellow EC nut who then burned me a copy of the collection and sent it back to me.
A bit of a mixed bag, 45 Alibis featured audience recordings from the Elvis Costello/Steve Nieve tour of 1999. I was able to attend their October concert at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago. That’s a pretty storied Chicago venue, but I only attended that one concert there, along with a handful of musical productions as a grade schooler on field trips. I recall it as an odd room, more suited to theater or even ballet, with high steep balconies (our seats were on the floor).
(This was also one of two concerts that my recently-departed ex-girlfriend at the time attended, even though I’d given her the tickets as a gift when we were still dating. She got to see EC, and she got to see a killer Springsteen show a few weeks earlier on their reunion tour. I hope she at least bought a few albums at some point.)
Anyway, EC performed a new song, “Couldn’t You Keep That To Yourself,” which actually premiered at that Arie Crown show and received only one other live outing, in New York just four days later. It was striking to realize that I’d been in the room for an actual EC song premiere, even moreso when I realized he’d never recorded the song and only played it one other time just a few days later.
The song must have been top of mind because it had recently been handed over to German singer and actress Ute Lemper. Along with “Couldn’t,” EC contributed two other co-writes to Lemper’s April 2000 album Punishing Kiss, the title track (written with then-wife Cait O’Riordan) and a co-write with Steve Nieve, “Passionate Fight.”
As he introduced it in Chicago, he described it as:
“...almost an answer song to ‘Baby Plays Around.’ It’s about a guy who’s always coming home with some kind of an excuse. Sooner or later, it’s not gonna be good enough.”
The lyric echoes some of the more cutting moments on songs like “Poor Fractured Atlas” and “All This Useless Beauty,” where the point of view is that of a woman reflecting upon all the mistakes she’s made in letting a man into her life. Here the narrator has abandoned all pretense of emotional reaction and is merely observing a compulsive liar who stands exposed. There’s maybe nothing more pathetic than a liar who believes they’re getting away with their untruths, but instead is laid bare.
The EC performance is great (audio is so-so, being an audience recording from a live performance more than 20 years ago). The Ute Lemper version is incredible; sung by a female voice, the full bite of the lyrics stings far more painfully. She digs into the words and makes a full meal of the song; it’s an incredible performance. You could also do worse than to fall down an Ute Lemper YouTube rabbit hole; her interpretation of “Pirate Jenny” is a must-hear.