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guilty pleasure monday: veronica (elvis costello)
July 27th, 2009 by wrekehavoc

a special guilty pleasure. and not just because my beloved macca is involved.

elvis costello, in my estimation, is one of the best songwriters of the 20th/21st century. it was no surprise to me, then, when, in the late 1980s, he teamed up with paul mccartney (no slouch in the songwriting department) to co-write the album spike. (and paul plays that hofner bass on the album, too! squeee! okay. okay. i’m back now. i’m calm.)  i am not terribly fond of some of costello’s output in the mid-1980s, though upon reflection, there are some incredible gems that i simply wasn’t ready to appreciate in my younger years (like his magnificent modern jazz standard shipbuilding, for example. [bummed i can’t find a version with the incredible chet baker trumpet solo.]) but spike seemed to be a musical kick in the pants for costello — his musical energy rebounded, and he produced some fine work.

veronica actually ended up a hit in the united states; and what a curious subject matter for a hit record. costello writes about an older woman who is clearly battling with some memory-robbing illness — dementia, alzheimers, or something of the like. she floats in and out of lucidity, remembering the scary parts of life as well as the blissful moments.

i suspect this song has always made me think of my grandmother. my grandfather died about a year before this song was released; and i think when he passed, my gram as i knew her passed, too. though her body was in tremendously healthy shape, she started down that slippery slope of dementia, just as veronica did. it was very hard to watch; i will never, ever forget the feeling of having someone who loved me dearly not know who i was. but once i realized that my gram was essentially gone, it became a little easier to bear. i started to think of her in a more scientific way: i was fascinated to hear about the places where her mind decided to visit. some days, she was a young girl in new york. she’d speak yiddish, and i was at the mercy of my parents to translate how old she was in that time and what she was doing in her mind. (and unfortunately, their yiddish was not quite what it was, so sometimes, we just had  to smile and nod.)

and yet, there were those moments when she was there. by G-d, if you were not respecting her, she’d hand your head to you.

you never knew which lady you’d get when you dropped by the nursing home.

anyway, gram’s been gone now for nearly 13 years, but fortunately, the gram i remember is a feisty, tough-as-nails  lady.  the lady who wasn’t all there? that wasn’t really my gram.

Veronica sits in her favourite chair and she sits
very quiet and still
And they call her a name that they never get
right and if they don’t then nobody else will
But she used to have a carefree mind of her
own, with a devilish look in her eye
Saying “You can call me anything you like, but
my name is Veronica”

the lady may have had issues with her memory, but i’d like to think that she was going to hold onto her dignity no matter what.

and she did.


2 Responses  
  • Scott G. writes:
    July 27th, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    According to wikipedia, the inspiration for this song was EC’s grandmother. I admit that I am not, in general, a fan of Costello, but I like this song. (I like the studio version you linked to at Youtube better.) It’s a totally different topic (not sex, love, etc.) than usual and addresses a medical situation most of us have to deal with in some form during our lives (my great-grandmother coulda been Veronica, easily, in her old-world PA Dutch fashion).

  • alejna writes:
    July 27th, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    I’ve never actually listened to the words of the song. Unusual theme for a hit song, indeed!

    This was a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing these memories of your grandmother.


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