Cover image for Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the torch song tradition
Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the torch song tradition
Smith, Larry David.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 2004.
Physical Description:
xvii, 312 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML400 .S658 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The torch song has long been a vehicle for expression--perhaps American song's most sheerly visceral one. Two artists in particular have built upon this tradition to express their own unique outlooks on their lives and the world around them. Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, and the Torch Song Tradition combines biographical material, artist commentary, critical interpretation, and selected exemplars of the writers' work to reveal the power of authorship and the creative drive necessary to negotiate an artistic vision in the complicated mechanisms of the commercial music industry. Author Larry David Smith, as in his Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and American Song , considers the complicated intersection of biography, creative philosophy, artistic imperative, and stylistic tendencies in the work of both Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello--two songwriters with seemingly nothing in common, one famously confessional and one famously confrontational. Yet, as Smith shows so incisively, they are two personalities that prove fascinatingly complementary.

Mitchell and Costello both yielded bodies of work that are cohesive, coherent, and rich in meaning. Both have made historic contributions to the singer-songwriter model, two rebellious respones to the creative and commercial compromises associated with their chosen field, and two distinct thematic responses to the torch song tradition. Smith examines these responses, offering a unique and invaluable exploration of the craft of two of the last century's most towering musical figures.

Author Notes

Larry David Smith is an independent writer and lecturer specializing in narrative critiques of popular media.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Also author of Pete Townshend: The Minstrel's Dilemma (1999) and Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and American Song (CH, May'03), Smith (communication, Purdue Univ.) here analyzes the songs of two more influential musicians. He examines each from four perspectives, devoting an introduction and then chapters titled "The Artist," "The Impulse," "The Oeuvre," and "The Exemplars" first to Mitchell, then to Costello. Canadian-born Mitchell (1943- ) launched her career in the late 1960s and quickly established herself as a significant performer and songwriter, a major musical voice of her generation. A decade younger than Mitchell, British-born Costello (originally Declan McManus) began his musical career in the mid 1970s. Smith focuses on recordings and songs, discussing each in great detail and including lyrics for some. He concludes that Mitchell and Costello represent "the state of the art of the celebrity singer-songwriter composite." The book includes a helpful list of published references but, oddly, no discography or illustrations. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Academic libraries supporting serious study of popular music at the upper-division undergraduate level and above. R. D. Cohen Indiana University Northwest

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Introductionp. xiii
Part I Joni Mitchellp. 1
1 The Artistp. 5
2 The Impulsep. 25
3 The Oeuvrep. 37
4 The Exemplarsp. 101
Part II Elvis Costellop. 123
5 The Artistp. 127
6 The Impulsep. 151
7 The Oeuvrep. 165
8 The Exemplarsp. 233
Part III Conclusionp. 251
9 The Auteursp. 253
Referencesp. 289
Indexp. 309