‘I Want to Vanish’

The original concept for All This Useless Beauty, the 1996 album from Elvis Costello & The Attractions, was to have that band record songs that Costello sold to other performers: to have Elvis Costello “cover” Elvis Costello songs that audiences first heard performed by other artists.

Because Paul McCartney never recorded “Shallow Grave,” and Johnny Cash never recorded “Complicated Shadows,” and Sam Moore had not recorded “Why Can’t a Man Stand Alone,” the concept never left its life as an idea and Costello became the first to record and release several of his songs. He “covers” his own songs.

The reviewer for Rolling Stone, Jim Farber, pointed out that because Costello wrote the songs with other singers’ voices in mind, Elvis Costello, the writer, “had to transcend Costello’s idiosyncrasies, [so] he was free to devise some of the easiest and sturdiest melodies of his career.”

One of those songs, “I Want to Vanish,” was written for and recorded by the folksinger June Tabor, which makes it one of the the songs that fulfills the album’s original idea. It is a song that has acquired a life of its own in the two decades since it was introduced: it is one of the more frequently covered songs in the Elvis Costello canon. Anne Sofie von Otter has recorded it, among others.

In a wonderfully dismissive sentence in his memoirs, Costello collects the albums (including All This Useless Beauty) that he made with The Attractions after Blood & Chocolate thus: Blood & Chocolate “was the last album made with The Attractions as such. We put our names on a couple of other record jackets in the ’90s, but despite containing many good songs and some vivid performances, those records really could have been made by anyone, and sometimes they were.”

I want to vanish
This is my fondest wish
To go where I cannot be captured
Laid on a decorated dish
Even in splendor this curious fate
Is more than I care to surrender
Now it’s too late
Whether in wonder or indecent haste
You arrange the mirrors and the spools
To snare the rare and precious jewels
That were only made of paste
If you should stumble upon my last remark
I’m crying in the wilderness
I’m trying my best to make it dark
How can I tell you I’m rarer than most
I’m certain as a lost dog
Pondering a sign post
I want to vanish
This is my last request
I’ve given you the awful truth
Now give me my rest

Elvis Costello:

June Tabor:

Anne Sofie von Otter:

The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 5 asks us to reflect on the word, “Vanish.”

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