As she might be said to have started off a trend for confessional song- writing with her 1971 album, Blue, we have put together as part of our celebration of Joni Mitchell's 70th birthday a list of the 50 most soul-baring singer-songwriter albums,
the compilation of which reminded me of a conversation with Elvis Costello I had many years ago about this very subject, about which he inevitably had some pretty forthright opinions.
It was May, 1989, and I was in Dublin to interview Costello about Spike, his new album, just out, but we had somehow ended up talking about an unhappy earlier period in his life, the turmoil of which often found its way into his songs, many of them notable for their unsettling candour. It had seemed to some that he may have courted emotional distress for inspiration, a suggestion that led to the following exchange.
"Was I purposely fucking up my life to give myself something to write about?" he chuckled mordantly. "I think I did that for about a year," he added with a weary laugh.
"And that's at the very most. Then I began to mistrust the results. Because if you do that, it's like when they pour acid into rabbits' eyes or something. What does it prove? It proves that it hurts the animal. Very smart. It's unnecessary research. And I guess I did some unnecessary research for a while. Then I'd write something that would scare the hell out of me. Like there's a couple of songs on Get Happy!! that when I read them back, I just scared the hell out of myself. And I thought,