Elvis Costello & ?uestlove on the ‘Despicable’ Ray Charles Incident
Photo: Danny Clinch
Photo: Danny Clinch
But first, some history. In wake of the George Zimmerman acquittal for the murder of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin, ?uestlove posted a brutally honest essay about what it's like to grow up black in America. In the post, he wrote, "The overall message this whole Trayvon case has taught me: You ain't sh*t."
Given ?uestlove's post about race relations in 2013, we couldn't help but wonder if he'd ever discussed Costello's infamous 1979 drunken outburst in which he called Ray Charles "a blind, ignorant [n-word]."
In our separate phone interviews, about two weeks apart, both Costello and ?uestlove responded to the question. Costello was first, and he clearly wasn't amused.
"I think Ahmir knows my history pretty well, so anything he has to say about it, if he had any doubt of what I'm about, and if it wasn't obvious from the majority of my actions what I feel about how much we should love one another, despite some of the despicable things I've done ... One very unfortunate, inexplicable action doesn't undo everything else in your life," Costello said.
He continued to explain at length and as he went on, a bit of anger surfaced. "Is it on my mind, will people use it to explain the work I'm doing now? Yes, some f***ers will; but you know, what kind of shallowness is that?"
Later, though, he quoted from "Tripwire," a song on Wake Up Ghost, when talking about ?uestlove's essay, saying prejudice is "born out of differences." He referenced the lyrics, "just because I don't read the language doesn't mean I'm blind to the threat."
When we spoke to ?uestlove a few weeks later, he said, "Elvis and I just talked about it for the first time the other day, and we had a really great talk about it for about almost a half hour. I don't want to go into detail about it, but definitely that kind of conversation is the healthiest dialogue. "
?uestlove admitted that when the collaboration with Costello was first announced, "a lot of people came at me on Twitter, 'How can you do this?'" But then he added, "That's like if people held me to being a sexist or misogynist for a poor choice of walk-on music for Michele Bachmann for my entire life," he said, referring to the incident in which the Roots played a snippet of Fishbone's 1985 song "Lyin' Ass Bitch" for the then- Republican presidential candidate's walk-on music during her November 2011 appearance on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."
"Clearly that's not me," he continued. "Sometimes you do the wrong thing without thinking, but that doesn't necessarily define what's in your heart. [Costello] was a different man at the age of 22 than he is at 59. So I feel no need or reason to chastise the speck of dust that's in his eye while there's a board inside of my eye."
Update: Our friends over at Okayplayer.com recently tweeted us a link to the video below with a note that read, "This is the 'healthy conversation' w/Costello @questlove mentioned in ur Yahoo music post." Check it out.