Elvis Costello, tool

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Elvis Costello may be the greatest songwriter working today. He put out one of the best albums of his long career just a few months ago, The Delivery Man.

Still, Elvis Costello has become a tool of the record industry, having signed an amicus brief to submit to the US Supreme Court supporting the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’ lawsuit attempting to shut down all the P2P networks.

You expect this out of some of these acts. Jimmy Buffet and especially the Eagles have always been major tools. Then there are the #(*$ Dixie Chicks, from whom no one expects anything but self-serving nonsense.

Still, it’s disappointing to see this from Elvis Costello. He once raged against the machine. “I want to bite the hand that feeds me. I want to bite that hand so badly. I want to make them wish they’d never SEEN me.”

Yet here he is now, LICKING the hand that feeds him. Here where it actually means something, he’s throwing his weight behind the industry directly against the consumers and fans. He’s ready to help the industry hacks shut down innovation and the beautiful abundance of the internet over thinking that he should make a few more nickels.

Here’s the top thing that’s come along ever to really shake the corrupt industry powers that be- and the author of “Radio Radio” wants to help them destroy it.

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  • Dale Leopold

    To correct the “legend,” Elvis was indeed described as a former computer programmer, but he debunked this on (IIRC) the old Tom Snyder Tomorrow show, when he explained that he was a mere computer operator (hanging tapes, loading stacks of punch-cards) and would write songs while the computer was “thinking.” Great interview (“Trust” era–Snyder didn’t know WTF Elvis was, but had some good index cards, e.g. “Are you maturing, Elvis?” “Hmmm…don’t know if I like the sound of that…sounds like some kind of cheese!”), wonder if anyone’s got it on tape. Elvis and the Attractions performed “New Lace Sleeves” and “Watch Your Step” (Snyder: “Is that a warning, Elvis?” “I’ll leave that up to you, Tom.”)

  • What astounds me is the rampant hypocrisy of this whole thing. Obviously, EC, just signed something from his business manager’s publicist.

    However, look at his early album releases. This early UK and US albums are totally different in covers, track listings and production quality (you can see through US CBS vinyl from the 80s, try it, hold them up to light from the window). In the late 80s, I bought direct from the UK, CDs from Demon records, including most of EC discs before he went to Warners, because they were better packages.

    If you want to demarcate EC’s career, look at the changes in his recording contracts. Those are the real shifts. And his current contract doesn’t have any quality control. He just slings out whatever he feels like. And most of it is disposable, regrettably.

    EC is just flinging stuff against the wall, and sadly, he doesn’t even care what sticks.

    What he really needs to do is a late-night teevee show, it would give him the constant challenge he is looking for, and it would be brilliant.

  • hmmm….maybe he’s not gettin’ any.

    no wait, you said they both signed.

    ah, forget it.

  • While doubling up with Avril sounds like a good idea, I doubt that specifically singing with her would accomplish anything.

    Elvis has never, however, had much in the way of pop radio hit singles, just a couple of minor ones.

    Screw today’s charts though, The Delivery Man will still be selling when no one remembers who a Snoop Dogg ever was.

    Also, he does tour regularly, and kicks ass across the globe.

    But none of that is really relevant to the issue at hand. Elvis sells a decent number of records, just not crazy Eminem numbers.

    Moreover, I’d bet he makes a million dollars a year- and good for him. He’s got a catalog that’s going to keep selling. He’s making new albums, and probably getting top dollar as a prestige act for the label. Plus he probably makes pretty good money touring. On top of which he has his publishing.

    No, he just can’t be happy that he’s doing well. He’s got to find things to be mad about.

  • Maybe Elvis should either tour more or try putting out better albums

    Delivey Man was OK but not so great and certainly didn’t have anything that would be palatable on today’s charts

    perhaps he needs to double up with snoop or m&m or even avril

  • You’d think that, wouldn’t you? But then, she’s also a signatory to this same amicus brief.

  • yea…but then ms. krall sez “honey, what’s the matter?”

    …and all is well.

  • Elvis should know better than this. However, it does go with a life long trait of paranoia- which has sometimes been harnessed to good artistic ends. I can well imagine this millionaire setting up nights worrying about being ripped off by the very fans who are in fact paying his bills.

  • Elvis used to be a programmer, If I remember the legend right, for some reason I think Apple UK. so he should doubly know better, since he is a smart guy regardless

    The Riaa talking about “artist’s rights” is kinda like an Antebellum Plantation owner couching his Pro-slavery rhetoric in terms of how it will hurt the “Poor Slaves” to set them free.

    You have to understand, all the people on the list supporting the RIAA, they are the “house negroes” who have done well by their Master and are quick to defend him and their own position.

    But for every musician who seemingly made out OK thru their involvement with the RIAA,there are ten’s of thousands who were screwed.

    To break out of the slave analogy loop, the top of the pryramid of musical success needs to flatten out a lot, so instead of a few people hitting it big big big, we have alot of people acheiving moderate success.

    This is a more sustainable model than the present system, which is unsatisfying to anyone who likes “real music” whatever that is

  • I’m not even getting into this debate, but I will admit being let down with the recent ticket price increase.

    The prices at the Beacon Theater seem to be the highest of any of the venues he’s playing this time around – there’s a huge amount of variability.

  • Actually, the price goes down when it’s just Bruce, as it will be with his upcoming acoustic CD and tour.

  • bhw

    but man, I can get nine members of the E Street Band for $75, too.

    You can get them for far less, my friend. You’re paying for Bruuuuuuce. The E Streeters are the gift with purchase.


    I have to disagree with your placement of “Trust”. (misplaced trust? hmmm) I think it is the last of EC’s “good” period, a departure from all that came before, but still a filler-free album. “Trust” often spends weeks at a time in my cassette player going to and from work. It is one of the few CD’s I am willing to shell $$$ for in order to build up my EC collection.

  • Caryn Rose

    I’m not even getting into this debate, but I will admit being let down with the recent ticket price increase. Last summer, it was $45, and he had a whole tirade on his web site about those artists who charged $75-85. Now, what will tickets cost me? $75-85. I don’t fault the man for wanting to make a living off his music, and when you work at the same job for 25 years, you certainly want a raise from time to time, but man, I can get nine members of the E Street Band for $75, too.

  • DRM is as bad as RIAA thugs, per some views. Scott Moschella is deliberately breaking Apple DRM on a FREE song he downloaded and giving it away – via boingboing.

    The Hymn project provides the tools for this act of ‘vandalism’

  • Dave, your catagories are just about right, although I’d argue for a separate one for Imperial Bedroom. It is the shaft of gold that shines out when all around it is darkness. Or something like that.

  • Spike and Imperial Bedroom and King of America aren’t even early Elvis at all. They’re from a middle period where he was starting to experiment but had not yet gone completely crappy.

    There are basically four Elvis periods

    When Elvis was Elvis
    -My Aim is True
    -This Year’s Model
    -Armed Forces
    -Get Happy

    Elvis on Cruise Control
    -Almost Blue
    -Imperial Bedroom
    -Punch the Clock
    -Goodbye Cruel World
    -Blood and Chocolate
    -Mighty Like a Rose

    Elvis Goes Crappily Experimental
    -The Juliet Letters
    -Brutal Youth
    -Kojak Variety
    -Deep Dead Blue
    -All This Useless Beauty
    -Painted from Memory
    -For the Stars

    Elvis Makes a Feeble Comeback
    -When I Was Cruel
    -The Delivery Man\

    Unless the next release is good, the feeble comeback might fall back into the crappy experimental category.


  • dat’s ok…i own a Tin Machine cd (uh, the live one, i think)

  • Mark, yes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    And I’ve seen Tin Machine in concert.

  • doesn’t that make Bowie a dilettante?

  • I’d rate “The Delivery Man” higher, if I hadn’t already heard the song “The Judgment” done by Solomon Burke. And it was clear, this is a good collection of songs from EC, but only a demo disc.

    He’s a great songwriter, but not that great a performer, and his flitting around from style to style as a performer is a classic definition of dilettante.

  • i tend to think of the early vs. late as completely different collections of music.

    Spike and Imperial Bedroom still slay me.

  • Gettin’ off the subject and following the lead of Mark . . . I think maybe I fall into a “special” category of Costello fan: I really much prefer his later material to his earlier. I find myself listening to material from King of America til now a lot more than prior to that. Were I forced, I could probably survive on KoA, Blood & Chocolate, Brutal Youth, All This Useless Beauty, and The Delivery Man. Sure, I’d miss the rest, but those five albums are damn near perfect through-and-through, both musically and lyrically. But maybe I’m a freak.

  • Mark, Spike’s pretty highly rated. Twenty years would also take in King of America. Both of those would be strong contenders for top Elvis.

    By the way, CD sales were UP last year, which tends to discredit the theory that downloading is hurting the industry’s bottom line- not that I would necessarily care if it DID.

  • Preach it Jim!! My wife and I have running joke that whenever we see Metallica on TV or hear them on the radio, we turn the dial. We wouldn’t want Lars Ulrich mad, even if it is fair use. The episode of South Park dealing with this issue sums it up for me when the music industry dude explains to Stan and Kyle that Lars won’t be able to get a bigger swimming pool (or something like that). I don’t think file sharing has ever hurt the career of musicians that aren’t mega stars.

  • gees, i don’t know about that al.

    i mean, i thought Spike was great.

    i foget it…i just did the math. Spike came out in 1989. not quite 20 years.

  • I must defend Elvis against charges of being a “dilettante.” He’s a creative artist trying to expand his palette. He’s not just playing around, but clearly doing the work study the forms and learn the technical skills to do what he’s doing.

    Plus, The Delivery Man may be the best album he’s put out in 20 years.

  • What is being ignored (and if you have watched a couple of episodes of “Star Trek”) — if you wear a red shirt, you will wind up dead!

    The solution for the record industry is simple: if you don’t want your “product” copied, don’t record it, or release it into the public. The record industry have made business failure their operating model. And that train has derailed. Start learning how to sell what you have to customers. Or eat shit and die.

    Sadly, they seem to like being coprophages.

    And Elvis Costello has sold out since he signed with Universal and they let him put out every album on a different fake label. He’s just turned into a silly dilettante.

  • No, I feel the same way about all arbitrary and illegitimate laws. Why would you think otherwise?

  • bhw

    “It’s the law” does not mean that it is legitimate nor that I have any moral obligation to follow it.

    Too bad you don’t feel this way about all illegitimate laws, just the ones that affect your music collection.

  • “It’s the law” does not mean that it is legitimate nor that I have any moral obligation to follow it. The “established license” that BHW speaks of simply means that the industry has bought off enough congressmen and judges to enforce their edicts at gunpoint.

    On the other hand, she does get to a reasonable point in comment #46. Even if you believe in the current bogus copyright laws, it’s not reasonable or constitutional to demand that private citizens act as cops to enforce it.

  • bhw

    I keep forgetting to add, though, that the P2P networks shouldn’t be held responsible for the way their customers use the software. The technology should be left alone and the people who use it illegally should be sought. Regulating the technology is a bad, bad idea.

  • bhw

    Yes, CC, it’s the distribution of thousands upon thousands of free copies that are the issue. When we buy a music CD, the copyright owner has established a license for its use, which includes personal use. That means you can have a party with as many guests as you like and play the music all night. Or you can rip your own MP3s or even make a copy on CD for your car. But it doesn’t usually contain a license to distribute it freely to thousands of strangers.

    Copyright law is in fact law. It’s against the law to ignore the copyright holder’s license agreement simply because you don’t like the terms.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    That is, I can;t give you the downloaded (reproduced) tracks, but I can give you the CD.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    And if we switch discs, we’re legal. You can give the CD away, you just can’t sell it or reproduce it. I couldn’t download it to my computer and give it to you, but I can give you the tangible product.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    “Downloading the songs which he already has the right to own is not stealing.”

    You may be right in this very specific, isolated case. But is this really the situation that’s costing record companies and artists money?

    Fact is, millions of people steal music off the ‘Net who have never bought these tracks. That’s where the real problem is, of course.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Eric, I’m not in law enforcement, so call it what it is to me. Stealing. Just like I call OJ a murderer, even though the law says he’s not.

  • “But you can’t steal another one you like better.”

    In TJ’s case though, he’s not stealing one he likes better. If he had bought the original album and then chose to download the EP from a P2P network, that would have been stealing, as he did not “own” the original EP tracks. Since he bought the cd, however, he owns the rights to use those songs for his personal use. Downloading the songs which he already has the right to own is not stealing. Putting songs from a cd you’ve purchased onto your computer is well within your legal limits, so long as you don’t share them with anyone else.

    I guess my point is that you’re basically arguing that if you and I owned the same cd and we accidentally switched discs, we’d be stealing from each other. We both own the rights to use that material for personal use regardless of the media involved.

  • the other interesting thing in all of this is that there have been plenty of studies that have shown that ‘illegal’ downloading has resulted in increased sales of cds.

    this apparently makes no difference to the big lables, who will pour untold millions of dollars into fighting a losing battle.

  • Eric Olsen

    you mean “copyright violation”

  • ClubhouseCancer

    It doesn’t matter WHY you’re unhappy with your CD/shirt.

    The law is clear about the use of the shirt. Now you say you didn’t know about the “jacket law,” even though that law is on the books. You may think it’s a stupid law. You may regret that you bought the shirt in light of this stupid “jacket law.” But you may not go to the Gap and steal a new shirt with buttons that make it legal to use as a jacket.

    And I agree that you’re screwed with that European copy. Your recourse? Return it.

    Or vow never to buy another record from that company.

    But you can’t steal another one you like better.

    Note that I’m not saying things aren’t screwed up or that you;re not stuck with some worthless product. But that doesn’t justify stealing.


    Futhermore, “if you don’t like the product (it won’t do what you want it to do, ie download on your ipod), then don’t buy it.

    How about the fact that nowhere on the outside of the jewelcase does it mention that the disc is copy-protected? Had there been a warning about it’s copy-protected status, I would never have bought it. So who’s screwed who here again?” I have refrained from buying several CD’s because of limited use or faulty copy protection. The industry’s loss, not mine. The second part, not being able to use your purchase as you see fit.

  • Eric Olsen

    interesting analogy Tom, I like it

  • And this hurts me to say, but if you don’t like the product (it won’t do what you want it to do, ie download on your ipod), then don’t buy it.

    How about the fact that nowhere on the outside of the jewelcase does it mention that the disc is copy-protected? Had there been a warning about it’s copy-protected status, I would never have bought it. So who’s screwed who here again?

    “My red shirt, it turns out, doesn’t work with my green pants, so I stole one that does.”

    Nope. I still have a right to my music in a different format – that’s fair-use under US law, regardless of where I bought the product from. And your analogy is wrong. What you’re really saying is really that I don’t have the right to use my shirt as both a shirt and as a jacket. If I wear my red shirt as a shirt, I’m fine. If I wear it over another shirt as a jacket-of-sorts, I’m breaking the law. Sounds ridiculous, no?

  • Eric Olsen

    however, LEGALLY, that is a very important distinction: for the civil he is out $$, for the criminal he’d be on death row

  • it’s also interesting that you can violate the law by downloading something that’s out of print (which is why i used Blaze of Glory as an example).

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I think the “copyright violation” bit is semantics. The record cos. are suing people for taking something that doesn’t belong to them without paying. They can call it whatever they want.

    OJ had to pay the Browns a civil penalty, because he was responsible for the deaths of those people, but they didn’t call it murder, even thought we know it was.

  • ah ya, fair use.

    still & all, i did get to listen to the thing several times without paying. that was my point.

    (i did ‘pay’ though, as i made a comment about the couch and dawn told me to get the fuck out.)

  • Eric Olsen

    CC, you have to admit that this issue exists on a continuum that is greatly confused by the onmi-reach of the Internet. You are allowed to “share” something you own with a friend and you are allowed to make a copy for your own use, ie, format shifting. So you should be able to download a digital copy of a song you won on vinyl, right? The problem is the file sharing services stretch this all out of proportion and end up violating AT LEAST the intent of “fair use,” which are the legit exceptions to copyright restrictions

  • ClubhouseCancer

    M, it’s different because of the law. Listening over at Eric’s (He drinks that cheap shit, right, Old Milwaukee? And can I get a lousy bowl of chips over here?) is a “fair use” of the product, covered in the tacit agreement he bought into when he bought the disk.

    Still, I agree that Eric has no earthly idea what he’s doing with that graphic equalizer, and his couch has uncomfortable ass-marks.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    TJ, I am hip to your arguments.

    And this hurts me to say, but if you don’t like the product (it won’t do what you want it to do, ie download on your ipod), then don’t buy it.

    “My red shirt, it turns out, doesn’t work with my green pants, so I stole one that does.”

  • ok, eric olsen purchases a copy of Joe Jackson’s “Blaze of Glory” (ok, he can’t actually do this, because it’s out of print…but whatever).

    then, i go over to eric & dawn’s place and listen to the cd with them.

    i leave.

    i come back tomorrow and do the same.

    i’ve listened to it twice without paying.

    how is that different from somebody ripping their copy of the cd and me listening to it in the digital domain?

    (and for the record, i don’t really download anything because i’m not a computer person)

  • Eric Olsen

    this isn’t my opinion, this is the law: downloading for personal use isn’t theft, it is a civil copyright violation. That’s why the RIAA and MPAA have been suing all these people, who would have been arrested and charged with criminal offenses for “stealing.” Shoplifting is stealing, it is a criminal offense; unauthorized downloading is copyright violation, not a criminal offense

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I don’t follow, Eric. Seems like you’re creating a new category of product out of whole cloth, one that cannot be stolen.

    If I stole a lithograph from an artist, he could always just print another one, right?

    Steal: “To take the property of another without permission or right.”

    This is hard for people who get everything for free to relate to, but that’s really a very selective definition, Eric.

    If you hacked into a for-pay website and got the content for free, is THAT stealing? After all, the product is still out there for others.

  • Eric Olsen

    DA and TJ, you’re both right, hence my current ambivalence

  • Here’s a real world example of why filesharing is good:

    I like owning “the real deal” if I like a CD. When Wilco released Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I bought it. Early the next year, they offered a downloadable EP if you owned YHF. I did, but I wanted a real CD, and knew that the Australian “tour edition” of YHF contained a bonus CD with those same songs on it. I bought it. Two years later I own an Ipod and when it came time to rip YHF, I found that I could not. Why? Because Nonesuch in Australia uses some kind of asinine copy-protection (which, of course, only hurts the people who buy the CD, but that’s beside the point here.) Long story short, I couldn’t rip that disc, of the EP, and had to fire up Soulseek to track down the album and the EP (because my Australian version of the album does not contain the code used to download the EP tracks from the Wilco site – ASININE.) So I had to be illegal to do something very legal in the US.

    And I can’t possibly count the number of albums that I’ve bought because I tracked down some mp3s to check out. It’s a LOT. An issue the industry is worried about, but they don’t want to talk about, is the other side of that argument: I’ve also found out that I really, really disliked a lot of things I’ve downloaded, and then didn’t buy those CDs.

  • But if you have the option of buying the CD in a store, and you now “own” the music because you’ve illegally downloaded it, you have something you should have paid for but didn’t.

  • Eric Olsen

    I’ve gone back and forth on this and now dont know what I really think, but the “stealing” argument can really only apply to physical items that once taken are no longer available to be sold. Downloading without permission, legally, is a violation of copyright law, but it isn’t “stealing.” It may be morally the equivalent of stealing, as in the biblical sense, but it isn’t the same thing, legally, as walking out of the Gap with a shirt you didn’t pay for.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    But, Mark, the item is OFFERED for sale. The other part is marketing, and not the consumer’s business.

    “No one would have bought that red shirt anyway, so I stole it.”

    It’s tempting to rationalize it, but it’s still getting something for nothing. What’s the argument that it’s not stealing?

  • bhw

    I think that’s where the industry needs to come up with some new ideas about what it means to purchase and “own” a song, record, etc.

    Unfortunately, I think it might require some sort of tracking DB. OTherwise, how would the record company know that you’ve already paid for that song on a different distribution format?

  • the gap/physical product comparison doesn’t quite work as the one key with downloading music is this assumption:

    a song downloaded is one that would otherwise have been purchased.

    not true.

    as an example, i’ve purchased several copies of Dark Side Of The Moon, first on vinyl, then on cd, and then again on vinyl.

    but if i download “The Great Gig In The Sky” today, i’m stealing.

    don’t think so.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    And yes, Mark, I believe that downloading doesn’t hurt every artist, and often helps. (I often download free things and later buy the whole album.) But the artist must be the one to decide, not the consumer.

    In my above analogy: “After I stole the shirt, I realized how great red shirts really are, and I’ve since bought a bunch from you.”

    And again, Mark, since I have no dog in this fight, my opinions are screwed up. ‘m not black-and-white about it, but I think if I want people to sample my music for free, there’s a way to offer it as such.

    If the Gap wants to give stuff away as bait to make folks buy more stuff, that’s their prerogative, and no one else’s.

    And I’m unaware of any argument that claims illegal downloading is not stealing or that it’s not illegal.

  • bhw

    I think that whether or not it’s actually hurting the artists is separate from whether or not it’s illegal. Anyway, it can be argued pretty well that it’s hurting the copyright owners, which usually isn’t the artist. [Yes, I’ve heard the counter-arguments, too.]

    It is illegal, according to our current copyright laws. The copyright owner gets to dictate your use of/access to the material.

    I think that the music and movie industries should change with the times, but the law seems to be on their side at the moment. The copyright laws should probably change with the times, too.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Yes, the music business is totally unfair, and buying their shitty, often recycled product (I’m looking at you, Henley!) puts money in the hands of awful people (see Q-Tip’s rule #4,080). But that doesn’t mean we can steal it.

    If the Gap opened in your town without adequate security, would you steal a shirt just because you could? What about if you knew that the people who made the shirt (let’s say Guatemalan kids, for example) were mistreated and didn’t stand to benefit from the sale?

    These aren’t rhetorical, BTW. I think there is a real argument to be made that stealing the Gap shirt is OK morally. I don’t buy that argument myself, but there is certainly a valid point. Does the analogy hold?

  • Illegal downloading is just stealing music

    and this is the crux of the entire argument about downloading.

    firstly, is it actually stealing?

    and then, is it illegal?

    circling around all of this is the question of does/did downloading hurt artists? the answer to that has generally been a resounding “no”.

  • Well, let’s not be so harsh if Costello wants to protect artists’ rights, that’s cool with me. But I think at stake here is not so much the artist rights but the publishing house rights. The artist only gets about 10% royalties, and while I can see how piracy can put a dent in that income, most of the people who like real music (as in Costello, as opposed to the Eagles or the Dixie Chix) will also gladly pay for it. I know for one I’ll gladly spend every penny on good stuff that comes out BECAUSE there is so little of it. So the main concern here is how to dupe the consumer into buying more crap, not in preventing sophisticated listeners from sharing music that they truly love, since that’s pretty damn impossible anyway. Just my 2c…

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Oh, I thought you meant his back catalog. BTW, I think Elvis is right. Illegal downloading is just stealing music, and I don’t do it. Of course, I am in a unique position (media) in that I get every CD I could ever want (and thousands I don’t want) for free, so my opinions on this topic are atypical. But it seems to me that in the absence of any real way for musicians to get paid for illegally downloaded tracks, it’s just stealing from them.

  • Yeah. That’s what I meant.

  • Eric Olsen

    “publishing catalog”

  • File me under “completely flabbergasted.” Why would Costello put that comment on the back of his CD and then stand behind something like this? What a goddamned hypocrite.

  • Geesh, guys, it means that he makes most of his money off of the publishing rights to his incredibly vast catalog of songs.

  • Like JCPenney, I assume:)

  • ClubhouseCancer

    “most of his income is derived from his catalog, not from his record sales”


  • it’s a real shame.

    al’s right though, The Delivery Man is killer.

  • Elvis has been on record for quite some ttime now with regard to illegal file-sharing. He regards it as theft, so this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. His stand on this is actually rather odd, since he himself has said that most of his income is derived from his catalog, not from his record sales, which have never been sky-high to begin with (and I would imagine that touring brings in a few dollars, too).

  • I lay it on the corrupting influence of Burt Bacharach – working with him would make anyone sell out.


  • That’s really odd, given that he put this message right above the FBI “Anti-Piracy” notice on the back cover of The Delivery Man:

    “The artist does not endorse the following warning. The FBI doesn’t have his home phone number and he hopes that they don’t have yours.”

    Why the about-face, I wonder?