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FUV Essentials: Shari Rosen Ascher on Elvis Costello

Shari Rosen Ascher with Elvis Costello

Shari Rosen Ascher with Elvis Costello (photo courtesy of Shari Rosen Ascher)

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There are moments that matter most to me: my first kiss, my first love, and first heartbreak too. College graduation and big birthdays. My wedding day and the birth of my children. And there are two people who have shared each of these moments with me: my sister and Elvis Costello.

I was at Camp Natchez in West Copake, NY in the summer of 1978 when I had my first kiss and was introduced to the man who would later share my life. (He was not the same boy who kissed me!) While most of us were trying to memorize Meatloaf’s “Paradise by The Dashboard Light,” there was one counselor who was listening to a song about “Red Shoes.” She played it over and over and the more I heard it, the more I could not get the song out of my head.

But that “first kiss” of Costello’s music wasn’t an explosive love at first listen. More like the beginning of a slow simmer. By the time I went off to college in the fall of 1981, My Aim Is True was one of the many albums I schlepped up to school in a milk crate to be played on my Panasonic stereo. I was friendly with musicians in high school who loved Elvis Costello, and “Mystery Dance” was definitely a group favorite. But I was still more focused on the Who, the Doors, and James Taylor.

My world changed in 1982 with Costello’s Imperial Bedroom. In fact, I can almost look at my existence as pre-Imperial Bedroom and post-Imperial Bedroom. To me, the artwork on the cover evoked Picasso or even Kandinsky, and the title was spelled in a mysterious way: IbMePdErRoIoAmL. Like the lyrics, even the fonts forced you to think.

Imperial Bedroom is a true work of art, asking for the participation and reflection of the listener. It’s exactly where I was at this point in my life at the beginning of college: I could spend hours talking about poems, philosophy and '70s sit-coms. This album embodied an intellectual approach to pop music that I found extraordinary. It was always on my stereo. Costello’s songs got me through unrequited crushes ("Lipstick Vogue"), my first love ("Kid About It"), and utter heartbreak ("The Imposter").

The first time I saw Elvis Costello live was in the spring of 1983. A bunch of us (my sister included) drove from Waltham, Massachusetts to the Cape to see him on the "Punch the Clock" tour (I still have the t-shirt). It was revelatory. He was even better live than I could have hoped. When we returned to New York, he was playing at the pier on August 10, 1983, and we all spent the day waiting in line and making signs. We were in the first row for the show and we were determined to meet him.

We all went to the stage door, but my sister and her friend made it backstage. We were hanging out with the opening band, Aztec Camera, which was pretty cool. Since we had a long ride on the D train back to Brooklyn, I decided to find my 17-year-old sister. Security let me backstage and I found Robyn and her friend talking to Elvis (yes, I said hello!). He had a towel around his neck, and my sister asked if she could have it. He gave it to her and when we got home, we cut it half so we could each keep part of it. My sister hung up Elvis’ towel on her dorm room wall when she went to Brandeis that fall.

Those two concerts seem like a long time ago — I’ve seen Elvis Costello over 30 times since that summer, on every tour since 1983. I’ve seen him with the Attractions and the Imposters, partnering with Burt Bacharach, and completely solo. I’ve even seen him at “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “Saturday Night Live” tapings, opening for The Police and, lucky me, up close at WFUV.

Costello’s music would accompany me when I backpacked through Europe in 1985, when I commuted to work in the late ‘80s, and when I met my husband. When I got married in March 1991, my mother-in-law couldn’t understand why I didn’t want a band at the wedding. I insisted on a DJ so that I could have a playlist with Costello songs. The DJ didn’t have his music, so I lent him my albums so I could dance to "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and "Indoor Fireworks."

I love my husband, but I was not going to get married without Elvis Costello.

In July 1994, like many pregnant women, I went into a nesting phase before I gave birth to my first child. While many women take time to clean the house, prepare the nursery, or get their professional life in order, I made mixtapes. I had been holding my headphones on my belly for months, determined to bring my child into this world with an awesome soundtrack. Side B of that tape was an assortment of some of my favorites songs from the Grateful Dead, Indigo Girls and James Taylor. But Side A was all Elvis Costello, songs taken from his first 11 albums, like My Aim is True and Blood and Chocolate.

I was in labor for about 24 hours — eight of those hours in the hospital — so we heard that tape over and over again. But when push came to shove — literally — it was playing on the Elvis side.

For my second son’s delivery in January 1997, I made a new tape and this one was a little different — but the first side was still entirely Elvis. As is usually the case for the second child, my labor was much shorter (I was quite thankful) and we only heard the tape once. I was blessed with another beautiful and healthy baby. Both bring me great joy to this day. They both loved "Miracle Man" when they were little and we sang it in the car all the time. And my older son is now a musician — coincidence?

I’ve been working at WFUV since April, 2003. I had been working steadily since the age of 20, but in the aftermath of 9/11, I lost the funding for a consulting business I had started. I was making some pivotal choices about my life and decided to stay home with my children until I could find a job that mattered to me. I missed my professional identity, but I also wanted the work to mean something to me, to serve a greater good. A few days after discussing my decision with my sister, I woke up to WFUV on my clock radio. I heard a promo for a job opening: “Do you love WFUV? Do you have experience in media sales?” Are you kidding me?

I drove to the Bronx for my interview a few days later. I walked into Keating Hall and as I entered FUV’s offices, I smiled because playing on the station, at that exact moment, was Costello’s “Everyday I Write the Book.

I knew that this was where I was meant to be.

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