Great Running Song: Cruel To Be Kind

Last night Dave and I went to see Nick Lowe at La Zona Rosa here in Austin. I was mostly excited to see him because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love the song Cruel To Be Kind. It was released in 1979, when I was 11. Those were my roller skating glory days when I spend every Saturday and Sunday afternoon at Willow Lake Skating Rink. I can only imagine that I took many laps around the warped floor to that song (with a comb sticking out of the back pocket of my jeans, naturally).

Here’s the fairly silly video for an incredibly cool song. (The limo driver is Dave Edmunds.)

But the man known as “Basher” — because when he’s producing in the recording studio he’s known for his philosophy to “bash it out now, tart it up later” — has much more to offer than nostalgia for one of his biggest hits.

That show last night was the just… oh! so so so good. Like, Good. Good. GOOD.

Nick Lowe is 63, but under the lights with their instruments in their hands, he and his bandmates might have been 23. They walked out on stage looking like interesting older gentleman and were transformed into youthful rock stars as soon as they started to play. It was a clever trick, and the wan warblers we’re stuck with now could learn thing or two about charm and how to sell a song by watching Nick Lowe and his band.

Aside from being carried away by the music, I was also totally inspired and delighted by the band’s youthfulness. I try not to dwell on my age (44 now) — and growing older is certainly better than the alternative of my aging coming to an abrupt, permanent end (unless there’s some kind of pact to be made with a witch or demon or some such… then you can sign me up!). But I do worry sometimes about getting “old” in the way that kids think of old people being old. I worry about losing my sense of fun, or being overly tired all the time, or reaching a point where I feel like it would be wrong to wear Converse.

Nick Lowe pretty much blew away all those concerns with a spectacular performance of some really great songs. And that is one of the reasons why live music is awesome.

Really Great Songs

Speaking of really great songs, Nick Lowe produced Elvis Costello’s first five albums, including My Aim Is True (which is, as all right-thinking people know, pretty much perfect) — and he was also the producer for The Damned’s single “New Rose”  in 1976, the first single ever from a British punk band. PuNk RoCk!

Proving that there’s no combo quite so powerful as punk rock indignation coupled with a sweet heart, Lowe also wrote (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, which was most famously recorded by Elvis C.

So we got to hear all of those wonderful throwback songs in their live, breathless glory. But that wasn’t all… the troupe of rakish gents has been on a world tour since January to promote their new album The Old Magic, which melds the playful spirit of Buddy Holly with a smoother crooner vibe. I fell hard for the song “I Read A Lot” which explains what ol’ Nick is doing with his newly broken heart — and I was itching to break out the few East Coast swing moves Dave and I know for the rockabilly pulse of “Somebody Cares for Me.”

I bopped. I shimmied. I drank club soda and stayed up past midnight. And I might have gotten a tear in my eye during the second encore (!) when Nick gutted us with a solo acoustic version of “Allison.”  It was — to borrow a turn of phrase from our friends across the pond — bloody brilliant. Do yourself a favor and put some Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello on your workout playlist. It will surely keep you young at heart.

My favorites for running:
Cruel To Be Kind
7 Nights to Rock
Blame It On Cain
Mystery Dance

Listen to Nick Lowe on NPR’s World Cafe


  • Emily says:

    OMG. Never saw that clip of Elvis Costello on Letterman before…LOVE him! Thanks for the recommendations, I’ve been wanting to update my running playlist for a while. Will most certainly check these out!

  • Tricia says:

    Glad to hear the old guys are still rocking it! Will check out NL’s album. As for Elvis, some of my fondest memories are of seeing him play live, especially the time he did a version of Randy Crawford’s One Day I’ll Fly Away, it was totally awesome. Despite my husband’s scoffing (he calls home “The Old Groaner”, cheek!) EC will always be my favourite recording artist.

  • Lisa says:

    I was at Rollerworld in 1979 in my Roadrunner Jeans with the cuffs rolled and a comb in my back pocket… and probably a velour hoodie. hahaha! Thanks for the memory.

  • Lydia says:

    They will pry my Chuck Taylors (and my combat/jump boots) off MY COLD, DEAD, AND ANCIENT FEET.

  • bandmeeting says:

    Lowe’s erstwhile buddy Dave Edmonds has a couple of songs I think are great: Girls Talk and Teach Me Love (the guys from Squeeze actually wrote that one, I think).

  • Hope says:

    I LOVE Nick Lowe. Been a HUGE fan for years. “Stoplight Roses” is my favorite new song (decidedly NOT a running song, but so very fine.) He just gets better and better.