"Brilliant Mistake" as written by and Elvis Costello....
He thought he was the King of America
Where they pour Coca Cola just like vintage wine
Now I try hard not to become hysterical
But I'm not sure if I am laughing or crying
I wish that I could push a button
And talk in the past and not the present tense
And watch this hurtin' feeling disappear
Like it was common sense
It was a fine idea at the time
Now it's a brilliant mistake

She said that she was working for the ABC News
It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use
Her perfume was unspeakable
It lingered in the air
Like her artificial laughter
Her mementos of affairs
"Oh" I said "I see you know him"
"Isn't that very fortunate for you"
And she showed me his calling card
He came third or fourth and there were more than one or two
He was a fine idea at the time
Now he's a brilliant mistake

He thought he was the King of America
But it was just a boulevard of broken dreams
A trick they do with mirrors and with chemicals
The words of love in whispers
And the acts of love in screams
I wish that I could push a button
And talk in the past and not the present tense
And watch this lovin' feeling disappear
Like it was common sense
I was a fine idea at the time
Now I'm a brilliant mistake
I was a fine idea at the time
Now I'm a brilliant mistake


Lyrics submitted by Mopnugget

"Brilliant Mistake" as written by Elvis Costello

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Brilliant Mistake song meanings
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8 Comments

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  • +1
    My InterpretationSeems to me that it refers to the Bonnie Bartlett incident:

    "A trick they do with mirrors and with chemicals" seems to refer to the alcohol (chemicals) and the mirror that the press holds up to celebrities when they make a "brilliant" mistake. The "brilliant mistake" being, of course, his attempt to stifle conversation by being (as he put it) as offensive as possible - brilliant in the (drunk) moment, but a mistake in (sober) hindsight.

    But the song is great because it can be interpreted as any "brilliant mistake", and we've all made them.
    Beeryon December 21, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is possibly my favorite song. The lyrics are superb and his voice along with the music is just amazing.
    mafiachuckon April 13, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWanna know what's really brilliant? "I wish that I could push a button, and talk in the past and not the present teanse, and watch this hurtin' feeling disappear, like it was common sense" ... I've felt that so many times, and he puts it rather poetically. Awesome
    suckmykisson February 12, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSounds like it's partly autobiographical; some of it could be a reflection on the Bonnie Bramlett incident of 1979, which damaged Costello's career and reputation in the U.S.
    DJacques75on July 19, 2006   Link
  • 0
    My OpinionI know this is ridiculous, but I feel compelled to say it anyway:

    In 2000, George Bush seemed like a fine idea to almost half of the American public. He was installed. He thought he was the King of America. But now, years later, we're on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, and we all (well, most of us now) recognize him as a Brilliant Mistake.
    PencilNeckedGeekon December 07, 2008   Link
  • 0
    Lyric CorrectionI may be wrong, but isn't it "the words of love in whispers and the acts of love in screams"?
    cchaceon July 29, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My Interpretation"A trick they do with mirrors and with chemicals" -- a trick with mirrors refers to old-fashioned magic acts performed on stage (such as in Vaudeville) where mirrors were often the basis of the illusion. Chemicals refers to technology (If this song were more recent, I'd say it refers to pharmaceuticals specifically, but I am not sure how commonplace anti-depressants, etc. were when the song was written.) So, the two things that America excels at, entertainment and technology prevent us from noticing the boulevard of broken dreams.

    "The words of love in whispers, And the acts of love in screams" - In popular culture and many individual lives, sex is given far more attention and emphasis than feelings or romance. This line reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel's lyric And whisper'd in the sounds of silence."
    djm60546on August 28, 2015   Link
  • 0
    My Interpretation"Where they pour Coca Cola just like vintage wine" - popular culture is treated like fine art and consumer products have the greatest cultural significance.
    djm60546on August 28, 2015   Link

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