The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Everything You Love Is Cancelled Now

Posted on | January 13, 2022 | No Comments

You can still purchase Elvis Costelo’s 1979 album Armed Forces, but who knows how much longer this will be possible? How long before we’re required to forget that it ever existed?

Elvis Costello has said that he will no longer perform one of his biggest hits, “Oliver’s Army,” and has urged radio stations to also stop playing the song because of its use of the N-word.
The song, which is taken from Costello’s 1979 album “Armed Forces” and is one of the rockstar’s best-known hits, was written about The Troubles in Northern Ireland — a long and deadly conflict between mostly Protestant unionists determined for Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom and Catholic republicans desperate to break away and create a united Ireland.
The anti-Black racial slur is used during the song to describe a British soldier. The line in question reads: “Only takes one itchy trigger, one more widow, one less white n——.”
In a recent interview with The Telegraph, Costello said he plans to go on tour this summer, but will no longer be performing “Oliver’s Army” as part of his setlist.
“If I wrote that song today, maybe I’d think twice about it,” he told The Telegraph in a recent interview.
“That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army — it’s historically a fact — but people hear that word go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend.”
Costello continued to say that he censored “Oliver’s Army” during his last tour, but he no longer believes that censorship is the correct method.

If you are familiar with British culture of the time, you understand how the word was used to denote someone of lowly status — a lackey, a stooge, expendable. John Lennon famously used it that way in another song we’re supposed to forget ever existed and nobody — absolutely nobody — could plausibly claim Lennon was racist. Nor have I ever encountered evidence that Elvis Costello (whose real name is Declan Patrick McManus) harbored any prejudice against anyone. If such evidence existed, surely it would be widely publicized, and yet this lyric, whose meaning was always clear to any educated person, must now send “Oliver’s Army” down the Memory Hole, airbrushed from existence like Trotsky during the Stalinist era. Has anyone in the Permanently Indignant class even bothered to ask what the song is about?

Hong Kong is up for grabs.
London is full of Arabs.
We could be in Palestine
Overrun by the Chinese line,
With the boys from the Mersey
And the Thames and the Tyne.
But there’s no danger,
It’s a professional career.
Though it could be arranged,
With just a word in Mr. Churchill’s ear.
If you’re out of luck or out of work,
We could send you to Johannesburg.

What an astonishingly brilliant commentary on imperialism and its consequences. Costello was expressing the view of the British soldier — a cynical working-class chap, generally — posted in Belfast, risking his life to keep the Irish down while, at the same time, “London is full of Arabs” (even more true now than then) and Britain’s Pacific outpost of Hong Kong was “up for grabs.” The soldier mocks the absurdity of his helpless situation in Northern Ireland, comparing it to the prospect of World War Three breaking out in the Middle East (“overrun by the Chinese line”) or being deployed to South Africa to prop up the apartheid regime. This was written during the dark era of the late 1970s, before the economic revival that followed under Thatcher’s administration, and there were a lot of young men “out of luck or out of work” in England, including not a few like Costello, who was a Catholic of Irish ancestry.

The religious background of the conflict in Ireland is signified by the “Oliver” in the title which “refers to English Parliamentarian leader Oliver Cromwell, who personally led the English forces which subjugated Ireland in 1649.” So the entire song, really, is about the cruel absurdity of this centuries-long warfare, with Catholic boys in England required to do service in “Oliver’s Army” fighting the Irish Catholics!

It doesn’t matter what your opinion was (or is) about British policy in Northern Ireland, the song is pure genius, in quite the same way the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic “Fortunate Son” is pure genius, no matter your opinion about U.S. policy in Vietnam.

Some would argue that “Oliver’s Army” is the best song Costello ever wrote, rivaling even his poignant breakthrough hit “Alison.” But now he can’t even play it anymore, because of stupid Political Correctness.

Well, you can still buy it. Just don’t tell anyone, or else you could become another dot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “hate map.”

The eyes of Texas are upon you,
’Til Gabriel blows his horn.

IYKWIMAITYD.




 

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