History lessons with Elvis Costello — Armed Forces-Tea Party mash-up, side A

Happy Sunday, folks! I know the price of climate disaster will be steep before too long, but I will savor for now the extra dose of warmth and vitamin D we’re getting here in the midwest. And thank you, of course, for checking out my musings here at radio K-SAT. In the event that you’re in NYC on 10/29, I’ll be giving a talk kitty-corner from the Empire State Building at 630pm on technology, music, and fandom. It should be a hootenany. (Tix are free, but a reservation is required.)

For the most part, I resist partisan pontifications on the blog, but with the frustration on the left and the right with the Tea Party extortionists, I think the time is right for a bit of humor at their expense. As fans of Elvis Costello know, the original working title for album #3 was *Emotional Fascism.*

“Fascism,” of course, refers to an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government, a social organization of the sort and, more generally, intolerant views or practice. While Costello and the Attractions were assembling Armed Forces, Mr. C.’s marriage was falling apart at the time and, under Thatcher, the thugs of the National Front were increasingly visible and violent. If charity begins at home, Mr. C. was party to little of it at home or in his homeland.

The Clash, Rock Against Racism concert, Victoria Park, 1978.


Following the bouncy, radio-friendly tunes of the first two LPs (“Radio, Radio” excepted, of course) , the sound turned darker and denser on *Armed Forces* and, for long stretches, served as the sonic analog to the paranoia and power grabs represented in the lyrics. It’s a sharp production effort by Nick Lowe, and a pop LP for the ages.

Here I follow Marx’s reminder from The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Just *Armed Forces* helped shine light on the emotions and fascism and armed adventures of Thatcher’s England, is it possible it holds lessons about the American republic, in its current and dilapidated state? Is Representative Boehner the farcical re-presentation of the tragedy-inducing Margaret Thatcher? Ms. T. was considerably less prone to tears–and not because she was more “man” than Boehner. She simply believed with more conviction the things that came out of her mouth.

Side A

“Accidents Will Happen”

The second single from the album is, according to Costello, a “heartless apology and barely coded confession.” The farcical “Accidents” of the Tea Partiers include Representative Ellman’s position on taking her salary during the shutdown after voting to deny millions of Americans their paychecks:

“And it’s the damage that we do / and never know / it’s the words that we don’t say / that scare me so”

Is it possible? Could a few of the TPers actually be scared? I’m bloody terrified.

“Senior Service”
Some pundits suggest the presence of big money for entry-level Congress-folk undermines “senior service,” begets “junior dissatisfaction,” and allows Canuck-borns like Ted Cruz to hi-jack the government. You can just imagine Cruz reporting back to his fellow Tea Partiers about a meeting with the Koch brothers:
“They took me in the office / and they told me very carefully / The way that I could benefit from death and disability”
There will be death and disability, I figure. Whether it will benefit Cruz’s political fortunes remains to be seen.

“Oliver’s Army”

The Oliver in question is likely Cromwell or Lyttleton (who served under Churchill). EC himself explained how, following his first trip to Belfast in 1978, he spied “mere boys walking around in battle dress with automatic weapons. They were no longer just on the evening news. These snapshot experiences exploded into visions of mercenaries and imperial armies around the world. The song was based on the premise ‘they always get a working class boy to do the killing.'” (Costello reprised this theme to great effect in “Shipbuilding” on *Punch the Clock*.) I don’t know how hardscrabble the roots are of the Tea Party folks, “but it’s no laughing party / when you’ve been on the murder mile.”
“Big Boys”
“I was caught in the suction / by a face like a truncheon / I was down upon one knee / stroking her vanity” — So confesses the anti-hero of “Big Boys.” And who might the subject of his desire? Ms. Thatcher? That might require an understanding o of history. Does the phoenix of Sarah Palin have a visage “like a truncheon”? Hmm. 

“Green Shirt”

I’ll always remember seeing Elvis Costello in 1986 (Nick Lowe opened), when he toured with the roulette wheel and the go-go dancer cages, and took pot-shots at David Lee Roth. When he played “Green Shirt” that night, hundreds of concert-goers clapped in time in bars 6 and 12 (?) in place of the percussion. Lots of fun. 
I think Aaron Schock (R, Ill.) best fits the profile of “Green Shirt.” Here he is in green shorts — the best I could do.
“You tease, and you flirt / and you shine all the buttons on your green shirt.”
It’s certainly the case that Rep. Shock is pleased with himself and, as a result of his obstinacy, there’s no doubt that “somebody’s going to get it.”

“Party Girl”

Years after, Costello explained that “Party Girl” was written for an art student acquaintance, following an evening of “kindness and tenderness.” While no one would mistake Christine O’Donnell’s tactics and Weltanschauung as kind or tender, she partied with Wiccans and, as she told Bill Maher, “”One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar.” Party girl indeed!
And here’s the odd video for “Army”: 
Thanks for reading all the way to the end of today’s ramble. Please chime in with comments or objections, and have a lovely, lovely day.

potpourri for punks (and mothers) — pix, Stagger Lee, etc.

Happy Mother’s Day all, and thanks for checking out my blog once again–or, if you’re a first-timer, welcome! My book’s been out for two whole days now in the UK, so it’s too early to report whether it’s got much traction with the home team fans just yet.

There isn’t much in the book that’s maternal-themed, but I’ve got to work a tie-in, so here goes. When putting the book together, I was under such a tight timeline, I wasn’t able to pursue permissions for the photo below of two of the key protagonists. In the book’s section on WPIX-FM, the NYC radio station that was brilliant, hilarious and all-too-short-lived with Joe Piasek and Meg Griffin at the helm, I describe the photo below from New York magazine. (Here’s the link to “Is Real-Rock Radio Normal?,” which appeared in the same issue as “How Politicians Stay Out of Jail”–if only “abnormal” radio were still with us, and the most nefarious politicians were locked up, I wonder if we’d have this global warming problem solved by now.

piasek griffin -- 1980

(The thematic aside: I cannot, alas, find the actual audio footage, but Griffin reported in our interview that, in an early in-studio interview with Tom Petty, each of them exited their respective booths, and when Petty looked aghast in Griffin’s direction, she asked what was wrong. “Well, Meg,” Petty drawled, “I guess I’ve never seen a pregnant deejay before.” And, for the Clash-o-philes among you, here’s a clip from that interview of Griffin talking about the gracious Mick Jones.)  

Piasek and co.’s WPIX station was amazing, and here’s one of the playlists from August 1979, kindly provided by Will Keller, a PIX-o-phile who–when we were last in touch–was working on his own version of the brief-and-boisterous history of that moment in New York radio history.

WPIX -- general playlist -- aug 10 79

Is it possible? Charlie Daniels, Wings, Nick Lowe, and Lena Lovich, along with The Clash, ELO, Ellen Foley, and Supertramp, all on the same playlist? For a fleeting moment, the “From Elvis to Elvis” format worked brilliantly, with live broadcasts of shows from CBGB and a host of fun radio stunts. But the bean counters at WPIX couldn’t sit still long enough for the public to catch on–and for their own good, too, as the station showed a financial turn-around just before they decided, once again, to modify “the format to improve the product to make it more mass acceptable,” according to the New York Times (Rockwell, “Pop Life,” March 21, 1980).  

Following the format change (and mass firing), Piasek bailed from radio, worked for Nickelodeon for a spell, and currently staffs the helm at WIOX-FM, in Roxbury, New York, a distinctive model for private-public partnerships in community radio. I met Joe for lunch and conversation last summer, and he’s still as lively as ever, and remains excited about the possibilities of radio, music that matters, and a community of engaged listeners.

Meg Griffin, of course, still spins discs for Sirius XM Radio, and is one of the subjects featured in a new documentary: I Am What I Play, “a feature length documentary about the heyday of rock radio.” I’m certainly sympathetic with folks trying to balance the day job and the after-hours project, and wish them all the best putting the final edit together.

On the potpourri tip: this morning I encountered crossword puzzle query about Lloyd Price’s hit from 1959 (answer below), and on wikipedia a featured article drew my attention to Danie Mellora contemporary Indigenous Australian artist of no relation to another Mellor we know, I figure.

Oh, Stagger! What would your mother have made of this mess?

Have a delightful week, culture comrades!