Elvis hands on torch of righteous anger

ELVIS Costello has been one of my musical heroes ever since he burst onto the scene, knock-kneed and bespectacled, 26 years ago. It's not that he's a great singer, though he's better than many people give him credit for.

ELVIS Costello has been one of my musical heroes ever since he burst onto the scene, knock-kneed and bespectacled, 26 years ago.

It's not that he's a great singer, though he's better than many people give him credit for. It's partly the eclectic enthusiasm of a man who can make records of punk, country, power-pop, classical music, soul, grunge or ballads and still be the same good bloke.

Mostly it's that he writes songs of every kind – love, hate, politics or whatever – with more wit and intelligence than anyone else.

Protest songs don't come much straighter or uncomfortable than Costello's Shipbuilding: "Somebody said that someone got filled in for saying that people get killed in the result of this shipbuilding."

It's one of the best songs ever written – but its time was the Falklands war, 21 years ago now.

There's nothing wrong with Costello doing an album of Tony Bennett-style crooning. It's a massive shift from the back-to-his-roots drive of last year's When I Was Cruel, but such contrasts have always been Costello's way.

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If he wants to write about his love life rather than the state of the world, that's up to him. No doubt he does it very well (I haven't heard North yet).

But it's sad to hear him explain the lack of protest in his recent output thus: "There isn't an obviously repressive regime in England any more."

Is this really the man who sang to Margaret Thatcher that he wanted to "tramp the dirt down" on her grave?

It seems the torch of political anger has been handed on. It's being carried now by a group of young American bands, including Good Charlotte, Pennywise, Green Day and Sum 41. Strangely, they even sound just like many of Costello's New Wave mates did in the 1970s.

They have been rounded up by one Fat Mike, bassist of NOFX and owner of the Fat Wreck Chords label, to lead a movement called Rock Against Bush.

Fat Mike says: "About a year ago I decided to use my influence to get bands together to speak out about the president.

"I think it's our responsibility as citizens and musicians to do so. He's wrecking the country and the world. He's starting wars for no reason, he's ruining the environment, and he does things like cut taxes when we need money."

Hear, hear.

With an album, a tour and anti-Bush TV ads in preparation, Mike adds: "I'm planning on losing a lot of money, but I don't care. This is something I really believe in."

Who says there are no good guys in America any more?

***

DEATH threats? I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention.

It's not in fact the purpose of this column to get under people's skin, whatever some may think.

I note with some satisfaction that a majority of the British people now agree with me that going to war in Iraq was a Bad Thing.

There are signs that around half of all US citizens - that's getting on for 150 million people - now share my view that George W Bush and his administration are a Bad Thing.

I suspect most intelligent lifeforms would agree with me that the Bible - wonderful, fascinating, enjoyable book though it is - is not the literal, word-for-word truth.

My warnings against invasive internet porn undoubtedly got more heads nodding than shaking.

Even when I argued for drugs to be legalised, the reaction I got was entirely positive (HM government, please note).

I believe I may now have hit, however, on the one thing that will upset EVERYBODY who reads this column.

I have discovered I hold an opinion with which NOBODY agrees. And what's more, one which will get right up people's noses just by being expressed.

So what is this deeply, universally objectionable view of mine?

It is this: David Jason is a merely ordinary actor who has appeared only in mediocre roles in banal TV programmes.

There, I've said it. I told you it was shocking.

Write in by all means, but please - no anthrax in my mail.

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