Elvis Costello explains how to play the guitar, philosophically

I mean, I do get the point of the original songs being powerful, but I do think there is also power in acknowledging past ignorance, too.


Which I think Elvis Costello is doing by allowing the song to stand as is, but asking for it to be mothballed.


An analogous situation with films might be something like Song of the South. The film is important for a number of reasons, and access for historical and criticism purposes is important. And currently fairly restricted.

The “rewrite it” aspect. You’d be remaking or editing it so it could continue to be shown widely, without what originally offended.

This sorta deprives the property of what actual value it has. Which is entirely in the context and impacts of the work itself.

It’s also roughly speaking what Disney does. With using the Briar Rabbit characters in isolation, continuing to use Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah and decontextualized clips from the film. As well as continuing to release the film abroad, where the offense is less obvious into the 90’s.

And they catch hell for it. Because they are continuing to commercially exploit the racist nostalgia for the film. Despite not actively presenting it.

The two things aren’t mutually exclusive. Song of the South is both restricted in terms critical and academic interest and “being part of the conversation”, and out there in less actively problematic form.

Neither has solved, or really addressed the problem.

I did specifically choose a more extreme and clear example here. Because it’s the go to illustration of these problems when it comes to film.

Not actively promoting and exploiting something is not the same thing as removing it. Hell the video which has quite a bit more of the easy to take out of context, misunderstand, or misappropriate going on than the song. Is still on his YouTube page.

For his part, though his comments were a bit old man-y and brief, hew seems to have aptly addressed your concern.

He said he does not agree with “bleeping” the song. As that just draws attention to the problem. And he did re-write it and choose not to release it. Seemingly for the same issue.

I think what he’s concerned about is that these things center the problem, decontextualizing the song. Removing it from the meaning he intended. Make it about, and a response to the controversy.

Which is not in anyway keeping the original work and it’s original concept “in the conversation”.

Somewhat worse when people do alter lyrics like this. It some times becomes a culture war football (though I doubt that would happen here). With some making a very public point of sticking with the original for less than respectable reasons. Or political correctness coming for your sacred cows becoming the line.

Preservation is important. But this a wide release, popular song, from a really successful mass market artists. There’s millions of copies running around, living pretty permanently on internets, the song is in active rotation. It came out at time when it’s intent, context and creation were heavily covered.

No one’s ever going to have problems finding a copy, or writing a think piece about where it came from. Or the chord structure or whatever.

None the less because Costello isn’t out there pushing the damn thing.

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Oliver’s Army was a criticism (The song was based on the premise ‘they always get a working class boy to do the killing’". – sleeve notes). Song of the South was whitewashing. :man_shrugging:

Context matters.


Yeah, seriously… big difference. It was still wrong to use the word, but it’s not remotely the same as that lost cause mythos piece of trash…


And re: rewrites…

Two words vs. an entire script. :man_shrugging:


Like I said. Extreme example to highlight the dynamics you mentioned. With the particular dilemma in Film and Media and you referenced both Fox News and Nationalist Propaganda posters.

I did not that it’s similar to the issue with the song, or on basis of the particular slur. Which actually appear in the film at all.

It’s actually not a particularly good comparison point for this particular problem in pop songs. Which is part of why I ran with that particular example.

If you’d rather something that doesn’t have the problem from the opposite direction. Though it doesn’t have active controversy around it in a similar vein.

Night and Fog is not erased from history or unavailable simply because it is not in your corner movie theater. Neither is it, or the subjects it covers dropped from the discussion around the Holocaust.

But a less devastating edited version or new bowdlerized version of it wouldn’t much serve to put it in front of people. And it wouldn’t really do what the film was meant to either.

Instead. It’d be all about why the hell you would do that. And how dare they do that.

Incidentally, I’m not sure what the process is these days, but Night and Fog was available for checkout from the media library at the University of Florida with special permission for viewing in the media rooms. I suppose to guard against theft.

I mean…Oliver’s Army was always intended to be a pop song, but Night and Fog was more of a treatise. It simply wouldn’t serve its intended purpose.

ETA: Nobody can make Costello do anything with his music, really. I’m mainly vexed that it has come to this because it’s not really his fault that so many people can’t be bothered to learn and understand the lyrics other than the two words that stand out to them (and I’m not saying those words are justified).

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Maybe. Maybe just so they could warn people?

For my part I had to get permission from a Department Head to avoid seeing it for the third time. At some point I was sent home with copy.


Like I said I don’t think it’s all that applicable a comparison. When we talk about those particular issues in film, and some other media it’s this dueling preservation vs visibility thing.

With a song like this it doesn’t seem to apply. Nothing in Costello not engaging with it on the regular prevents anyone from accessing it. Or removes it from the discussion around the events and subjects it’s about. Or even neccisarily impinges on the song itself.

It just cuts down on people shouting that word in a stadium.

And it’s not at particular risk for getting hard to find. No one’s going to prevent you from going to listen to it right now.

Which is what brought to mind Song of the South. Watching that one for a lecture about all of that important context back when I was in school. Involved ripping a DVD off a Japanese region LaserDisc owned by one of the professors. As neither the Film Archive nor the Library at my school had copy.

Commenters on the film often realize that they haven’t even seen it, then hit stumbling blocks when they try to. Though the internet has made it a bit more accessible. There’s an access and preservation issue here, that’s commonly commented on by critics and academics. And the main reason why there’s any traction on the idea of any sort of release.

All intractably connected to the fact that is really just should go away, and it isn’t really right for Disney to keep using it in anyway.

I will not sing a hateful song
Though it’s in me to sing
I know to drink the blood is wrong
And undue error brings

The Constatines

Every updated version of “Great Leap Forward” I’ve heard has felt like a live improv that was fine but definitely made the song weaker.


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