February
3rd 2011
And I would rather be anywhere else but here today

Posted under: art, happy endings, unhappy endings

Since we’ve been discussing whether Egypt 2011 will turn out to be more like Iran in 1979 or Eastern Europe ca. 1989, I thought we’d all enjoy this commentary on geopolitics, Cold War proxy wars, and the empire, “Oliver’s Army” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions in 1979. (At least, that’s what I think it’s about. Different interpretations/analyses are welcome in the comments below!)

Here’s hoping that those tanks massing in Tahrir Square in Cairo protect more people than they injure today.

15 Comments »

15 Responses to “And I would rather be anywhere else but here today”

  1. koshembos on 03 Feb 2011 at 10:34 am #

    It may also end like Prague 1968.

  2. Western Dave on 03 Feb 2011 at 11:22 am #

    I never could figure out what Oliver’s Army was about, except it seemed very specifically British.

  3. Profane on 03 Feb 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    The big question in my mind is what happens if/when the army is ordered to do more than passively aid the police/regime. Lets not forget Romania 1989 as an example.

  4. truffula on 03 Feb 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    I thought Oliver’s Army was about working class boys being conscripted to kill and die as a jobs program. How else are you supposed to understand “Called careers information; Have you got yourself an occupation”?

    Also, Elvis Costello is shockingly young in that video. But then, so was I at the time.

  5. Historiann on 03 Feb 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    Truffula–that’s pretty much the position of Egyptian soldiers right now, as far as I can tell.

  6. Western Dave on 03 Feb 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    “Music critics, such as Prof. Simon Frith [3] and others [4] have suggested that the title refers to Oliver Cromwell whose New Model Army was a forerunner to the modern British Army. (and I would add, the occupation of Ireland – wd)

    Of the song’s meaning, Costello himself has stated: “I made my first trip to Belfast in 1978 and saw 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’. I don’t know who said that; maybe it was me, but it seems to be true nonetheless. I pretty much had the song sketched out on the plane back to London.”[5]

    As well as The Troubles the song alludes to several other “trouble spots” around the world at the time including South Africa, Palestine, and “Checkpoint Charlie”. The reference to “The Murder Mile” is often mistaken as the Murder Mile in Cyprus but refers, in fact, to a part of North Belfast where Catholics, or those suspected of being so, were taken off the street and tortured to death by Loyalists. It has been suggested that the events in Belfast prompted Costello to write this “anti-occupation anthem”.[6]”

    Thanks Wikipedia!

  7. Dr. Crazy on 03 Feb 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    I love this song! (It’s the Man-Kitty’s theme song, actually.)

  8. Speculative Speculum on 03 Feb 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    Oh Lawrd! I’m going to have to show this to my parents!

    I’m sure that we could come up with lots of examples.

  9. Historiann on 04 Feb 2011 at 5:20 am #

    Thanks, Western Dave! Truffula is right: the connectionisn’t really perfect, but the ideas of the militarized globe and imperial army occupying countries in civil war seemed enough of a connection.

    I have no idea if Egypt’s troops are conscripts, and of course Egypt hasn’t occupied other countries, empire-style, for quite a while now. But it seems like they’re in the middle of something big, and the whole world is watching. . .

    And I was wrong about the Cold War connection. I always thought that “checkpoint Charlie” referred to the Berlin Wall. Makes more sense that this song is talking about Ireland in the 1970s, of course.

  10. Fratguy on 04 Feb 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    “anywhere else but here today”, are you sure you are not talking about your faculty meeting with the associate dean this afternoon?
    Root canal anyone ?

  11. Historiann on 04 Feb 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    It’s with the Provost. And some of my friends are Associate Deans. . . (And yes, I’m talking about that meeting too.)

  12. Fratguy on 04 Feb 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Oops, sorry for the mistake !, have fun anyway

  13. Indyanna on 04 Feb 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    An occasional “Friday of Departure” event would be a very salubrious thing on a whole range of campuses I could think of . A bracing appeal from the stakeholders to the existing executive team to “think about your legacy” and good luck on the next assignment, followed by your standard-issue “breakfast of renewal” type of ceremony with the interim or transitional entity.

    I had a couple of recent American evacuees from a hotel overlooking Tahrir Square in my living room last night. May have some pictures to forward shortly. They said it was a pretty undescribable thing to experience.

  14. Comrade PhysioProf on 05 Feb 2011 at 5:38 am #

    The music was so much better back then. When that fucken “woe is me, I’m so depressed” solipsistic “grunge” garbage gotte popular in the early nineties, I knew we were fucked.

  15. Randall Stephens on 10 Feb 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    This is one of my absolute favorite songs. Has gone onto a couple of comps I’ve made in recent years. Really beautiful.

    And an ABBA staccato piano to boot!