Elvis Costello retires ‘Oliver’s Army’-“White n****r” lyric

Page 1 of 1 [ 14 posts ] 

ASPartOfMe
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 64
Gender: Male
Posts: 27,758
Location: Long Island, New York

19 Jan 2022, 7:30 am

Elvis Costello won’t play this song live anymore over a racial slur ‘I didn’t intend’

Quote:
The song, which is about the military and imperialism and reached No. 2 on the U.K. charts back in the day, includes a racial slur in lyrics that describe a nameless British private: “Only takes one itchy trigger / One more widow, one less white [N-word].”

“That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army — it’s historically a fact,” Costello told the U.K.'s Telegraph over the weekend. “But people hear that word [and] go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend.”

“If I wrote that song today, maybe I’d think twice about it,” Costello added.

Oliver’s Army” dates itself with other references to Britain’s waning influence in the world as it was at the time

Costello said he wrote a new verse about censorship for the song on his last tour but ultimately didn’t see the point.

Radio stations that bleep out the offensive word are making “a mistake,” he said. “They’re making it worse by bleeping it for sure. Because they’re highlighting it then. Just don’t play the record!”

The “Watching the Detectives” singer is likely a little sensitive after decades of dealing with an accusation of racism he earned in a drunken 1979 bar spat in Ohio. Sparring with members of the Stephen Stills Band after both had played gigs, Costello threw around that same racist slur, and he definitely wasn’t talking about his grandfather.

Rather, the way Ultimate Classic Rock tells it, he used the N-word to describe legends James Brown and Ray Charles, prompting a backhanded slap from one of Stills’ backup singers, Bonnie Bramlett, who went to the media with her story after the spat devolved into a brawl.

Costello wound up holding his own press conference to defend himself against charges of racism. He explained he had been drunk and tired from touring. But he did not say he was sorry.

An apology finally came years later, during a chat with collaborator Questlove in 2013.

“I thought I was being ironic,” Costello said of that night in 1979, remarking on his arrogant youthfulness at the time. The Londoner of English-Irish descent said he presumed that the white American musicians he was arguing with didn’t appreciate the same R&B music that had influenced him.

“It’s upsetting,” Costello continued, “because I can’t explain how I even got to think you could be funny about something like that.”

He noted in that discussion that the racist label stuck with him over the years and has been revived periodically on social media, despite his repeated attempts to clear the air.

“I’m sorry. You know? It’s about time I said it out loud,” he said.


_________________
Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

It is Autism Acceptance Month.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


Dox47
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 28 Jan 2008
Gender: Male
Posts: 12,087
Location: Seattle-ish

19 Jan 2022, 3:23 pm

He should have doubled down, he's too old to cancel.


_________________
“The totally convinced and the totally stupid have too much in common for the resemblance to be accidental.”
-- Robert Anton Wilson


Fnord
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 6 May 2008
Age: 65
Gender: Male
Posts: 54,768
Location: Stendec

19 Jan 2022, 3:26 pm

The man has finally acquired a conscience.  I applaud his decision.



TwisterUprocker
Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

Joined: 24 Nov 2019
Gender: Male
Posts: 137

20 Jan 2022, 4:06 am

A White n...gr is a delusional idiot that thinks they are black.



VegetableMan
Veteran
Veteran

Joined: 11 Jun 2014
Gender: Male
Posts: 5,015
Location: Illinois

20 Jan 2022, 4:32 am

TwisterUprocker wrote:
A White n...gr is a delusional idiot that thinks they are black.


Actually, the term was used in Great Britain to insult the Irish. In the context of the song it had no racist intent, although it's obviously a very offensive term.


_________________
What do you call a hot dog in a gangster suit?

Oscar Meyer Lansky


naturalplastic
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 26 Aug 2010
Age: 67
Gender: Male
Posts: 28,741
Location: temperate zone

20 Jan 2022, 5:12 am

^
Exactly.

And thats what Costello's song was referring to.

The Irish being occupied by British forces in Northern Ireland.

"One pull of the trigger...one more widow...one less White n****r".


Costello was expressing sympathy for the Irish, and (though born in London) he is part Irish himself. So you could argue that he has the same right to call himself a "White n****r" as Black American rappers have - to call themselves "Niggas". :lol:



ASPartOfMe
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 64
Gender: Male
Posts: 27,758
Location: Long Island, New York

20 Jan 2022, 7:08 am

It is an anti imperialism song.

At the time it came out I had not heard of the expression “white n****r” and it was shocking both to hear both “n****r” and “white” attached to it on the radio. Even then I understood the song was anti imperialistic and thought those lyrics were his attempt at being “edgy” and “punk”. The man was banned from SNL for years because he stopped singing in the middle of “Less than Zero” a song against a racist British politician because it was irrelevant to the American audience(The replacement song ‘Radio Radio’ was and is relevant). I do not remember him getting flack over the lyrics in question then or now. Perhaps it is because the “offense archivists” have not heard of this over four decade old song or perhaps they have not gotten around to it.

As mentioned in the article this has not been his only use of the N-word. The fight in the bar mentioned in the OP was big news at the time. He was not in anyway canceled in the modern sense. His follow up albums got played. Today he is considered a rock elder statesmen. I do believe at the time would he have become a much bigger star had Bonnie Bramlett not told the media about it. His use of the N-Word was a big part of it but not the only part. Bonnie Bromlett when she apparently knocked Costello on his ass, put a young upstart Brit who had insulted American music royalty in his place.


_________________
Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

It is Autism Acceptance Month.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


VegetableMan
Veteran
Veteran

Joined: 11 Jun 2014
Gender: Male
Posts: 5,015
Location: Illinois

20 Jan 2022, 11:37 am

I do remember hearing about the bar incident. It was disappointing to me, but I'm still a huge fan of his music.


_________________
What do you call a hot dog in a gangster suit?

Oscar Meyer Lansky


funeralxempire
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 27 Oct 2014
Age: 37
Gender: Non-binary
Posts: 16,814
Location: I'm right here

20 Jan 2022, 12:14 pm

VegetableMan wrote:
TwisterUprocker wrote:
A White n...gr is a delusional idiot that thinks they are black.


Actually, the term was used in Great Britain to insult the Irish. In the context of the song it had no racist intent, although it's obviously a very offensive term.


There's a book about the Quebecois that uses that phrase, but it's quite inappropriate there too. It's not intended to be offensive but it's not easily defended from accusations that it's obviously offensive. While various European immigrant communities and Quebecois did face significant issues, they also were able to assimilate whereas people who were colour-coded as different couldn't.


_________________
You can't buy happiness; steal it.
戦争ではなく戦争と戦う


ASPartOfMe
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 64
Gender: Male
Posts: 27,758
Location: Long Island, New York

20 Jan 2022, 2:35 pm

VegetableMan wrote:
I do remember hearing about the bar incident. It was disappointing to me, but I'm still a huge fan of his music.

I have discussed this a number of times but when "New wave" first came out it was a revelation to see people with even more "nerdy" personas than me such as David Byrne and Costello having some success it was a revelation. It was reflected in the "jumpy" way the music sounded.


_________________
Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

It is Autism Acceptance Month.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


cyberdad
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 21 Feb 2011
Age: 54
Gender: Male
Posts: 26,737

20 Jan 2022, 6:28 pm

ASPartOfMe wrote:
VegetableMan wrote:
I do remember hearing about the bar incident. It was disappointing to me, but I'm still a huge fan of his music.

I have discussed this a number of times but when "New wave" first came out it was a revelation to see people with even more "nerdy" personas than me such as David Byrne and Costello having some success it was a revelation. It was reflected in the "jumpy" way the music sounded.


Not just "nerdy" but also broad minded. David Byrne experimented with Afro-punk which heavily influenced the music of "Talking Heads".

Getting back to the UK, almost all British style punk and new wave music stemmed from Jamaican "rude-boy" music which means it wasn't just the Irish, virtually all young brits were behaving like "white n_____s". Not to mention fans of Elvis Presley, Beatles, Clapton and the Rolling Stones. People pretend they don't know the origin of popular music today.
"



cyberdad
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 21 Feb 2011
Age: 54
Gender: Male
Posts: 26,737

20 Jan 2022, 6:32 pm

Oh and David Byrne's "kooky" dancing in Talking Heads was his version of head bobbing in Afro-punk which is similar to Elvis copying leg shaking of early rockers like chuck berry and Little richard. The Elvis leg-shaking became his trade mark move.

Famously Eminem did the same for rap music to expand its popularity with white teenage girls.



ASPartOfMe
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 64
Gender: Male
Posts: 27,758
Location: Long Island, New York

20 Jan 2022, 8:27 pm

Off Topic
The innovative "Remain In Light" with its Afro rhythms was the group's third album.
These are from prior to 'Remain in Light'



Elvis Costello

XTC


And of course Gary Numan


What all these performances have in common is that the singers look all wound up, stiff, uncomfortable in their own bodies. This was the complete opposite of the stadium/arena rock and the casual, anything goes disco popular at the time.


_________________
Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

It is Autism Acceptance Month.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman


VegetableMan
Veteran
Veteran

Joined: 11 Jun 2014
Gender: Male
Posts: 5,015
Location: Illinois

20 Jan 2022, 9:14 pm

One of my favorite Costello songs.


_________________
What do you call a hot dog in a gangster suit?

Oscar Meyer Lansky