Music & British Identity: Elvis Costello

Primary members: Elvis Costello
Band Biography
Albums of focus: Punch the Clock (1983) and Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs (2013)
Songs for study: "Shipbuilding" and "Cinco Minutos con Vos (Five Minutes with You)"

 

"Shipbuilding" - from Punch the Clock (1983)

Commentary on the song: "Between 1979 and 1983 something strange happened. The British government mutated from an annoying and often disreputable body, that spent people's taxes on the wrong things, into a hostile regime contempuous of anyone who did not serve or would not yield to its purpose. 'Work' was transformed from a right into a privileged reward....

"'Shipbuilding' started out as a piano melody composed by Clive Langer....I was leaving for an Australian tour with Clive's demo in my bag. The government was in the process of reversing their disastrous fortunes by springing to the defence of an obscure and obsolete Imperial coaling station and sheep farming outcrop. In as much as you can spring to the defence of The Falkland Islands when you are in the Northern Hemisphere and they are in the South Atlantic. Especially after the nincompoops in the Foreign Ministry have done everything possible to suggest to the particularly vicious junta in Argentina that their claim to 'Las Malvinas' might go unchallenged if they would only care to invade...Oh, what a lovely war. Except that it was never called 'A War.' It was always referred to as the 'Falklands Crisis' and later the 'Falklands Conflict.' Thank God CNN wasn't what it is today or we'd have had a theme tune and a logo overnight: 'South Atlantic Storm: The Falkland Countdown.'

By the time I reached Australia the bloody liberation was underway. I thought I'd seen it all in the British media coverage: grown men drooling over the hardware, the sick illusion of invincibility before HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet missile. The Sun's 'Gotcha' headline when 300 Argentine sailors drowned when the Belgrano went down, the construction of the odd heroic myth to cheer everyone up after a series of blunders that led to a pointless and brutal slaughter of Welsh Guards and of course the real star of the show: The Prime Minister [Margaret Thatcher] arriving on our screens each day as if directly from the theatrical costumiers. Sometimes as Boadicea. Sometimes as Britannia. Oh! I nearly forgot the raving lunatic who reared up from the Tory backbenches to suggest a nuclear attack on Buenos Aires. However none of this could prepare me for the depravity of the Australian tabloid coverage. To listen to them the 'Poms' were getting slaughtered Gallipoli-style and the 'Argies' were eating Falkland babies.

Most of the above was beyond words but the notion that this might really drag on and become a war of attrition seemed as believable as anything else. Ships were being lost. More ships would soon be needed."

- Elvis Costello, 2003

Lyrics:
Is it worth it
A new winter coat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle on the boy's birthday
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we'll be shipbuilding

Well I ask you
The boy said, 'Dad they're going to take me to task
but I'll be back by Christmas"
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
A telegram or a picture postcard
Within weeks they'll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
Once again
It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls

 

"Cinco Minutos con Vos (Five Minutes with You)" - performed live at MSR Studios with The Roots and Marisol Hernandez (2013)


[English/Spanish Version]
I stood at the kerb trying not to disturb
The dark carnival crew and a glittering voice
Far off there said, "Rejoice"
"As the casualties are but few"

Going to tell you now
Before I forget myself
I could let you loose
But the key won't undo the lock
And the face of the clock
Seemed to merrily mock
These five minutes with you

Mi padre sabía
Y me lo susurro
Vete a Montevideo y espérame ahí
Por dónde empezar?
Escuchando siempre están
Por cinco minutos o mas
Si te atreves

La sirenas lamentan
La plaga que encuentran
Las balas caen
Y te harán desaparecer
El faro oscurece hay poca esperanza
Cinco minutos con vos

The propeller was droning, I woke up alone
They opened the door and they threw me through
And down I went down, like the twist of a screw
Down into the silver, above me the blue
And you stood there waiting but you never knew
Five Minutes With You

They can scatter the earth and find nothing of worth
Wipe out those years of triangular tears
The colours will fly
And the wild wind will cry I'm strapped to that mast
Knowing they wouldn't last for
Five Minutes With You

[English Version]
I stood at the kerb trying not to disturb
The dark carnival crew and a glittering voice
Far off there said, "Rejoice"
"As the casualties are but few"

Going to tell you now
Before I forget myself
I could let you loose
But the key won't undo the lock
And the face of the clock
Seemed to merrily mock
These five minutes with you

My father would know
So he whispered it low
"Go to Montevideo and wait for me there"
How can I begin?
They're always listening in
For five minutes or more if you dare

Now the sirens wail
There is a fever in the winding sheets
And the bullets hail
And they pull you right off the streets
Our chances are slim but the searchlights will dim in five minutes for you

The propeller was droning, I woke up alone
They opened the door and they threw me through
And down I went down, like the twist of a screw
Down into the silver, above me the blue
And you stood there waiting but you never knew
Five Minutes With You

They can scatter the earth and find nothing of worth
Wipe out those years of triangular tears
The colours will fly
And the wild wind will cry I'm strapped to that mast
Knowing they wouldn't last for
Five Minutes With You

 

 

 

GRAFFITI STUDY WALL: MUSIC & VIDEOS
SEX PISTOLS
KRAFTWERK
THE CLASH
PUBLIC IMAGE LTD.
JOY DIVISION
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES
AU PAIRS
COCTEAU TWINS
ARTERY
HUMAN LEAGUE
HEAVEN 17
THE SPECIALS
CABARET VOLTAIRE
TEARS FOR FEARS
DEPECHE MODE
THE SOUND
THE GLOVE
THE CURE
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN
A FLOCK OF SEAGULLS
GANG OF FOUR
NEW ORDER
U2
THE POLICE
CRASS
NEW MODEL ARMY
ELVIS COSTELLO
SPLIT ENZ
THE THE
XTC
THE EXPLOITED
DISCHARGE
THE SMITHS
THE HOUSEMARTINS
RADIOHEAD
PORTISHEAD
PET SHOP BOYS
M Y BLOODY VALENTINE
SLOWDIVE
CRASH MUSIC
MUSIC OF THE TROUBLES

VIDEOS:

SEX PISTOLS
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES (LIVE)
THE CURE (LIVE)
COCTEAU TWINS (LIVE)
NEW ORDER (LIVE)
PORTISHEAD (LIVE)
JOY DIVISION MINI-DOCUMENTARY
NUCLEAR WAR PREPAREDNESS: PROTECT & SURVIVE MANUAL