Elvis Costello on being awarded OBE: "Nobody really listens to the words in songs"


Elvis Costello has been named an ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’ (OBE) for his services to music.

Costello, born Declan Patrick MacManus, began his music career as  part of London’s pub rock scene in the early 1970s before later paving the way as part of  the first wave of the British punk and new wave movement that emerged in the mid-to-late 1970s.

Costello’s lyrics and performances, quite often a demonstration of rock and roll rebellion, include various lyrics that are critical of British imperialism and British politics. In his 1989 song ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’, Costello sings the lyrics “When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam” in reference to former Prime Minister Thatcher.

However, when Britain’s second Prime Minister, Theresa May came calling, Costello explained that he sat down with his mother to discuss the surprising turn of events that has led him to the position of receiving an OBE.

“I began my call by telling my Mam that the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, had put my name forward for an O.B.E,” he writes in a statement on his website. “‘But she’s rubbish,’ Lillian cut in before I could complete the news. Well, that aside, I said, ‘Of course, I won’t be accepting the award’. I didn’t get much further with that statement either. I listened carefully to my mother’s argument that if something is deserved then one must be gracious in acceptance. So, as a good lad, who likes to do what will make his Mam most proud, I knew that I must put old doubts and enmities aside and muster what little grace I possess.” 

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“When I looked down the list of past honorees; those who have accepted and those who have declined for reasons of conviction or cantankerousness, I came to the conclusion that I am, perhaps, closer in spirt to Eric Morecambe than to Harold Pinter, as anyone who has heard me play the piano will attest,” he added. “Even so, it is hard to receive anything named for the ‘British Empire’, and all that term embodies, without a pause for reflection.”

“It would be a lie to pretend that I was brought up to have a great sense of loyalty to the Crown, let alone notions of Empire. I used to think a change might come but when one considers the kind of mediocre entrepreneur who might be foisted upon us as a President, it’s enough to make the most hard-hearted ‘Republican’ long for an ermine stole, a sceptre and an orb. To be honest, I’m pretty tickled to receive this acknowledgement for my ‘Services To Music’, as it confirms my long held suspicion nobody really listens to the words in songs or the outcome might have been somewhat different.”

Read Costello’s full statement, here.   

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