Today, my I-Pod Shuffle throws me a line I can’t resist. The running order is impeccable, moving from Elvis Costello’s majestic “Shipbuilding” into Kenny Rogers’ masterpiece: “ Ruby, Don’t take Your Love To Town” .
The two songs, written years apart ,composed while events unfurled, on the ordinary lives of common people on the conveyor belts of war. Kenny’s character is a wheelchair- bound Vietnam Vet, back in the world, ruined and impotent, watching his woman doll herself up to find a man who still has some lead in his pencil . The drama’s cruel but underplayed , with none of the kitsch C&W bathos you’d expect. The vet sitsin a lonely room, waiting to die as the lights fade and his wife gets laid. It’s a fabulous and tormenting ( but maybe not intended to be) anti-war shout.
Elvis takes a different angle, focussing on the pathetic optimism of a man battered down by circumstance, hoping that maybe the Falklands war might turn around his life & he maybe will find work in the shipyard , which could mean “ A new winter coat and shoes for the wife and a bicycle on the boy’s birthday” . For this man, war's his only sad hope of doing any better. It's brilliant. The songs are just two examples of many across every musical genre.
Which brings into focus how pathetic contemporary musicians have been over the last 5 years. We’ve seen an illegal war in Iraq which has cost massive civilian bloodshed, cost trillions of dollars and cost us our security and peace of mind. And there’s hardly been a squeak on the subject. This isn’t nostalgia , it’s regret. Sometimes the music we get is what we deserve.