Monday, April 8, 2013

Tramping the Dirt Down

Since I first heard Elvis Costello's song "Tramp the Dirt Down" around 1990, I've wondered what would happen when Margaret Thatcher finally died. Would he still feel the same? Would he speak out? How would the song be thought of when a bunch of people who liked her and her accomplishments were in mourning?

Today is my chance to see. It sounds like it's all playing out as one might have predicted: Thatcher's fans are intoning that no one should speak ill of the dead. These are the same people, generally, who had no compunction about reviling Hugo Chavez a just one short month ago. We'll wait and see what they have to say about Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama when their times come.

So here are the lyrics to "Tramp the Dirt Down," which is probably the angriest song I've ever heard.

I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign.
A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain.
She spills with compassion, as that young child's face in her hands she grips.
Can you imagine all that greed and avarice coming down on that child's lips?

Well I hope I don't die too soon. I pray the Lord my soul to save.
Oh I'll be a good boy, I'm trying so hard to behave
Because there's one thing I know: I'd like to live long enough to savour
That's when they finally put you in the ground, I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.

When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam
And the future looked as bright and as clear as the black tar macadam,
Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isn't haunted by every tiny detail
'Cos when she held that lovely face in her hands, all she thought of was betrayal

And now the cynical ones say that it all ends the same in the long run
Try telling that to the desperate father who just squeezed the life from his only son
And how it's only voices in your head and dreams you never dreamt
Try telling him the subtle difference between justice and contempt.

Try telling me she isn't angry with this pitiful discontent
When they flaunt it in your face as you line up for punishment
And then expect you to say "Thank you", straighten up, look proud and pleased
Because you've only got the symptoms, you haven't got the whole disease

Just like a schoolboy, whose head's like a tin-can
filled up with dreams then poured down the drain
Try telling that to the boys on both sides, being blown to bits or beaten and maimed.
Who takes all the glory and none of the shame.
Well I hope you live long now, I pray the Lord your soul to keep.
I think I'll be going before we fold our arms and start to weep.
I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap.

'Cos when they finally put you in the ground,
They'll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down.

Update: Billy Bragg had this to say about Thatcher's death on Facebook:
This is not a time for celebration. The death of Margaret Thatcher is nothing more than a salient reminder of how Britain got into the mess that we are in today. Of why ordinary working people are no longer able to earn enough from one job to support a family; of why there is a shortage of decent affordable housing; of why domestic growth is driven by credit, not by real incomes; of why tax-payers are forced to top up wages; of why a spiteful government seeks to penalise the poor for having an extra bedroom; of why Rupert Murdoch became so powerful; of why cynicism and greed became the hallmarks of our society.

Raising a glass to the death of an infirm old lady changes none of this. The only real antidote to cynicism is activism. Don't celebrate — organise!

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