Songs of Pitiful Discontent

Colin Roach protest

Have you have whiled away some of these long, dark evenings with the latest season of Netflix’s The Crown? Have you found yourself reminiscing about the 80’s? And struggling with the cruel platitudes of Thatcherism?

The fifth episode of The Crown, season 4, ends with a ska song. We Americans called the band “The English Beat.” In England, they called them simply “The Beat.” The song: “Stand Down Margaret.”

As Thatcher protest songs went, that was a mild one. Very mild.

Sinead O’Connor made a Thatcher protest song about the police-custody death of a black Englishman, thirty-seven years before George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

“Black Boys on Mopeds” lives in sub-basement #10 of my little mind. Tears come to my eyes just listening to it, remembering old friends and the car rides when we sang it together. The song refers repeatedly to the gospels.

O’Connor’s song, however: Mild. Compared to the mother of all Thatcher protest songs, “Tramp the Dirt Down.”

Elvis Costello prays that he will live long enough to stomp on the Prime Minister’s grave (after she dies of natural causes; there’s no incitement to violence in the song.)

[WARNING: Bad word in the video’s intro.]

I have known every word of every song on Costello’s Spike since he released the cassette in 1989.

I saw a newspaper picture from a 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?

Here’s my point: They hated it, these protest musicians. They hated what they saw as the degradation of their nation.

The musicians lapsed into self-righteous unkindness. They did not sympathize with the complexities of a politician’s life. They made enemies for themselves, even among good people.

What they did not do, however, was try to compel anyone to do anything. Costello put it like this:

“We’re allowed to express ourselves. We’re not asking anything of anybody.”

We Catholics have more than enough reason for pitiful discontent with the incumbent regime. The Attorney General of New York State has lodged a lawsuit to put the diocese of Buffalo into moral receivership for the next five years.

Click to access complaint_final_version_redacted.pdf

A.G. Jones’ lawsuit demonstrates how the diocese has failed to comply with the rules adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2002. Buffalo now joins the diocese of Springfield, MA in this category: Proven by independent investigators to lack the competence necessary to abide by the Dallas Charter.

Here’s a priest in Buffalo, reacting to the news of the lawsuit:

…A different whistleblower priest in Buffalo was suspended from ministry a year ago, for trying to expose the very corruption that the AG documents in her lawsuit against the diocese.

He remains suspended.

…Will the Attorney General here in Virginia lodge a similar lawsuit against our diocese? Time will tell. We can imagine that Mr. Herring has enough evidence in hand.

One of the kind editors of my book told me that I need to acknowledge this: some of my blog posts have understandably offended the bishop. The kind editor is right. I have done some “Thatcher-Protest-Song”-type posts that failed in kindness and sympathy, and I am sorry about that. In the end, Elvis Costello did not rejoice when Margaret Thatcher actually did die, twenty-four years after his song about it.

But communities need to have room for protest songs, even edgy ones. Especially when reasons for discontentment with the regime keep piling up daily. Margaret Thatcher and Elvis Costello co-existed for decades. England survived.

I’ll Wear it Proudly

Elvis Costello King of AmericaPlease forgive me. On Ash Wednesday I wind up exhausted, and random song lyrics run through my mind at inappropriate times.

All my beloved people bravely walking out into the world after Mass, with the diadem of mortality emblazoned on the brow. All I can think of is the refrain from E. Costello’s “I’ll Wear it Proudly,” from King of America:

If they had a ‘King of Fools,’ then I could wear that crown
And you can all die laughing because I’ll wear it proudly