Sunday, October 01, 2006

Shipbuilding

Words & Music by Elvis Costello

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 rumor 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 rumor 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 rumor 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


Since I’m on anti-war songs. This one has always impressed me because it, too, is incredibly powerful and never once uses the word war.

Here’s what the website Songfacts says about it:
Elvis has said in interviews that this was written from the perspective of workers in British shipbuilding seaports during the buildup to England's war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982, an event that then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher seized (as most politicians would) in order to use the cacophony of nationalistic fervor to drown out the groaning sounds of a crumbling economy. The song is set in a region that's economically depressed, one where essentials like "a new winter coat for the wife" is hard to come by. But there's a "rumour" that the local shipyard will soon have work, building ships for a war. The townspeople want to be happy that they will soon have jobs, but it is at the expense of their own boys who must go fight the war. Chet Baker plays the mournful, lonely trumpet solo on this ballad. It is rumored to be Baker's last recorded performance.

The lines, “we will be shipbuilding, diving for dear life, when we could be diving for pearls”…these are priceless. And Costello repeats the diving for pearls line a couple times at the end, and leaves us hanging with an unresolved note.

Many of Costello’s songs are difficult. They’re not pure pop. They’re not always easy to sing along with. And this one certainly requires you to think.

3 comments:

Xena said...

I am reading "A Man Without a Country", the latest book by Kurt Vonnegut, a man who said he'd never write another book again, and then did. Anyway, Larry, I thought of you when I read this quote, since much on your blog focuses on music...Kurt wrote:

"No matter how ocurrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful."

Then he continues: "If I should ever die. God forbid, let this be my epitaph: THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD WAS MUSIC." (The caps are Vonnegut's).

Kurt says lots of very wise things. This is one of my favourites. "Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing."

Okay, that's my comment - although to be honest, Larry, I haven't read your newest posting yet. The last one I read was Waltzing Matilda - and then I read Kurt, and thought of you...

Bobby Bacon said...

Many years ago, (24 years)I used to rock my daughter to sleep to a song called " The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes"

Oh I used to be disgusted

and now I try to be amused.

But since their wings have got rusted,

you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

But when they told me 'bout their side of the bargain,

that's when I knew that I could not refuse.

And I won't get any older, now the angels wanna wear my red shoes.


I was watching while you're dancing away.

Our love got fractured in the echo and sway.

How come everybody wants to be your friend?

You know that it still hurts me just to say it.


Oh, I know that she's disgusted (oh why's that)

Cause she's feeling so abused. (oh that's too bad)

She gets tired of the lust, (oh I'm so sad)

but it's so hard to refuse.

How can you say that I'm too old,

when the angels have stolen my red shoes.

Oh, I said "I'm so happy, I could die."

She said "Drop dead," then left with another guy.

That's what you get if you go chasing after vengeance.

Ever since you got me punctured this has been my sentence.

Oh I used to be disgusted

and now I try to be amused.

But since their wings have got rusted,

you know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

Red shoes, the angels wanna wear my red shoes.

Larry Keiler said...

Great tune.

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