What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?


No one can accuse  the British musician Elvis Costello of straightforward exposition.   His deadpan lyrics are usually twisted around mixed metaphors, convenient puns and general non-sequiturs.  His album titles themselves give away a penchant for clumsy juxtaposition – Blood and Chocolate, Mighty Like  A Rose, Secret Profane and Sugarcane and Extreme Honey are just a few of the titles which betray Costello’s essential intellectual superficiality and lack of depth.

Nevertheless, Costello is often referred to as Rock’s Thinking Man’s  a title that has won him wide acceptance beyond  his fast evaporating rock  fan base and within the halls of academia as well as among the upper echelons of the classical music world.

How much of a ” thinking man”  Costello actually is, was put to the test recently when the musician weighed whether to cancel his two appearances in Tel Aviv, Israel which were to take place in June 30 and July 1 respectively.   In a lengthy post on his website, he explained his reasons for breaking his contract and disappointing the legions of  Israeli fans who had already paid to attend the concerts.

If anyone can make sense of this garbled and verbose self justification then they have my undying admiration.   Costello doesn’t seem to understand that if adding your name to a concert schedule can indeed be interpreted as a political act, then certainly removing your name from the same schedule can be regarded in exactly the same way.    Surely Costello understands that the demonizers of the Jewish state will use his cancellation as evidence of his acknowledgment of Jewish “apartheid” – a claim and a designation which is as spurious as it is ill informed.
While he rightly point out that one can’t really know anything about the Middle East conflict without first hand experience and that the issues are too complex to be addressed from the stage,  he then goes on to contradict himself by making the nonsensical argument that as a matter of conscience  a foreign  musician performing  in Israel cannot ” simply look away.”

But from what, exactly?    From the fact that Israel is a democracy , governed by the rule of law?  From the reality that thousands of its citizens have been killed and maimed by Palestinian suicide bombers; that Israel has made repeated concessions over  fifteen years without any reciprocal attempt of  Palestinian leaders to quell anti-Israel incitement or confiscate arms or that Israel has been faced for 60 years with the single minded determination of its neighbors to seek its destruction?

Either Costello’s interlocutors didn’t adequately brief him, or else he refused to study  the voluminous record of Palestinian atrocities that might have been made available to him, but if he had he might discover that there are actually good reasons that Palestinians suffer “intimidation, humiliation and much worse”  – and that is because Israelis don’t want to die.

Policies of national security, in case Costello has forgotten, is about preventing harm to one’s citizen’s. The notion that no policy of national security could justifiably visit “intimidation and humiliation” on another people, betrays Costello’s own acceptance of the canard ( and contrary to his own earlier assertions)  that Israel is not faced with a significant national security threat.

Then we come to Costello’s claim that his decision “is a matter of instinct and good conscience.”

Well, perhaps he might have deployed his antenna for injustice a little earlier, when his managers first  broached the Israeli venue and before contracts were signed and tickets sold.   His Johnny-come-lately recognition that  he  was about to stumble into a minefield, simply rings hollow.  Perhaps Costello doesn’t read the papers ( or only hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest) but there is plenty of information available about the Middle East conflict that would have afforded him an opportunity to determine whether to sign a contract in the first place , before deciding to make  his public (and very political) statement about withdrawing from it.

Finally we arrive at  this verbose and totally unintelligible line:

“It has been necessary to dial out the falsehoods of propaganda, the double game and hysterical language of politics, the vanity and self-righteousness of public communiqués from cranks in order to eventually sift through my own conflicted thoughts.

Well, Mr. Costello, for someone who  doesn’t imagine himself ” to possess any unique or eternal truth,” you seem to have stumbled on some true gems:  ie: politics and politicians are wicked; official government communique’s cannot be trusted;  Israeli apologists are cranks and supporters of Israel as a genuine democracy in a sea of anarchy and despotism are simply vain and self righteous.

One has to wonder where the musician ultimately did find his information.  What libraries did he scour in the search for objectivity?  And if he was so concerned to sift through ” his own conflicted thoughts”  wouldn’t a clandestine trip to Israel to assess the true situation have given him an effective platform from which to avoid the ” cranks”  and “hysterical” politicians, he seems to so distrust.

The Thinking Man, ends his contemplative message with this Shakespearean flourish:

“I have come to the following conclusions.

One must at least consider any rational argument that comes before the appeal of more desperate means.

Sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static and so an end to it.

Would this master soliliquizer have heeded his own advice!  Years hence, Costello scholars will be pouring over these words in order to plumb their inscrutable meaning.  Which ” rational argument”  was this sage referring to?   Ah, it must have been the  “argument” of Palestinian advocates who claim that it is only Israel’s  intransigence and its will to power that stands in the way of peace. Well, that seems pretty rational.  After all, if you accept that strong is always wrong and weak is always  right, then you are bound to select the Palestinian narrative as the rational one every time – no matter their consistent resort to the “desperate means” of terrorism and suicide bombing.

Silence would have indeed been better than  this hopelessly convoluted justification for an act of cowardice.   Costello, apparently afraid of what an appearance in Israel might do to his career (although it didn’t seem to harm his fellow Liverpudlian Paul McCartney) and brandishing a supposedly bruised conscience, has only added to the” static” with his ill timed and incompetently  argued contemplation.

There are plenty of ways to promote  peace , love and understanding.   But better to come from the pen, mouth or guitar of a man who actually knows what he is talking about, rather than one whose heartfelt expressions of concern for the innocent and  intellectual pretensions are just a mask for his base ignorance.




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