Monday, November 21, 2016
Elvis Costello and the Attractions, "Night Rally"
As I always do in times of depression and stress, I have turned to music these past trying weeks. I remembered last night the late 70s-early 80s Elvis Costello tunes referencing fascism. There was a rise of racist nationalism in the late 70s akin to what we're seeing in the world now, which he decried, along with the rise of Thatcherism. His songs drew a straight line from the history of the 1930s and 1940s to his time, forcing the listener out of their complacency.
"Night Rally," which closed out 1978's This Year's Model, was a reaction to the fascistic National Front, which was then brazenly parading down the city streets England. Unlike the rest of the album, which is dynamic and rhythmic, "Night Rally" starts as a slow, dirge-like march with Costello's vocals foregrounded. It is a grim start, the first verse ending with the lines: "They're putting all the names in the forbidden book/ I know what they're doing but I don't want to look." The chorus lifts the song upward, the intensity increasing: "You think they're so dumb/ You think they're so funny/ Wait until they got you running to the night rally." It's a warning: these ridiculous people marching in the streets could just win. As the song rises and rises, Costello's voice getting louder, he tosses off a line about "a melody to get you singing in the showers" which I've taken to be a clear death camp reference. The dirge becomes a rousing jeremiad against complacency in the face of evil, but then goes into a strange echo at the end, a sign that resistance may indeed be futile.
Most people think this is a minor Costello song, but it's always been one of my favorites. The vocal has such passion, the passion of a man crazed by the thought that others fail to see the heinous threat right in front of their faces, and frightened that the soft ones will get swept up with the fascist mob. It's a feeling that I've had a lot lately.