‘New Yorker’ connects Elvis Costello’s use of the word ‘nigger’ 30 years ago to his recent participation in boycott of Israel

Israel/Palestine
on 8 Comments

From Abe Foxman’s lips to the New Yorker’s ear. Nick Paumgarten profiles Elvis Costello in the new New Yorker magazine, and links the entertainer’s use of the n-word in an episode 30 years ago to his participation this year in boycott of Israel, another “mess” that Costello made for himself. Ali Gharib, who brought this to my attention, writes: “There is no mention of a positive reaction to Costello’s move (I sure saw the Facebook postings and got the blast e-mails); it is merely suggested as a racist ‘bookend’ to his career or the ‘arbitrary… singling out of Israel.'” Does the New Yorker understand the moral/political universe that Costello is operating in? In the occupation, a Palestinian is killed every other day, and inside Israel, hundreds of Jewish towns have been created in the last 60 years, and not one new Palestinian town, and meanwhile the foreign minister talks about expelling Palestinians. This is why boycott has traction. The New Yorker: 

Control is hard to come by. His feat of self-sabotage occurred during the hostile and turbulent 1979 “Armed Funk” tour of the United States. In the bar of a Holiday Inn in Columbus, Ohio, the Attractions and their retinue ran into Stephen Stills’s band and crew, the the two gangs began an evening of heavy drinking and sharp talk. As the provocations escalated, Costello, deriding the state of American music, called Ray Charles “a blind ignorant nigger” and James Brown “a jive-ass nigger”; his opponent in the bar debate, the white should singer Bonnie Bramlett, knocking him to the ground, touching off a mini-rumble, and then she reported the whole incident to the newspapers. The story crushed Costello’s commercial momentum; radio stations stopped playing the album, and the tour went sour. He held a press conference in new York, to explain the context of the ironic drunken instigation — and to assert, fairly, that he wasn’t a racist. Ray Chales shrugged it off, saying, “Drunken talk isn’t meant to be printed in the paper.” But the damage was done, and Costello slunk back to England, having blown a shot at being the next Bowie. Never again did he come so close to megastardom. To a certain extent, he chose that fate, bu confounding expectations, trying new things, and pursuing a stubborn kind of career. He says he never really wanted to play stadiums. Still, the chance passed him by.
 
In 2003, when he was backstage with [his wife the singer Diana] Krall at a gala performance, Ray Charles walked by, but Costello couldn’t bring himself to say anything. “There are some times when you’re just got to be smaller,” Costello told me. “You know when people get sober, and they come and tell you all the terrible things they did? You know, ‘I stole money from you once.’ ‘Well, actually I felt tine until you told me.'” He added, “You also can’t keep explaining.”
 
He has applied this principle to the latest mess he has created for himself. In May, he announced that he was pulling out of a pair of planned summer performances in Israel. He issued a statement that was as hard to decipher as some of his songs, citing the risk of his appearance there being taken the wrong way. Needless to say, he came in for some criticism and abuse; to some, his singling out of Israel seemed, at best, arbitrary and, at worst, an unsavory bookend to Columbus. “You must be aware that it was a very difficult decision to make,” he told me. “It’s quite the opposite of what people always assume about singers, that they are grandiose and they’re on a big platform and they’re asserting their own ego. I’m actually trying to be humble and say i don’t actually know the answer. I don’t have a solution with my songs.”
Gharib again: “So far as I know, Costello’s ‘latest mess’ hasn’t caused radio stations to turn against or ban him, or even take his stuff out of rotation (at least I never saw any stories on it). It makes you wonder if today’s young musician might one day have her boycott of Israel remembered as an opening “bookend” of musical career with social activism the way one might think of Bono’s contribution to the 1985 ‘won’t play Sun City’ campaign against Apartheid (whether or not you agree with Bono’s particular brand of social activism).”

 

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

8 Responses

  1. radii
    November 7, 2010, 11:16 pm

    defy israel in any way and you will be slimed … hey, it’s what they do

  2. kalithea
    November 7, 2010, 11:59 pm

    I wonder what they’ll cook up to slime the Pixies and Santana with?

  3. Avi
    November 8, 2010, 12:18 am

    Just like their cynical use of the Holocaust to advance their political agenda, the Zionistas in the U.S. are using African Americans to tarnish Costello’s reputation. These are the same tactics mafiosos use. The only thing missing in this case is A few million dollars in unmarked bills or a We know where you live threat. These people are pathetic.

    • Oscar
      November 8, 2010, 7:21 am

      Still, it’s a net positive, because any media attention to BDS is a good thing. Elvis Costello’s career wasn’t derailed following the Columbus incident — he was an exceptionally talented but aloof performer and would never have made the musical sacrifices to become an arena rock star. He was too damned talented.

      In the end, it’s another predictable, Zionist hasbara hatchet job that we’ve come to expect from those in the media who are keen to volunteer to cover up the massive slow motion genocide funded by American taxpayer dollars.

  4. agog
    November 8, 2010, 10:45 am

    Thank you for reminding me again why I stopped reading the New Yorker some 10 years ago.

    Tina Brown did a lot of damage to that once fine institution and David Remnick finished it off. The parochialism portrayed in the post above is sad, but unfortunately has been the norm at the New Yorker for many years.

    Irrelevance awaits.

  5. Diane Mason
    November 8, 2010, 3:09 pm

    I hope nobody drags up stuff from my past to smear me. I’d be mortified to be confronted with some of the things I said and believed back then, and have them displayed as if they contained some eternal defect in my character. Especially because I was a Zionist then.

  6. marc b.
    November 8, 2010, 3:42 pm

    so e-costello has done three stupid things since 1979, according to the author. remarkable. a nobel prize of some sort is called for, as i have done at least three stupid things since i awoke this morning. a good day by all accounts. but the ny’er weaves these unrelated ‘blunders’ into a DNA of racism.

    the ny’er has an equivalent value to that of the sunday NYT: the perfect accompaniment to sunday coffee and leftover halloween candy, symbolism intended.

  7. ahmed
    November 8, 2010, 6:00 pm

    I guess the New Yorker can’t help itself. I finally read James Wood’s review of “The Finkler Question” — and he you can tell he hates the book, mostly because of the obsessive self-glorification of Jews, but he has to do it on tiptoes and add that he thinks Carol Churchill’s play (which Jacobson parodies) is anti-Semitic, thereby throwing a bone to Zionists and establishing his Israel bonafides.

Leave a Reply