I have always sucked

While it might seem odd to use a line taken from Public Enemy’s anthemic 1990 rap, “Fight The Power” in a post about Elvis Costello’s decision to cancel his shows in Israel, it so perfectly encapsulates how I feel that really, I had no better alternative. Here’s the thrust of Costello’s namby pamby decision to welch:

…there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent… I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security… I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation…

Elvis Costello typifies the sort of 3rd rate has been artist who would deign to grace us here in Israel with his presence because of the large audiences and inflated ticket prices that he can still command in a market that seems to have no shortage of bad taste and disposable income. Twenty years ago, Costello was already 10 years past his prime – if he ever had one to begin with.

Marketed as a Punk or New Wave artist, Costello was in fact neither. His music wasn’t edgy and his lyrics were about as dangerous as an angry chihuahua. It’s no accident that his first backing band was a country/soft rock group named “Clover” who later backed the insipid Huey Lewis as “The News.” His first album’s biggest hit, released in 1977, and one of his most enduring songs, was a cheesy ballad titled “Alison” – keep in mind, this was at the height of his “punk” period.

The peak of his commercial success was in 1979 when he released “Armed Forces” with its hit single “Oliver’s Army.” Costello admitted that the piano hook in that song was borrowed from Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” Oooh. Abba! Piano! Edgy! Commercial success in the US was severely hindered however, after he called Ray Charles a “blind, ignorant nigger.” Costello later apologized at a press conference and said he was drunk at the time and was merely trying to annoy the people he was with. Nice.

Since then he worked on a mishmash of projects spanning a number of unrelated genres. The best thing he ever did, ever, was produce the Pogues first album “Run, Sodomy and the Lash” in 1985-and the only reason he did that was because he was boning (and eventually had a 16 year marriage with) Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan. Otherwise it was all collaborations with Sir Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and a bunch of mostly washed up has beens. In 2003 he married Canadian jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall, who has yet to cancel her concerts in Israel scheduled for September.

Booking artists of his low caliber in Israel is always going to be dangerous because they will invariably get a lot more publicity for canceling their gig than they ever will for their actual, you know, work. Never mind that the reasoning is totally vacuous… Hey, remember Costello’s most recent album, “The Delivery Man” released in 2004? A blues, country and folk thing hailed by many critics as his best work yet? Yeah. Me neither.

Was this a victory for the extreme leftists of the BDS movement? Has this advanced the cause of the Palestinian people and peace in the middle east by one iota? Or was this a pathetic attempt by a washed out rake to maintain some tiny measure of the relevance and edge that he never had to begin with? Uhm… yeah. Old man Costello canceled. Boo fucking hoo. Like I ever gave a shit.

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • A healthy dose of solipsistic diatribe…

    So an artist does something you don’t like, why do you have to impune his art. Attacking his message would be more appropriate. This blog has become worse than a high school newspaper.

    • Nah dude. I really fucking hate Elvis Costello’s music. But as long as we’re being accused of becoming worse than a high school newspaper (when were we ever better???), if you’re going to use fancy shmancy phrases like “solipsistic diatribe” don’t ruin it by using “impune” instead of impugn. OK, ok that might have been a tad harsh… and yes, I freely admit that had Costello merely played his shows here, grabbed his loot and gone home, I wouldn’t have said anything. But this seemed like a good opportunity to just say what needed to be said about Costello. Finally, lots of people in Israel who don’t agree with his decision are going to give me shit for slagging his artistic oeuvre including @HarryR whose musical tastes are usually unimpeachable and who I believe had tickets to the show. Oh well…

  • Indeed he is “the sort of 3rd rate has been artist who would deign to grace us here in Israel with his presence because of the large audiences and inflated ticket prices that he can still command in a market that seems to have no shortage of bad taste and disposable income” Well said. I am at the age that is supposed to know about this Costello guy, but I don’t. Now after reading this blog I feel better about myself. Small as he is though, he is just another person who chips away Israel’s pride reputation. Other than that, he does not even deserve to perform in Israel.

  • To be completely honest, who cares whether he comes or not. Like CK said, hes a 3rd rate artist, I personally don’t think I can even name one of his songs. That being said, attacking him for being a crappy musician seems quite the ad hominem attack. The fact of the matter is that Costello is just jumping on the bandwagon and obviously doesn’t really give two shits about what goes on here. This concert is something that was scheduled months ago, and this “situation” Costello speaks of with the Palestinian’s goes back over 60 years. Costello is obviously just a follower. I can’t stand when musicians try and take a political stand like this, its cool that they have their beliefs and all the power to them, but it should be about the music. People might call for a boycott, but to be honest, there isn’t too much to boycott from Costello. I personally will just continue not to listen to him just as I always have.

    • I dunno, I feel that Declan considered this issue carefully. Maybe we disagree with him and his decision, but I don’t know that he deserves vilification – it’s not as if he is out there trying to encourage the boycott that way others we’ve mentioned on this site have tried or are trying.

      I also think none of this is connected to the quality of his music.

      As far as Israel is concerned, his decision hurts it and will give impetus to the Palestinians to push ever harder with every act and every cultural event that involves Israel. This is a war, after all, and we should expect them to fight it like one. We need to fight back by ensuring that when an artist decides to play in Israel, they understand the conflict better. What is the point, for example, of boycotting a state that has offered peace as recently as 2008? Is Costello even aware of the offer? Is he aware of how serious an offer it was and that it was rejected without a serious response by the Palestinians? Is there anybody who has served as an emissary to inform him?

      Let’s pipe down when a person comes to a decision like this after being on the fence and instead of maligning him, trying to explain things so that he gets a different perspective.

  • sorry to go off topic, but i wasn’t sure where to post this…
    I just finished watching episode 4 of the new Jewish TV show “From Date To Mate”– OMG!!! It’s such a good show. Does anyone else know about this. I just had to spread the word, but it really is a great show!! I’m so happy (and shocked) to see a show like this, with Jewish characters and substance. It’s honestly a must see. It’s on Shalom TV On Demand, and I think it’s also on line.

    • Sam/Mic, it’s not good form to spam. It so happens that we’ve covered the show From Date to Mate – do a search under the show’s name to find the posts – and a bunch of us here agree that it’s a terrific show. We’re happy to promote new episodes as they come out…if you ask nicely instead of being sneaky.


  • Yeah Sam, I’m a huge fan of From Date To Mate!! I agree it doesn’t seem to have as big of an audience as it deserves, because from every aspect of it – it could easily be on a major network. I actually learned about the show because of a blog about it here on Jewlicious. I’m assuming its fan base is growing within the jewish community at least. And episode 4 is my favorite one so far – I don’t want to give anything away… but WOW! And it’s wholesome too (something very lacking in the tv culture). I’m hooked. Can’t wait for the next one 🙂

  • I would have written this post EVEN if he came to Israel. Elvis Costello is shit in or out of Israel. Sorry!

  • I disagree with you on his music (as you said some would) — at least his older stuff. It may not have been punk, but that was how he was marketed, not what he claimed to be. So does it not match with the persona created for him? Perhaps. But the man still wrote tons of amazing songs, with Allison up near the top.

    That being said, his decision and justification for his decision is crap. In the article that included his statement, he said that he was pulling out because his mere participation could be misinterpreted as a more powerful statement than anything he could have said in the concert. So basically he’s saying he’s an ineffectual communicator.

    Furthermore, it is obvious, but must be stated that it isn’t like he JUST NOW found out that the Israelis and Palestinians don’t agree with each other. Did he not think of any of these issues before booking the shows in the first place? And now afterward he’s like a child who says “oops?”

    Silly, childish and disappointing. Even if I love his music.

  • Screw this mamzer. I’m glad I saw his last show for free and I was bored out of my mind. I hope he experiences Palestinian terrorism first hand. F him.

    • Sashka! Suka blyet!


      mb, I’ve got no idea who that Mr Costello is, and had somebody asked me, I’d have pictured a 1920s comedian, but that’s me, and I don’t really know any celebrities of any kind. I can’t comment on CK’s taste in music since he and I don’t talk much about that (we both enjoy some Jacques Brel though), but I’ve often enough seen him give an artist merit for their work even if he wasn’t too fond of it personally, so I understand Mr Costello’s actions as of recently must have been a rotten cherry on top of an icecream sundae in a flavour CK doesn’t particularly enjoy.

  • i should have specified, you’re right. The reactionary nonsense on this blog has always been a tad annoying. But, to reiterate what David said at the outset, the juvenile attacking of an artist’s work because an action of his or hers doesn’t dovetail with ck’s politics is really grating. And, a perfect example of “solipsistic diatribe.”

    To be fair, there’s no accounting for taste in this world, and I’d be loathe to try and convince y’all of the artistic merit of Costello’s output – particularly his recent work. His album with Allen Toussaint is damned excellent.

    But in any case, life is too short. Enjoy your myopic worldview, brethren. One more blog struck from the roll.

    • What the hell, MB? I happen to like Costello and think his album with Bacharach (Jewlicious, therefore), is a great album. I contribute as much content to this blog as ck.

    • Oh mb… I’m sorry! I don’t like Costello’s work – it has nothing to do with whether he came here or not! When Madonna came to Israel, I made fun of her too. Because I don’t like her music. Reactionary? Goodness gracious! How does the term reactionary even apply here? At the very least, whether or not you come back, please note that we always welcome dissenting opinions and we try to conduct our conversations with a modicum of decorum and dignity. And you’re right. Some of his more recent work is interesting, but most of the people coming to the show would have cheered loudest for Allison and Red Shoes and Oliver’s Army and Pump it up etc etc. – the big insipid hits. Please note, IU am making fun of Israelis here… happy?

  • I thought CK made it pretty clear that his hatred for Costello was unrelated to any issue of politics, and that the cancellation of shows was just an excuse for vitriol. Plus, I like that he knows how to spell “impugn.” Advantage of a Canadian education, eh?

    I love much of Costello’s music, at least up until Trust, but I don’t think this blog is the place for an argument about dude’s artistic merits. He has that much concern for “the suffering of the innocent”? (New PR campaign: “Hamas: We’re innocent.”) So where else isn’t he playing? Venezuela? China? Cuba? If he plays Germany, does that mean the Germans aren’t “innocent”?

    When people boycott Israel, I usually want to know who else they’re boycotting. Are you acting on principles? Or just acting against Israel?

  • Reasonable people may disagree and so forth, but no way is “Oliver’s Army” insipid.

    As a song about the way the institution of war punishes the poor disproportionately, “One more widow, one less white nigger” is damn trenchant. It even predates the creation of Hezbollah, though it may not be too far from their unofficial platform.

    • Point well taken though I think the message is lost on most of his fans – which is no reflection on Costello of course, but really, he mostly bores me.

  • “Oliver’s Army” – typical leftist drivel in which everyone is always a victim and no one has free will, pride, or the ability to think for themselves. You might as well call it “Oliver’s Mining Industry” or “Oliver’s MCDonalds”. Better they starve with no work right? Of course not, the rich should pay for their educations too!!!

  • ck,

    Thanks, obviously this blog has it’s bright moments, or at least insight into a certain mindset. Keep it up.


  • i am a fan of elvis’

    and as a fan, i am dissapointed in his decision, which was neither brave nor intelligent.

    what is hilarious is watching jew/israel hating non fans come out of the woodwork to applaud the man, whose music i am sure they never listened to…for example, our pal dickie….that guy was never a rocker in his youth.

  • I agree that CK’s post may indeed be a “solipsistic diatribe,” but as such it nevertheless pretty much sums up what I feel about Elvis Costello. Like some people already mentioned he always bored the crap outa me, and he’s always struck me as a pretentious d-bag who’s willing to follow whatever cause is popular, as long as it made him seem cool, edgy and — most importantly — kept him relevant with his targeted demographic. (OK, that would probably most artists these days, but I digress.) I’m more likely to pay attention to Gil Scott-Heron, who’s also participating in the boycott, who is a long-term activist and a veteran of the antiapartheid movement. Still don’t agree with the boycott, of course, but –just MHO, of course — it seems more “legit” coming from an established Black civil-rights activist (and accomplished spoken word artist) than some pampered British ’80s pop star who once referred to the great Ray Charles as a n*****.

  • Sorry guys, I guess I’m feeding a troll. But hey, if it was a real man, it wouldn’t hide behind such cowardice.

  • welcome to the contingent from stormfront

    what is really funny, is that if there were no jews, these same guys would be posting nasty slurs about arabs.

    hey guys…not only do jews control the banks, the media and every government, we control the net too

    we now have your ips and know everything about you

    sleep well

    oh, and here is brave elvis 2 weeks before he canceled his concerts


    the above artist i respect…that dude who canceled his concert series and wont do the same for any being held in america or britain….i dont

    elvis has finally joined the goon squad

  • Rum, Sodomy And The Lash was actually The Pogues’ second album. Red Roses For Me was their first.