Elton does Orwell? Sorry, that’s just wrong


2:48 pm - July 28th 2010

by Dave Osler    


      Share on Tumblr

Elton John’s first professional gig was with a blues band that covered Memphis Slim and Muddy Waters. But he quit that outfit in 1967, and pianistically speaking, it has been downhill all the way ever since.

Now we read that the third most successful recording artist of all time has teamed up with the guy who wrote Billy Elliot to work on a musical version of Animal Farm. Whatever next? The Saturdays do Grundrisse? Atlas Shrugged, soundtrack courtesy of Meatloaf?

The news comes just weeks after George Galloway – a man whose gifts with song were long unsuspected by many – unveiled his plans for a similar treatment of the life of noted lesbian songstress Dusty Springfield.

Some may detect a certain incongruity here, at least in so far as it must be presumed that Dusty would have been immune to the cigar smoking charms of the former Respect MP, although that dimension may simply add to the charm of the project.

Musicals, I must admit, are a genre around which I have never quite gotten my head. For me, the thought of sitting through a performance of anything ever penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber has an intrinsic appeal roughly on a par with being force fed asbestos.

I suppose there must be takers for such entertainment, otherwise the big West End productions would not be booked up for months ahead.

But after that maudlin display at the Diana funeral, Sir Elton surely forfeits any minimal claim he might every have had to be allowed anywhere near the Orwell oeuvre. After all, there are some things that should remain inviolate from the wanton attentions of Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths.

Animal Farm is a brilliant modern day political parable of Swiftian greatness, without peer in the canon of twentieth century allegorical literature. Essentially, it puts the Trotskyist analysis of the Soviet Union in story form. Despite its adoption by reactionaries as an ideological weapon in the Cold War, the message is not ‘revolution undesirable’ but very much revolution betrayed.

Elton John, on the other hand, is all about hopping and bopping to the crocodile rock and seeing Daniel waving goodbye. Don’t go breaking my heart? If this show goes ahead, I’m afraid mine will be shattered.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Arts ,Blog

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


Dave, you must be unfamiliar with the work of Comrade John. Take this, from the stirring anthem Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl

Clearly, Elton’s urging listeners to stray from the neoliberal path; much to the disgust of capitalist dogs.

Last year my school did Animal Farm as their production. The music teacher felt left out so they wrote it as a musical. It sounded like it was awful.

And if you thought it couldn’t get any worse, they added “creature comforts” style comedy sketches for when the scene changed. I sincerely thought that the people running it didn’t understand the book.

The Zimbabwe Daily News serialised it in cartoon form years ago (before they got land-mined etc). They did it absolutely straight, except that Napoleon wore square horn-rimmed specs a la Mugabe.

It’s amazing how well the book holds up.

#1 EJ doesn’t generally write the lyrics and certainly didn’t write those.

As to the main article; “the third most successful recording artist of all time” you say, well I suspect that was, in the most part, ordinary people giving over their hard earned cash to buy his music. And your are, who exactly?

Snobbish nonsense.

@ OP

“Don’t go breaking my heart? If this show goes ahead, I’m afraid mine will be shattered.”

Perhaps you shouldn’t be so precious and wear your heart on your sleeve then? It’s only a book for God’s sake, however highly regarded. No doubt people said the same about the desecration of “Les Miserables”.

Orwell at his best:

“”The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power. Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for war against Germany in the years 1935-9, and then promptly cooled off when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the people who were most ‘anti-Fascist’ during the Spanish Civil War are most defeatist now. And underlying this is the really important fact about so many of the English intelligentsia – their severance from the common culture of the country.”
(The Lion and the Unicorn.)

the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power

Another contender for LibCon’s new name!

Hmmm I’m inclined to agree, but then again if bringing Orwell to a new audience gets more people interested in democratic socialism then maybe Elton John is to be lauded as a useful idiot.
Although he’ll probably strip it of all meaning and let Boxer live and turn Beasts of England into an exercise in camp that Susan Sontag would deem worthy of analysis…

Fact – Animal Farm is the only novel by Orwell that doesn’t use the pejorative “beastly”.

Well, I think H L Mencken touched on the truth of EJ’s success: “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public”

What surprieses me is the concentration span of his fans. His songs just go on and on, ad tedium. He’s a non-progressive progger.

Atlas Shrugged, soundtrack courtesy of Meatloaf?

Can’t be any worse than the book…

#6

Nice try cj but unless a paragraph contains the word “narrative” nobody here will read it.

““No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public””

English author, English musician. America’s fault. Nice.

This is the funniest thing I’ve read in weeks.

“It’s just wrong,” screams the dogmatist, because he feels Sir Elton is unlikely to faithfully reproduce the imagined Trotskyist critique of ‘The Revolution Betrayed’…

That’s one reading of Orwell’s classic, certainly, but there are many others – just as there are almost infinite re-tellings of Marx’s own writings; and just as lunatic X-tians make up new shit off the back of the good book once in a while, to keep the rest of us on our toes.

You should perhaps set up your own Trotskyist troupe and put on a rival show. I’d bet a large sum that you’d actually end up with at least 17 distinct interpretations of THE ONE TRUE MEANING of the damn thing, and no-one would pay any attention to any of them.

Have you read ‘From Darkness to Light’, by Igal Halfin?

@6

It does amuse me to see right-wingers try and claim Orwell as a kindred spirit. You know, of course, that he wrote “Everything I have written since 1936 has been for democratic socialism as I see it”… and “[England is] a family with the wrong members in control”… not forgetting “if there is hope, it lies with the proles”… erm, and “Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted”… there are more than enough examples in the very essay you quoted of Orwell’s left-wing credentials. Yeh he was a dissident in his own time and the elite intelligentsia weren’t keen; but your ideological forefathers on the right were pro-fascist so best not to delve too deep into history, eh.

@13

Um, no, I think the point is that it will be a little bit crap.

@15

Um, no, I think the point is that Dave appears to be saying:

“How dare you violate the inviolable, brilliant, modern day political parable of Swiftian greatness, without peer in the canon of twentieth century allegorical literature, which just happens to put the Trotskyist analysis of the Soviet Union in story form, and despite its adoption by reactionaries as an ideological weapon in the Cold War, clearly communicates the fundamental truth that the revolution was not at all undesirable, but very much betrayed.”

This isn’t a sniffy “wrong type of Orc in film adaptation of LotR” gripe, is it?

@6 “Generally negative, querulous attitude”

That’s you to a T.

your ideological forefathers on the right were pro-fascist so best not to delve too deep into history, eh?

I doubt that too many rightwingers here derive their ideological beliefs from the conservatives of the 1920s and 30s.

@16

It will be crap, though.

Are you an Elton fan?

Was Von Mises pro fascist, Mr Pill?

I didn’t know that.

Grow up.

@14,

Mr S. Pill,

It does amuse me to see right-wingers try and claim Orwell as a kindred spirit. You know, of course, that he wrote “Everything I have written since 1936 has been for democratic socialism as I see it”… and “[England is] a family with the wrong members in control”… not forgetting “if there is hope, it lies with the proles”… erm, and “Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted”… there are more than enough examples in the very essay you quoted of Orwell’s left-wing credentials.

Erm, although Orwell was a democratic socialist, I don’t see anything in there that is not kindred to mainstream right-wing thinking of the twenty-first century (perhaps not that of 1940 or 1950, but then that is history), although I suspect most of use would not use ‘proles’, which is nowadays generally a derogatory term. No-one denies Orwell was left-wing, but that does not mean his views were anathema to right-wingers; political differences are about interpretation, and Orwell was opposed to tyranny of any sort, which is what he is clearly remembered for.

@16

Funny, I read that bit as deliberately exaggerated hyperbole… maybe Dave can clear that up for us 🙂

@18

I doubt many would admit it.

@20

Pffft. We can all cherry-pick philosophers to make exceptions, it’s merely the case that capitalism run riot (which is where your fundamental economics leads us) is fascism without the state insofar as it’s sets up a survival of the fittest and if you’re poor or whatever you’re fucked.

@19 – possibly. The great thing is, you’re free to not attend and there are no compulsory standing ovations.

I’m not an Elton fan, but having been a terrible snob (I’ll rephrase that: having been a total cunt) about music in a former life, I try very hard not to sneer.

Incidentally, I have seen a musical version of Animal Farm which was put on by my school. It really wasn’t that bad – it started out with cute accompanying skits and suchlike, but quickly became so dark you wondered who turned out the lights. Most people were grinning inanely (some because, presumably, they found it funny; others because they were suffering) at the interval but everyone was ashen-faced by the end.

I’d say that made it a success.

@22 – Dave, your call!

(I read it as typical Trotskyite tosh, hence the reference to Halfin’s work which really is quite fabulous.)

@21

Errrrm what? If any left-winger these days makes the same sort of comments and remarks that Orwell did they are immediately criticised for being “loony” or whatever. That cannot be disputed (and can be seen on any comments thread on any political blog where righties and lefties interact).
And yes “proles” is anachronistic (and the quote was from 1984 – Winston Smith writing in his diary – so not necessarily Orwell’s own “words”, so to speak) but let’s just say “If there is hope, it lies with the working-class” – and see how many Tory trolls turn up to grumble about chavs and wide-screen televisions, etc.
Yes of course Orwell is remembered for his opposition to tyranny of any hue; he was also a believer in revolution and a democratic socialist state. In fact I’m pretty sure he predicted the Atlee Labour Gov of 1945 saying along the lines of “the war won’t be won without socialism”.
My point is that right-whingers love to quote Orwell when it suits them but forget all that awkward stuff about socialism, working-class resistance, the ruling class being crooks, etc etc etc.

This was my attempt at demonstrating a sense of humour. Obviously, the irony was lost on some …

@25,

Errrrm what? If any left-winger these days makes the same sort of comments and remarks that Orwell did they are immediately criticised for being “loony” or whatever. That cannot be disputed (and can be seen on any comments thread on any political blog where righties and lefties interact).

Please note I said mainstream not nutcase lunatic wing. I find the idiots who think they are fighting socialism in the 1970s (the only logical explanation for their posts) even more irritating than you, in that people keep lumping me together with them. And the comments themselves are left-wing, but the underlying symptoms are accepted by the right-wing, who might phrase things differently.

And yes “proles” is anachronistic (and the quote was from 1984 – Winston Smith writing in his diary – so not necessarily Orwell’s own “words”, so to speak) but let’s just say “If there is hope, it lies with the working-class” – and see how many Tory trolls turn up to grumble about chavs and wide-screen televisions, etc.

The ‘trolls’ might grumble about chavs and tvs, but those of us with a brain, not a Daily Mail-inspired rant producer might recognise the difference. You are once more doing me the (implicit, and presumably not deliberate) discourtesy of assuming I belong with the idiots who can’t think or express a coherent philosophy but still feel the need to shout out their ignorance (God, that sounded pretentious…). The right-wing mainstream are not those who think working class = chav. Try getting anyone to agree to that at your local Conservative association for example (of course, at some Conservative clubs it would be easy…)

Yes of course Orwell is remembered for his opposition to tyranny of any hue; he was also a believer in revolution and a democratic socialist state. In fact I’m pretty sure he predicted the Atlee Labour Gov of 1945 saying along the lines of “the war won’t be won without socialism”.

True. But I am not sure I wouldn’t have voted for Labour in 1945, considering the choices (Churchill was not a reconstructionist was he). The point here is that socialism was probably needed in the middle of the last century, and in setting up the welfare state and the like won a key and vital victory that should be celebrated. But that was an issue of its own day, not one of ours; to assume the same tribal lines still apply in people mostly born since Orwell’s death (if memory serves me right) is perhaps taking the issue too far.

My point is that right-whingers love to quote Orwell when it suits them but forget all that awkward stuff about socialism, working-class resistance, the ruling class being crooks, etc etc etc.

I forget none of it, and although people cite Orwell in support of freedoms I doubt he would have supported, in general he is used against tyranny and in support of freedom. Bluntly, I think the mainstream of both right and left stand together against this – if only because dictators and tyrants are not really on the same political spectrum, being a threat to us all.

What I don’t understand is why you think it is odd that people like me should admire a historical socialist and agree with much of what he said? It’s hardly that radical, and to be too tribal to do that would hardly be a sensible viewpoint would it?

@27

To be fair, Watchman, most of my ire was aimed at folk like cjcjc who love to sneer and poke fun at the left, all the while using that most left wing of writers as a weapon. You seem fairly reasonable (as do at least *some* of the other righties on LibCon – Paul Staines awful blog, on the other hand…) and I take on board your comments – apologies if you felt like I was personally attacking you.

@26,

Dave,

I was hoping the entire thing was a joke! 1970s Elton John might have written some good songs for it, but now…

Just remember though that most commentators on blogs take everything deadly seriously, thinking all posts are written by left-wing Germans with their sense of humour glands (now that would be an interesting organ to transplant – Ben Elton receives Bernard Matthews’ sense of humour gland with hilarious consequences).

P.S. Before anyone launchs a humourless knee-jerk attack, I am delibeartely invoking the sterotypes that Germans and left-wingers have no sense of humour, which as a fan of deadpan German humour (when translatable) I know not to be true. Some leftwingers are funny as well…

@28,

I would probably see cjcj as more like me than the commentators at order-order.com, but to be fair he does like trying to wind people up. Anyway, I’m not offended by anything – as I said, the only possibly offensive thing appeared to be indeliberate. Now I’ll stop monopolising this thread…

(now that would be an interesting organ to transplant – Ben Elton receives Bernard Matthews’ sense of humour gland with hilarious consequences).

Turkeys voting for Christmas? That would be some really hammed up humour. etc etc…

32. Shatterface

From the title I thought you actually meant former lefty Ben Elton, who’s crimes against musical theatre are beyond measure.

@31,

Bernard Manning perhaps… Puns not so good though.

34. Shatterface

You know, this could work – if they did it on ice. I’d pay to see that.

But musicals tend to anthropomorphise animals. They walk upright. How would ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ work if the cast have to stand upright to belt out a tune?

Y’know on the bright side we should all be thankful that the makers of Glee haven’t got their hands on it. Yet.

36. Shatterface

You should do a contest to come up with the funniest lyrics.

LibCon needs to let it’s hair down now and then.

“Four legs good / two legs bad / hey there Boxer / don’t be sad”

“Snowball is a traitor / but you might see him later”

erm…

“Now Old Major’s dead and gone / let’s sing a tune by Elton John”

“Give Mollie a ribbon she’ll be alright / Everything Napoleon says is right”

40. Chris Baldwin

At least he’s not doing Homage to Catalonia.

41. James from Durham

I once saw stage production of Brecht’s Dreigroschenopera with the politics removed. It was gutless.

42. Rhys Williams

the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power

Another contender for LibCon’s new name

Why post on the site then if you feel the ramblings are irrelevant.
Sign of another bored moronic right winger with too much time on their hands.
Add cjcjc, flowerpower and matt to that list.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Elton does Orwell? Sorry, that's just wrong http://bit.ly/caUjzD

  2. Sarah Jackson

    RT @libcon Elton does Orwell? Sorry, that's just wrong http://bit.ly/caUjzD << Animal Farm The Musical?! Noooo!





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.