“I’m Not Angry”


This is actually a pretty angry song, belieing the title.  Elvis Costello (for whom I want to hug radios) has long been one of the angriest dogs in the yard.  He was one of the very fine artists that emerged from the ashes when punk attempted to burn down the world (they succeeded, but mostly only in destroying themselves).  He kept trying to rekindle the fire, but people liked it when he was angry.  Maybe because it was accompanied with witty lyrics and melodies.

What’s this song about?  A pissed off guy complains about his ex’s, um, proclivities.  Apparently, she moved one quite lustfully while he’s been sitting around seething.  He overhears her having sex.  He implies taking pictures of her.  He says outright “I know what you’re doing, I know where you’ve been.”  Sounds pretty stalkerish to me.  Although, it does open with “You’re upstairs with the boyfriend, while I’m left here to listen,” so maybe she’s being a little passive-aggressive about the whole thing.  These do not sound like healthy, happy people.  Which is what makes them so interesting.  Remember, the romance novel always ends when the hero and heroine finally get to live happily after.

Except that this song implies that ever after isn’t all that happy.  They might be exes, but this couple still seems to be living together.  Maybe a marriage going bad, but nobody wants to admit it.  Costello was married when he wrote this (wife number one); maybe he’s the one being a little passive-aggressive here.

To me, there’s more here than just rage about a relationship going down the tubes.  This was the late 70s after all; it seemed like the whole world was going down the tubes.  Divorce rates were up.  The economy was in the toilet.  Everywhere.  Costello had quit his steady job working with computers to be a musician, and found an outlet for all the rage he felt as a young person caught in a world that seemed like it was going to explode any day.  He knew that nothing was guaranteed anymore: “Spent all my time at the vanity factory, wondering when they’re gonna come and take it all back.”  The whole thing feels as nihilistic as The Sex Pistols sounded.  He keeps repeating “I’m not angry anymore.”  He sounds angry, but maybe he just gave up.  He knows where she’s been, after all, ” but I don’t care, cause there’s no such thing as an original sin.”

Lather, rinse, repeat.


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