Tramp the Dirt Down: Elvis Costello And Margaret Thatcher.
Elvis Costello onstage at Eric’s Club, Liverpool in the late 1970s. (John Moores University Photo Archive).
In Liverpool and other UK cities Margaret Thatcher will never be forgotten, nor will the bleak period of mass unemployment and the crushing of Hope that characterized life under her governments, which bitter time forms the backdrop of my ’70s-’80s Punk and New Wave memoir Bombed Out!
I recently re-heard Elvis Costello’s song Tramp the Dirt Down, which appeared on his album, Spike, in 1989, long after the period covered by Bombed Out! had elapsed.
Costello was a Scouser, he was also an Eric’s Club member, and (obviously) he was in his own band back then. His family and friends would have been as devastated by Thatcher’s economic policies as everyone else’s.
Tramp the Dirt Down articulates Costello’s anger at the Thatcher government and its effect on British society, recording his desire to live long enough to see Margaret Thatcher die, when he vows, “I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down.”
He played it at Glastonbury music festival in 2013 after Thatcher had died, but he stoutly and rightly defended himself against criticisms of insensitivity and poor taste by her supporters. Costello said his anger over the ideals Thatcher represented had not abated, which is something I can also empathise with.
“I felt I wanted to revisit the song regardless of the offence it gives to people who deify her. We sing the song from our point of view and other people have another view. Nobody shot anybody because of it. I don’t feel vindicated. I didn’t personally kill her,” Costello said.
Costello added that he took no pleasure from Thatcher’s struggle with dementia before her death, aged 87. His own father, musician Ross MacManus, suffered from the same illness before his death in 2011. “I genuinely don’t wish that on my worst enemy and that’s what I said every night when I introduced the song.”
This is Costello’s acoustic version of the song: