Elvis Costello has been named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to music, and though he’s “happy to accept this very surprising honour,” the legendary singer-songwriter posted a note to his website admitting that he had mixed feelings about receiving the distinction.
Costello’s music has often been critical of British imperialism and politics, particularly on tracks like “Oliver’s Army” or “Tramp the Dirt Down.” He explained in his note that he decided to accept the honor after discussing it with his mother.
“I began my call by telling my Mam that the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, had put my name forward for an O.B.E,” he writes. “‘But she’s rubbish,’ Lillian cut in before I could complete the news. Well, that aside, I said, ‘Of course, I won’t be accepting the award’. I didn’t get much further with that statement either. I listened carefully to my mother’s argument that if something is deserved then one must be gracious in acceptance. So, as a good lad, who likes to do what will make his Mam most proud, I knew that I must put old doubts and enmities aside and muster what little grace I possess.”
“When I looked down the list of past honorees; those who have accepted and those who have declined for reasons of conviction or cantankerousness, I came to the conclusion that I am, perhaps, closer in spirt to Eric Morecambe than to Harold Pinter, as anyone who has heard me play the piano will attest,” he added. “Even so, it is hard to receive anything named for the ‘British Empire’, and all that term embodies, without a pause for reflection.”
Costello also admitted that “It would be a lie to pretend that I was brought up to have a great sense of loyalty to the Crown, let alone notions of Empire. I used to think a change might come but when one considers the kind of mediocre entrepreneur who might be foisted upon us as a President, it’s enough to make the most hard-hearted ‘Republican’ long for an ermine stole, a sceptre and an orb. To be honest, I’m pretty tickled to receive this acknowledgement for my ‘Services To Music’, as it confirms my long held suspicion nobody really listens to the words in songs or the outcome might have been somewhat different.”
You can read Costello’s full letter about receiving the OBE here.