6 Meanings
Add Yours
Share

Tramp the Dirt Down Lyrics

I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign
A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain
She spills with compassion, as that young child's
Face in her hands she grips
Can you imagine all that greed and avarice
Coming down on that child's lips?

Well I hope I don't die too soon
I pray the lord my soul to save
Oh, I'll be a good boy, I'm trying so hard to behave
Because there's one thing I know, I'd like to live
Long enough to savor
That's when they finally put you in the ground
I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

When England was the whore of the world
Margaret was her madam
And the future looked as bright and as clear as
The black tarmacadam
Well I hope that she sleeps well at night, isn't
Haunted by every tiny detail
Because when she held that lovely face in her hands
All she thought of was betrayal

And now the cynical ones say that it all ends the same in the long run
Try telling that to the desperate father who just squeezed the life from his only son
And how it's only voices in your head and dreams you never dreamt
Try telling him the subtle difference between justice and contempt
Try telling me she isn't angry with this pitiful discontent
When they flaunt it in your face as you line up for punishment
And then expect you to say thank you straighten up, look proud and pleased
Because you've only got the symptoms, you haven't got the whole disease
Just like a schoolboy, whose head's like a tin-can
Filled up with dreams then poured down the drain
Try telling that to the boys on both sides, being blown to bits or beaten and maimed
Who takes all the glory and none of the shame

Well I hope you live long now, I pray the lord your soul to keep
I think I'll be going before we fold our arms and start to weep
I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap
Because when they finally put you in the ground
They'll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down
Song Info
Submitted by
Submitted on
Mar 01, 2005
6 Meanings
An error occured.

"Tramp The Dirt Down" is not a rational protest song, nor is it a well thought-out political manifesto. Its message is simple and direct-- the Margaret Thatcher is evil, and Elvis would take pleasure in her ultimate demise. It was as bitter and savage as anything Costello had ever written, because Costello took the unusual step of actually naming names. When Costello released his anti-Tory diatribe "Pills And Soap" in 1983, he told a concerned BBC censor that the song was about cruelty to animals. There could be no clever parsing of words with this song, which included the memorable line, "When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her Madam." - Astheygo.com

Clearly a cathardic lambasting of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her policies. Costello has long been a vocal critic of hers and once even remarked that "She doesn't have a soul. She will burn in hell." Powerful.

Not having a soul would seem to be inconsistent with burning in hell, but I guess that's poetic license.

An error occured.

I never had an opinion on the lyrics until my 4th listening or so, as I am with most songs. It's an evocative tune by the melody and structure, it's Elvis's opinion. I happen to think Ms. Thatcher was good for Britain, however. Far be it from musicians to understand nuts and bolts politics when they deal mostly with feelings.

I think that "black tarmacadam" should actually be "black tar macadam".

"Macadam" is a type of road construction/pavement, invented by a man with the last name Macadam.

"Tar Macadam" is a tar-based Macadam, used on roads where high-speed travel would erode regular Macadam, and is where we get the word "Tarmac". (the pavement on most airport runways).

@Lesthanzero Damn, I won’t expect a reply since your comment is 11 y/o, but I’d like to ask exactly what YOU understand about “nuts and boots politics” that Elvis does NOT?!?

An error occured.

Regarding the lyric "She spills with compassion": in the Middle Ages spill referred to much more devastating things than it does today. Spillan, the Old English ancestor of Modern English spill, meant such things as "to destroy, mutilate, kill." I think perhaps Elvis Costello was (consciously or subconsciously) tuning in to that older meaning when he wrote this line.

mmm, I think you may be over-analysing this. Thatcher was reknowned for her furrowed eyebrows and tilted head as she leaned forward in a low whisper to say something 'compassionate' from the 'heart' (although there's no evidence that she possessed one, there is plenty of evidence to suggest she may have been possessed). She was truly a wolf in sheeps clothing

An error occured.

anyone who would come on here with the nerve to defend the policies of Margaret Thatcher needs to take themselves away off for a dark night of the soul...

An error occured.

This is definitely one of my favorites on Spike - in my opinion it blows "Veronica" out of the water. I understand why it wasn't released as a single though...

Lyrically, I'm impressed with Elvis' use of unexpected rhymes like "imagine/compassion" and "detail/betrayal". But I'm most impressed by the ironic twist that provides a little of his signature dark humor at the end of the song - after lambasting Margaret Thatcher for her lack of regard for human life and then laughing at her death, he remarks "I never thought for a moment that human life could be so cheap!"

Its like he's reminding her that her life is just as cheap as anyone's who was sent to war for her policies.

Now, as an American, I have a few questions for the Brits out there (or anyone else who might know):

1) Was there actually such a picture published of Margaret Thatcher kissing a grimacing child? 2) Was this song not considered libel because he only says "Margaret" and never reveals her last name, despite the heavy insinuations? 3) What is the "The black tarmacadam"? 4) Does "this pitiful discontent" refer to this song? Or something broader?

In today's context I can't get Sarah Palin (and her "special needs" baby) out of my mind when I listen to this song.

jsaul -

1) Was there actually such a picture published of Margaret Thatcher kissing a grimacing child? 2) Was this song not considered libel because he only says "Margaret" and never reveals her last name, despite the heavy insinuations? 3) What is the "The black tarmacadam"? 4) Does "this pitiful discontent" refer to this song? Or something broader?

>

  • Not as far as I am aware. I think the lyrics are referring to the cliche of the politician kissing a baby.

  • Not as far as I am aware. I think the lyrics are referring to the cliche of the politician kissing a baby.

  • I wouldn't consider it libellous. Thatcher wrecked the British manufacturing industry and devastated whole communities, creating mass unemployment. She crushed the power of the trade unions and introduced draconian anti-strike legislation in an attempt to stop people from effectively fighting back. That said, yes I think you may well be right.

  • The "black tarmacadam" is a road surface - could Costello be referring to the M25 (opened by Thatcher in 1986), as emblematic of false hope for the future?

  • The "pitiful discontent" to me refers to the attempts of the miners and the Militant-controlled Liverpool council to fight back in the face of Thatcher's onslaught. "She isn't angry with this pitiful discontent", i.e. she is going to smash all opposition.

    There is a discussion socialistunity.com/ here about the song and an interview with Costello himself.

  • Sarah Palin? The woman chose to bring a retarted child into this world AND work from home so she could be with her child. God bless her for her decisions to put life and family FIRST. One can support war and not be anti-life. I have a Jewish aunt and uncle in their late 70's because a war was fought in Europe. Your simplistic view and condemnation of people whose politics you don't support is rather prejudiced.

    The black tarmacadam is probably a reference to the plight of the characters in 'The Boys From the Blackstuff' a short series of plays aired in 1982 when Thatcher was at her zenith. Each play focussed on member of a group of redundant road tarmac layers. It has been described by The British Film Institute as TV's most complete dramatic response to the Thatcher era and as a lament to the end of a male, working class British culture.

    An error occured.

    loegend to me this sounds crap when he plays it (not quite my cup o tea) but uber respect fer im avin the guts to say that in all of his live shows to the miners! and i totaly agree!

    An error occured.