Wandering the Albertsons/SavOn at Vineyard and Foothill in Rancho Cucamonga the other day, I was surprised to hear Elvis Costello’s “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” on the music system.
This was not a hit. Costello didn’t really have any hits outside the U.K. This was a track dropped when the album “This Year’s Model” was configured for release in America, popping up only on a compilation album of stray tracks, “Taking Liberties,” circa 1980. Urgent, rebellious, spiky in both lyrics and guitar attack, the song was considered New Wave, its singer a typical British Angry Young Man.
I love Costello’s work from that period, although like most of his songs, it’s catchy, but I have no idea what it’s about. (Neither does anyone else.) One section:
Men come screaming, dressed in white coats
Shake you very gently by the throat
One’s named Gus, one’s named Alfie
I don’t want to go to Chelsea
And now, some three decades later, this sentiment was safe enough to be played at a chain supermarket/pharmacy as shoppers loaded their carts with breakfast cereal and frozen pizza. What does this say about music? About us? What would Elvis think?
Walking toward me in the aisle was a thirtysomething hipster in a tweed jacket, beard and jagged haircut. He paused and looked up wonderingly at the ceiling, presumably as baffled as I was.
I compliment the chain’s music programmers on their adventurousness, worry about the commodification of rebellion and wonder what we’ll be listening to in supermarkets in 2039.