Since it’s Easter Monday, it seems appropriate to share the lyric of “Search and Destroy“, words by Clive James, music by Pete Atkin, in which the Easter story is reimagined as a laconic report about the end of a successful 20th century counter-terrorist operation.
James, who is an outstanding lyric writer, has written better songs than this, but there’s something to admire about the way the final stanza locates the story conclusively and then punctures it decisively:
The faithful talk some wishful-thinking cock/ About a spook who rolls away the rock/
At which point golden boy walks out alive/ We’re bumping them all off as they arrive.
One can imagine the likes of Brigadier Richard Clutterbuck being delighted about the way things turned out here.
Search and destroy
I'm glad to say we're mopping up up here I'm sending you today's report in clear Security's no problem now at all You just pick up the phone and make a call We should have done all this back at the beginning And never let the clowns think they were winning We took a month to crack their second man But when he talked the strudel hit the fan He named eleven leaders who we shot And then the top guy's girl who we've still got The chick was tough and held out for a week But spilled a bibful when we made her speak We picked his mother up and worked on her He came in on his own and there you were We should have nailed the first ones when we found them Before all the mystique built up around them We never gave the local heat a chance To get him on their own and make him dance We did him in up-country, bombed the cave And made the whole damn mountainside his grave The faithful talk some wishful-thinking cock About a spook who rolls away the rock At which point golden boy walks out alive We're bumping them all off as they arrive And that winds up this dreary exhibition A total waste of time and ammunition
‘The Cavalry incident’
Of course, Clive James is in good company here. The radical journalist Claud Cockburn recalled in his memoir I Claud rewriting the Easter story in the early 1930s as a parody of The Times’ Berlin reporter Pugge, who tended to see the streetfighting going on in Berlin in somewhat simple terms. This is how Cockburn described it in the book:
It was a level-headed estimate studded with well-tried Times’ phrases. ‘Small disposition here,’ cabled this correspondent, ‘attach undue importance protests raised certain quarters result recent arrest and trial leading revolutionary agitator followed by what is known locally as “the Cavalry incident”.’ The despatch was obviously based on an off-the-record interview with Pontius Pilate. It took the view that, so far from acting harshly, the Government had behaved with what in some quarters was criticized as ‘undue clemency’. It pointed out that firm Government action had definitely eliminated this small band of extremists, whose doctines might otherwise have represented a serious threat for the future.
The youtube clip at the top shows Atkin—who is currently, thankfully, recovering after being hit by a bus in Bristol—performing “Search and Destory” solo in Sheffield.