What Was Cardew Thinking?

John Tilbury, in his biography Cornelius Cardew :  A Life Unfinished (2008) on some of the later songs, when our hero had become a member of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party Of Britain (Marxist-Leninist):

Invariably, the songs are extended by virtue of repetition ; in “Revisionist Somersaults And The Opportunist Opposition” the brevity and uneventfulness of the melody is a blessing, except that there are ten verses; the crude lyric is provided with music which is appropriately routine… How can this be explained – by which I mean, what was Cardew thinking at the time? I quote just the first verse:

One jumps out and one jumps in saying

CPC(ML) agent of the bourgeoisie

The Moscow ‘communists’ really love this country

And say that CPC(ML) is against democracy

With one foot in and the other also

The revisionists and opportunists defend the status quo

“An Opportunist Has Come Back Home” is an endless, turgid, sectarian tract attacking a ‘revisionist’ who has betrayed the Party. The text is spoken and sung; the music is interspersed with, and accompanies, speech alternating with a sung chorus… the whole text [is] of extraordinary length, doubtless uncut and unabridged. Here, towards the beginning, Voice 1 describes the young man:

Oh beautiful sight! What a striking pose!

Oh look at his Russian greatcoat,

The Mao badge on his lapel,

His Castroite fatigues,

And this is not all! Oh yes!

(Voice II)

An opportunist has come back home

For me, the wonderful thing about these songs is that they are sung in an impeccably upper middle class accent, and have a jauntiness redolent of the Bloomsbury set on a picnic outing. Not so much jolly hockey sticks as jolly petrol bombs. (I’m also intrigued by the way the ideological imperative of the lyrics means that they rarely scan comfortably. Well, you try packing “our ideology is Marxism-Leninism, we’re workers and like workers everywhere our aspiration is for socialism ushered in by violent revolution” or “in utter chaos the old order spews out unlimited decadence and parasitism” into a singable song.)

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