By The Landlord
Lords, Ladies, Squires, Sirs and Sires! Professors, Police Inspectors, Sergeants, Captains, Wing Commanders and Lieutenants! Mr, Mrs, Ms, and Master, Messieurs, Signores, Herren und Damen! Your Excellency, Your Honour, Your Grace, Your Eminence, Very Reverend, Rabbi, Bishop or Imam, and all you Honourable and Dishonourable Members, welcome to this week's special Song Bar topic of honorific canticles! Last week was all about titles, and so again this week, rather mischievously to follow on, they are of an altogether other type. These are the terms of personal address, and label, of honours earned and bestowed, some of dubious as well as inherited entitlement, and with this, all the ways in which such terms appear and are used in titles and lyrics.
What is it about society that we must adorn each other, or ourselves, with title? British culture is especially rich in such traditions, antiquity and class-based ceremonies, but it is not alone. Honorifics are really metaphorical nomenclature medals hung upon people to reflect on their position in society. But when, and why are they used in lyrics? Titles are added for a variety of reasons, to be mock-formal, ironic, respectful, universal and much more. But the key here is not merely to name every song that includes words such as Mr or Doctor, Duke, Dame, Earl or more, but where such terms are included for a reason, and why that works effectively, and perhaps paints a good character or tells a good story.
And with that, of course, come some fantastic artists who use these terms for their profiles, from jazz's Duke Ellington to calypso's Lord Kitchener, great artists who came from humble backgrounds who could never naturally inherit such noble privilege, but earned it unofficially by their skill, talent and charisma, and are honoured in other songs that may mention them.
A long time previously the general topic of Mr and Mrs has come up, and while this still applies within this bracket, we're broadening this out and more especially looking for the other ones, some of which I've already mentioned above. In another place, wearing a different hat, a much cherished reader known in these parts as Chinhealer, in an amusing exchange, bestowed upon me the title of SHMOGMU, which, as I recall, stands for the entirely justified, of course, and not in the slightest ironic, full title of something of the order of Sir High Most Oracle-Guru of the Musical Universe. Nothing over the top about that, I'm sure you'll agree.
Most of us, naturally, are your basic Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms, but even those titles carry various assumptions about who we are, or could place some in an uncomfortable gender or marital status tickbox. And if you gain, rather than inherit an honorific term, does it completely change your life? Who, for example, from the higher achieving areas of sport, arts, charity and more, puts MBE or CBE, or OBE after their name in correspondence, or any other place?
Of course if you've ever been through higher eduction, you could, theoretically be entitled to place BA Hons or similar after your name, or even Dr before it, if you've really gone for it, but for the former, that's a badge for just about keeping brain cells and debt together through three years of socialising, drinking and a just about enough study at the right moments before knocking out a few essays on a given day. Actually, I'm just thinking about my own case with my English Literature degree, qualifying me to engage in occasionally engaging waffle. Those who become medical doctors and the like undoubtedly deserve their true title.
Honorifics of the traditional high-status professions were historically set up to place certain members of society into positions of unimpeachable power and moral high ground. But those who have have followed the many scandals of the Catholic and other church organisations may certainly question the scruples of titles such as Holiness, Grace, Excellency and more. In the same way, the lying, cheating, self-promoting, double-crossing track records of many politicians, currently in power and previously, certainly make a mockery of the term Right Honourable Member. And many honorific recipients have been simply members of the old-boy network, handed out New Year's honours because of their big fat party donations are at the very heart of of the establishment. Yes, David Cameron, that means you, among others.
Many music artists and other performers of note have been given titles to mark their career, and achieved that by having the Queen touch their shoulders with a sword. Some have grasped that to their bosom, some admit tacit pride, but others have rejected the very offer. Sir Ben Kingsley, for example, apparently refuses to respond to anyone unless his full title is used. Sir Ian McKellen meanwhile (affectionately referred to by friend Stephen Fry as Serena Mckellen) rather more amusingly has suggested that some of his distinguished forbears might not have received such an honour in the past had the establishment known more about them in an era where their sexuality was still regarded as illegal: "There have been many gay knights in the past - like Sir Noel Coward or Sir John Gielgud," he tells us, with a mischievous smile.
Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Sir Van Morrison, Sir Ray Davies, Sir Rod Stewart, and Sir Mick Jagger? The latter, who used to be scourge of the establishment, began to cosy up to it in his later years, and annoyed the hell of Keith Richards for accepting the Queen's blade. But the Song Bar honourable roll call, receiving our special Tankard of Credibility, goes to this lot for saying no. First, David Bowie, who said: "“I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don't know what it's for. It's not what I spent my life working for.” Good on you David.
And Mr Bowie is joined by John Lydon, Roald Dahl, LS Lowry, Vanessa Redgrave, John Cleese, Paul Weller (who though, forgave cycling mate Sir Bradley Wiggins for accepting it because "it's different for sport"), Aldous Huxley, Alan Bennett, Jim Broadbent, Rabindranath Tagore and more.
John Lennon originally received an MBE, but after the Fabs split up, decided to make a political protest and return it, and sent the following letter to the Queen:"Your Majesty, I am returning this in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With Love, John Lennon of Bag."
Personally I've nothing against honours if people seem justified in accepting them, especially if that's from doing great work for society and charity, and that honour highlights the fine work done, and promotes the cause. But embellishing those who are already lauded plentifully, these come across as acts of self-aggrandisement, and especially when they seem to be given for making a lot of money.
Obviously as the Landlord of this revered establishment I've turned down my own knighthood three times due to lack of trophy and medal cabinet space.
But, on that note, humbly, can a real pub landlord earn honours? Yes indeed, it can happen. Tucked away on the River Lea in London's Hackney, there's a small, lively, local pub, the Anchor and Hope, that was run by one of the area's best-loved characters form 1953 to 2003, and this landlord, Les Heath, was given an MBE for "services to the East End". Pull the other one!
So then, I would like to offer, in turn, the Song Bar Gourd of Guru Excellence to this week's expert, now stepping up to the plate. The superb Severin will sort out your song-related Sirs, Signors and much more. Deadline? Monday at 11pm UK time, for playlist published on Wednesday. I honour you all for your contributions.
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