The Null Device

God Save the Queen

In honour of this being the Diamond Jubilee long weekend, here is an evaluation of a piece of critique from an earlier Jubilee, namely the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen:
God save the queen
The fascist regime
We're not off to a good start. Even if one relaxes the definition of “fascist” (as some on the left of political debate are sometimes wont to), calling Elizabeth II's figurehead reign, floating above the governments of the day, mouthing their words and cutting ribbons, a “fascist regime” would stretch it beyond recognition. One could argue that the song referred to the government of the day, except that it was written in the days of a flounderingly ineffectual Labour government, long before Maggie sent her riot police to smash the unions and said nice things about Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
She ain't no human being
If one's talking about the office of Queen, that could be considered to be true. Whoever sits on the throne occupies a peculiar role; wearing the title of an ancient absolute monarch, but serving as a mascot of sorts, and being on duty at all times, until she dies or abdicates (and the latter is not possible without scandal). Whereas an ancient monarch's freedom of opinion was limited only by their own power, the Queen has effectively given up the right to express opinions on anything consequential, lest they interfere with her official “opinions”, which change with the composition of Parliament and the will of Rupert Murdoch. (Her son, alas, has not received this memo, and is happy to give his loyal subjects the benefit of his expertise on fields as diverse as homeopathy and architecture.) So, half a point here; the office of the Queen is not human, though the occupant of it, biologically, is, unless you're David Icke.
There is no future
In England's dreaming
When there lines were written in 1977, Britain was in a political, economic and cultural malaise—there was the three-day week, uncollected rubbish was piling up; the Empire was gone, but its memory was still fresh enough that some people believed it wasn't. Ironically enough, one other person who would have agreed with Lydon that there was no future in England's dreaming would have been the aforementioned more-plausibly-fascist-than-the-Queen Tory MP, Margaret Thatcher.
God Save The Queen,
I mean it, man
This sudden lapse into a Californian surfer-dude voice is puzzling. Does Lydon believe that, as a rock'n'roll practitioner, he must adopt an American voice? How does he reconcile the showbiz fakery of rock'n'roll with the professed authenticity of punk as a voice of the people/youth? Or is he suggesting that a US-style Presidency would be preferable to a constitutional monarchy? (Which, a few years after Watergate, sounds implausible.)
God save the queen
'Cause tourists are money
Full points for this one; when motherhood statements about “timeless national symbols” and “bringing the country together” aren't enough, monarchists often follow up with “besides, they bring the tourists in”. Though, by some accounts, royal palaces aren't among the most popular of Britain's tourist destinations. Whether this was the case in 1977 is another question.
And our figurehead
Is not what she seems
Another one for the conspiracy theorists, it would seem; does the Queen sit at the apex of international organised crime (as US third-party political candidate Lyndon LaRouche claims), or are she and the entire house of Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha Windsor giant flesh-eating reptiles capable of shape-shifting into human form for camouflage (as former BBC snooker presenter David Icke asserts)? Or was Lydon suggesting that the figurehead is not really a figurehead and that the monarchy does involve itself in the running of the country as some sort of personal model train set?

There are 3 comments on "God Save the Queen":

Posted by: fingertrouble http://www.radioclashblog.com Tue Jun 5 06:48:33 2012

I hope you're not being serious with this analysis, but the joke falls flat in places so I can't really tell.

Posted by: datakid pineappledonut.org Thu Jun 7 02:57:11 2012

My aim is true, my message is clear - it's curtains for you Elizabeth my dear

Posted by: Greg Sat Jun 9 15:59:54 2012

A lot of Sex Pistols lyrics were like this: 80% genius and 20% puzzlingly throwaway.

The "fascist regime" and "ain't no human being" lines, and maybe "not what she seems", seemed to me to be one part shock-value, one part desperate attempt to rhyme with "queen".

"We mean it, man" is I think simply mocking the Califoria / hippy speak of the mid 70s - they did this in interviews too.

"Anarchy in the UK" is the same: a golden pile of the punchiest lyrics eva, mixed with a couple of shock/desparate-rhyme lines like "I am an anti-christ".

My guess: scribbled in a hurry by 20 year olds and immortalized on wax before they had a chance to fix the bloopers.

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