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The Queen is Dead, boys, and it’s so lonely on a limb
On the state funeral of Elizabeth II.
The Queen is dead. Years ago I listened the the song ‘The Queen is Dead’ by The Smiths, enraptured by the propulsive drums, the sinuous surge of Marr’s guitar; but not of all, I was caught up in Morrissey’s lyrics. Morrissey has always been plangent, but here he was at his cheekiest, his naughtiest; you could almost hear the smirk:
Farewell to this land’s cheerless marshes
Hemmed in like a boar between archers
Her very Lowness with her head in a sling
I’m truly sorry, but it sounds like a wonderful thing
“I say, Charles, don’t you ever crave
To appear on the front of the Daily Mail
Dressed in your Mother’s bridal veil?” Ooh, ooh, ooh
And so I checked all the registered historical facts
And I was shocked into shame to discover
How I’m the 18th pale descendant of some old queen or other.
Morrissey is dead to me now. He was my hero as a lonely and disaffected teen (there is nothing original under the sun, not least when it comes to me), but I cannot stand his hectoring, his politics, and his music is terrible. He has become a humorous self-parody. I mention this because people in the public eye always take on a significance far beyond their meat. Morrissey isn’t a human being to me or to anyone (save, I imagine, the few who really know him); he’s a frame on which I can drape ideas about myself, whoever or whatever that is. Because I’m a post-Romantic, it’s all symbol and theatre — I get bound up in the aesthetics of things, forgetting the mud and blood and flesh.
It’s the same for Elizabeth II. The dead Queen, having been borne from Scotland and having lain in state, will be buried today. Yet what’s being buried, I think, and what’s been lying in state all this time, is a frame on which people can drape all sorts of ideas. I’m doing it now. She was not a person to me; she was just an idea. And this was an easy illusion to maintain, because she was always defined by the symbols and acts of her office. In 1952, she stopped existing in one way; in 2022 she stopped existing in another.
What fascinates me is the idea of collective grief I keep reading about. The Queue, capitalised, has become a sort of grief-snake, a singular entity. Those within it are now collective, hive. Individual stories flash up, but always within the context of the Queue. The Queue is social cement. It reminds us that we are held together by forces beyond our control. Not being in the Queue is still being defined by the Queue. We are all Queue-People now.
We’ve always had ’social cement’. It was religion for quite a while; Eagleton
The problem with capitalism is that it’s completely faceless. It’s truly invisible; its churches are nowhere and nothing. That’s the advantage religion always had; it had stories and iconography. Go to the church, see the saints. They shine down in effulgences of stained glass, they smile, alabaster-quiet. Perhaps the queue can best be thought of, then, as a type of pilgrimage. It’s a journey of faith. I don’t think anyone is going to see the Queen. They’re going to see themselves. The Queue, and this day, this ‘national mourning’, might just be the closest we’ve come to any sort of social cement for a long time. Why else see such signs in rainbows? Goodness knows it’s problematic — to talk of any sort of ‘we’ is to lie and to erase. But as the Queue breaks down, I wonder what the next focal point will be. What will bring people together next, or was the Queue simply an extinction burst, a final pantomime of togetherness, before true alienation sets in?
From the album of the same name, 1986
Literary Theory, 2005
Culture and Anarchy, 1867