tag: Billy Bragg



9
Apr 2014

U2 and It’s a Wonderful Life

Browsing twitter, I noticed Chris Brooke posted a link to an interview with a Tory MP in which he reveals that U2 is his favourite band.

Achtung BabyNow I happen to really like U2. It’s difficult perhaps to separate them from their stratospheric success (and Bono’s messianic shenanigans) and appreciate them musically. But just because Achtung Baby and Zooropa sold a kajillion copies doesn’t stop them being two of the most sonically interesting records of the 90s. As with The White Album… sometimes the stars align and what is popular achieves harmony with what is Truly Great. The albums just before and just after Achtung Baby and Zooropa had wonderful moments, but (and this not a popular opinion among my more musically discerning friends) those two were perfect slices of musical Greatness.

Crucially though, what they are not is political. There’s veiled social commentary here and there, but it’s mostly love songs, songs of regret, songs of personal loss and a whole bunch of Irish Catholicism. All played out across an Eno-produced soundscape of rock, electronica and complex polyrhythms. It’s what Can would have sounded like if they’d formed in 1989 and had an ego-maniacal philanthropist from Dublin as a lead singer.

As I say though, it’s not political music and they are not – in general – a political band. Sure, no band goes 30 years without doing some political stuff, but overall that’s not what they’re about, and an appreciation for U2′s music is no indication of political leanings (unlike say, Billy Bragg… if you say you’re a big Billy Bragg fan there’s a better than evens chance you’re left wing). Meanwhile, I doubt there’s a great many left wing Ted Nugent fans.

So it does not surprise me that a Tory MP would be a U2 fan. No more than it would surprise me that a Tory MP might be a big fan of Miles Davis.

Mr PotterWhat I did find surprising about Sajid Javid MP’s interview, however, was his claim that his favourite film is It’s A Wonderful Life. Because that film is overtly political. It’s a film that is vitriolic about the effects of capitalism on community life. Sure, sure, some see it as an ode to a simpler, kinder capitalism (a golden age that never existed) but that’s hogwash – Master’s degree in Critical Theory and Film Studies be damned! – it’s as close to a socialist manifesto as mainstream American cinema is ever likely to achieve.

And if that last scene where the whole town gathers together and pools their money to help out a down-on-his-luck neighbour is too subtle a metaphor for the average Tory MP; the film even has a character who clearly and unequivocally represents the capitalist establishment… represents Toryism. So how difficult must it be to list It’s A Wonderful Life as your favourite film when it chooses to depict you as Henry Potter?

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


18
Dec 2011

Speaking ill of the dead

A couple of days ago I awoke to discover that Christopher Hitchens had died. The news was initially conveyed to me by my twitter stream which was knee deep in tributes and impassioned insistences that we had lost “a great thinker”. There were other opinions scattered amongst the hagiography, but by and large they were in the minority. He was described as “the beau ideal of the public intellectual” by Vanity Fair magazine. And even those from whom one might expect a little balance seemed determined to speak no ill of the dead… a convention, incidentally, that Hitchens himself was unwilling to follow. Some of those who dared question the posthumous near-canonisation of the man have been accused of being “spiteful” or “insensitive”, apparently unaware of the insensitivity and spitefulness of the man they are defending. Read, for example, the views of Hitchens on Jerry Falwell – expressed live on CNN the day following Falwell’s death. I have no time for the loathsome Falwell, but the double-standards of some of those defending Hitchens is breath-taking to witness.

Christopher HitchensEven the normally fearless Billy Bragg sought to “add [his] voice to those who mourn the loss of Christopher Hitchens”. Bragg then went on to compare Hitchens favourably to George Orwell and express his admiration for the writer’s “compulsion to speak his mind”. About the worst thing he could find to say about him was that he “didn’t always agree with him”. I wonder if I were to spend the last decade of my life writing exultant articles in defence of cluster bombs and endless wars (in which young men are sent to kill and die overseas while I eat and drink myself slowly to death in luxury)… if I were to write a series of borderline racist articles about the followers of Islam and loudly champion the “clash of civilisations” like the most boorish of George Bush’s neoconservative cheerleaders… I wonder if I were to resort to calling women who dared to criticise the Bush administration’s foreign policy “sluts” and “fucking fat slags”… I wonder if the worst I would get from stalwarts of The Left would be “well, I didn’t always agree with him”?

I certainly hope not.

The fact of the matter is, Christopher Hitchens may have been a half-decent writer (and that’s as far as I’d go incidentally… “half-decent”) and he may well have been an engaging and witty conversationalist (I don’t know as I never met the man). He certainly didn’t pull any punches, and was willing to express his opinion even when it might land him in hot water. But you know what… attend any meeting of a neo-fascist organisation (the BNP, the KKK, or your local equivalent) and you’ll find plenty of people willing to express opinions that might land them in hot water. I’m obviously not suggesting Hitchens was a member or sympathiser of such groups; but if it’s just the willingness to express unpleasant opinions in public that earns you respect, why isn’t the press filled with columns lauding the greatness of Racist Tram Woman?

Incidentally, I should also make it clear that I do not wish cancer or death on anyone (well, there may be the occasional dictator or mass-murderer who I’d be happy to see die in a bizarre gardening accident). I feel no happiness or satisfaction at the death of Hitchens and I wish those who knew him comfort in their grief. I’m not saying “Yay! Hitchens is dead”, I’m saying “Hang on a second, now that he is dead, why are we forgetting about all the horrible things he said and supported?”

And I’m aware that many seem willing to give Hitchens a pass because of his position on religion. A position which I personally find simple-minded and as far from “the beau ideal of the public intellectual” as it is possible to get. Humanity does indeed need to re-evaluate our relationship with religion, but that the discussion appears to be happening between religious extremists and the narrow atheist fundamentalism of Hitchens, Dawkins and the rest is just depressing. I always thought the mark of a true intellectual was that they could appreciate the nuances in complex issues and could navigate controversial and difficult discussions without resorting to pathetic insults and nonsense generalisations. No?

Perhaps my view of intellectualism needs to be revised given the recent celebration of Hitchens. Perhaps modern intellectualism is to be found in the championing of repellent military tactics such as cluster munitions while denouncing your critics as fucking fat slags. Perhaps it is to be found in taking delight in war, mayhem and violent death (from a distance of course… if Orwell really was Hitchens’ hero, then why did he never take up a rifle and face down the Taliban in Helmand province himself?) Perhaps we get the intellectuals we deserve… and judging by our violent, crass and deeply narcissistic society, perhaps we don’t deserve much better than Hitchens.

Photo courtesy of The Independent

I had just about finished writing this piece when I encountered Glenn Greenwald’s article over at Salon.com which makes pretty much exactly the same points, uses many of the same examples and goes into rather more depth than my own piece. As a result I almost scrapped this piece and tweeted a link to Salon instead. But in the end I figured that it’s an opinion that’s worthy of repeating.

6 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


1
Aug 2010

It Says Here

Imagine switching on the TV at quarter to nine some Tuesday morning and seeing this.

I thought I’d share an odd slice of the 80s with my one remaining reader. The song and the performance are classic Billy Bragg. Strident, no-nonsense social commentary that remains as relevant now as it ever was (more so, in fact). But the context is just so bizarre. BBC Breakfast Time television… a cultural vacuum designed to do nothing more than fill air-time between news bulletins. Possibly the most conservative (small ‘c’) broadcasting environment outside US televangelism; certainly not a place you’d expect to hear a hard-hitting assault on tabloid media culture and conservative (small ‘c’ and capital ‘C’) politics.

Introduced by Selina Scott in a positively restrained hair-do (bearing in mind the year) holding an album in a manner which suggests she’s never seen one before. And followed by Mike Smith (Princess Diana’s favourite DJ, let us not forget) looking bewildered; no doubt trying to work out how to segue between a song telling us that “politics mix / with bingo and tits / in a money and numbers game” into Russell Grant’s astrology segment.

Anyhoo, enjoy the song. It’s a bit of a belter.

It Says Here — Billy Bragg
Live on BBC Breakfast Time, 1984

1 comment  |  Posted in: Media » Audio, Video


5
Dec 2008

Billy Bragg Live in Dublin

I don’t want this place to become just a collection of YouTube clips, but I’ve not got much time right now and wanted to say a little bit about the gig last night… this is better than nothing I guess. We went to see Billy Bragg at Vicar Street and, as ever, he raised the roof. A thousand people singing There is Power in a Union is a wonderful thing to hear. I ended up describing him to someone today as “like an English Christy Moore”. I hope Billy would take that as the powerful compliment I mean it as (even if, strictly speaking, Bragg has his roots in punk while Moore is a folkie).

Anyways, the gig was great. The pissed bloke, not far from where myself and Citizen S were sitting, who insisted on trying to shout over the top of Billy’s between-song-monologues got beyond a joke at one point and I came close to tracking him down and offering to pay him to leave. Not that I had the money, not that he’d have left, and not that he’d have stopped shouting, but maybe — just maybe — when he awoke hungover the next day he might recall my offer and be shamed into resolving to shut the fuck up next time!

But yeah, Billy was a star. Like he always is. And support was provided by US singer-songwriter, Otis Gibbs, who was worth the ticket price alone (not that I judge an artist’s worth by how much you’d pay to see him, but you know what I’m saying).

Like any great artist who has been around a while, Billy didn’t play half the stuff I’d have liked him to play. But, then, he could have played for another couple of hours and still not played half the stuff I wanted to hear. Which is OK. When what you do get is so wonderful, it’s only an arsehole who complains. Also, as is often the case with me, my favourite album by a singer is one that other fans don’t rave about so much. So I suspect even if he had played for another couple of hours, we still wouldn’t have heard much from William Bloke.

He was as strident, as righteous and as inspiring as ever. Although having said that, the lovely Citizen S did point out afterwards that, having grown up in a communist regime, it’s a little strange for her to hear songs that idealise and romanticise unions and workers and socialism to quite that extent.

Don’t get me wrong, she enjoyed the gig and sees the worth in the songs and ideas but I guess those words are bound to have a different resonance for her. That’s one of the (many) things I like about Citizen S… I get to see the world from a different perspective when we’re together. A good thing. We’re neither of us big fans of capitalism, though. So not too different a perspective!

Hopefully next time we go see Billy play he’ll dust off a couple of tracks from William Bloke. Maybe The Space Race Is Over and From Red to Blue? Just thought I’d put that idea out there in case he googles himself one day and reads this page…

But yeah, one song he did play last night (how could he not?) was Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards. And, as the song says… if you’ve got a website, I want to be on it…

Billy Bragg | Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

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