Friday, October 06, 2006

Billy Bragg: The Progressive Patriot


Friendship is a very strange thing; particularly childhood friendships. Looking back it seems quite odd how I fell in with some people rather than others. In particular, at school, one of my best friends (still one of my best friends, tho' I don't see him as often as I'd like as he now lives on the other side of the country) was in many ways the opposite of me: I was right-wing, he was left-wing; I was outgoing and optimistic, he was melancholy and introverted; I liked 'Wham!' - and he had musical taste (just like a certain MadPriest).

Fortunately for all concerned, we influenced each other. In particular I remember lots of occasions when he would insist that I listened to some 'quality' music - he introduced me to David Bowie; Simon and Garfunkel; The Jam, for example - but one of his key heroes was Billy Bragg. It took me a while to get beyond the flat tonalities, but - to try and be fair to myself - I think I recognised even then that Mr Bragg was a genius songwriter:

"If you're lonely, I will call
If you're poorly, I will send poetry
I love you...
I am the milkman of human kindness
I will leave an extra pint."


Which means that when I was passed a copy of Billy Bragg's new book by a mutual friend (of mine and BB's) I was rather excited. I had kept tabs on Bragg's more political side, as opposed to musical, and I remember being particularly taken with his ideas for reform of the House of Lords, which I thought were much the best proposal around.

So - a new book, triggered by Bragg's reaction to the BNP's success in his hometown of Barking, and his desire to articulate a progressive patriotism rather than the reactionary sort symbolised by the BNP. In this he succeeds rather admirably, although I don't think it's a particularly difficult task. Of much more interest, however, was his autobiographical description of music - especially how he enjoyed Simon and Garfunkel so much in his youth, which rang all sorts of bells with me. (I'm stunned that 'The Boxer' is based on an Eastender! That changes how I listen to that song, just a little). This reclamation of the English heritage is striking strong chimes with me, not least because I see it as one of the blessings in our post-oil future. And he's an Essex boy - Free Essex!

Anyhow. A really good book, full of interesting facts and arguments, which has prompted me to recover an interest in the songs from the Bard of Barking. His new collected works are now on my Amazon Wish List. Many thanks to all friends concerned. :)

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