Must I Paint You a Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg - by Billy Bragg
OK, so normally I just focus on a song or two, but this week I'm changing the rules (Billy would be happy about that). If I were to focus on a song or two (or, more precisely, three) it would be hard, there are a hell of a lot of really good songs on this album. But just to be quirky:
To have and have not - by Billy Bragg
To have and have not - by Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards
I've chosen this song, and the wicked cover by Lars and the boys, because it sums up what Billy is all about. Politics, dammit, politics. Billy is pissed, and still is, that this is a world where people can work hard, try to do the right thing, and still end up getting screwed over. This has been his fight all along. He spent the best part of the 80s fighting Thatcherism in Britain, specifically he played a large part in encouraging the youth to get politically active. Anyway, musically the song rocks. The singing isn't perfect, but you don't care because the emotion is all there and it all just fits into place. I guess that's what good folk music is all about. The punked-up cover by Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards (pretty much Rancid in disguise, at least for this song), is pretty much perfect. As Lars put it - the song seems to be written for them by Billy, even though they didn't exist when he wrote it.
Anyway, I said I wasn't going to post about individual songs. I guess I lied a bit. The reason I love this album is because it reminds me so much of my angry, angry political youth (anger is additive, two angers is bigger than one). The first time I got into Billy Bragg was when I was about 17, a really good friend of mine (Dim, to all those that know me) introduced me to his music while we were camping on an island just off Bris Vegas. At the time I was a pretty vehement anarchist. I had spent way too much time reading about history and politics and I was pissed at the world. Billy, was perfect.
A great thing about Billy's lyrics is his ability to punch out catchy one-liners. In Sexuality Billy professes,
"Safe sex doesn't mean no sex, it means use your imagination.".
Another classic, which speaks volumes the more you think about it, comes from A new England,
"I saw two shooting stars last night. I wished on them, but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware.".
My favourite line though comes from Waiting for the great leap forwards, where Billy emphatically exclaims,
"The revolution is just a t-shirt away.".
Actually, Waiting for the great leap forwards, is far and away my favourite Billy Bragg song. Everytime I hear I'm filled with regret. Any regular readers should, by now, realize that I'm an idealist. I'm always torn between what my instincts are saying I should do and what the world around me is telling me I have to do. Politics is my passion. I've been obsessed by it since I was about thirteen years old. However, I'm a physicist. I chose this path as a purely pragmatic decision. I always wonder if I didn't turn my back on something important, that maybe politics is what I should be spending my time doing.
Billy's song is aimed at me. Well, it's aimed at all of those who yearn for a real change in our society, yet seem to be unable to find it within themselves to actually work to change it. I'm pretty sure Billy puts himself in the same camp. Ultimately there is something, but I can't work out what, that seems to temper our spirits. If we want change, we have to start with ourselves, but this is something that seems impossibly hard. It is also something that is probably very easy.
Why do I think Billy feels as though he is unable to grasp this sense of change himself? Well it's pretty much because of this line:
"Mixing pop and politics, he asks me what the use is? I offer him embarrassment and the usual excuses. While looking down the corridor to where the van is waiting, I'm looking for the great leap forwards. ".
Oh yea, for all the physicists out there, hopefully this line will get you thinking,
"And in the Soviet Union a scientist is blinded by the resumption of nuclear testing and he is reminded that Doctor Robert Oppenheimer's optimism fell at the first hurdle.".
So does anyone out there think that I made the wrong decision? Should I be doing politics or physics????