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February 2008

February 15, 2008

The Score

fugees-la.jpg

"And even after all my logic and my theory,
I add a motherfucker so you ignorant niggers hear me."

--The Fugees "Zealots" (1996)

Back in 2000, when George W. Bush was just a presidential candidate, Oprah invited him for a sit-down, and began grilling him on the issues. "What's your favourite sandwich?"
"Peanut butter and jelly."
"On white bread, or whole wheat?"
"White."

There were harder questions, sort of, and one came with a response that may now be hard to reconcile with Bush's long and infamous history of verbal stuff-ups. Oprah began by asking Bush what he had done in his life which required forgiveness.
"When my heart turns dark; when I'm jealous or when I am spiteful."
"But I'm looking for specifics."
"I know you are, but I'm running for president."
Boo-ya.

The two moved to music, and Bush told Oprah that he didn't mind some of the Beatles' earlier records, but he switched off on their later stuff "when they started to get weird". This was 2000, before the weirdness of September 11, and the national exhaustion his administration would inspire. In 2000, things were simpler, and a man who nominated the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up Little Susie" as his favourite song--but stated a general preference for country music--took the White House.

And now, and now. Bush is all but gone, and Oprah's thrown her weight behind Obama, who, on his Myspace, nominates John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Bach (the cello suites) and, gasp!, The Fugees as being his favourite artists. There's some politicking here, no doubt, but I'm thrilled--nearly delirious--at the thought of trying to reconcile The Fugees with a potential US President.

Not only did the Fugees rock--clever, creative, devastatingly articulate--but 1996's The Score is one of my favourite records, and contains what may be my favourite lyric of all time, delivered by Lauryn Hill, and included at the top of this article. The lyric is admittedly rivalled by Paul Simon's "'Kathy, I'm lost,' I said, though I knew she was sleeping" and Naughty by Nature's "Naughty's back, like vertebrae". Still, when Lauryn fronts, you listen.

What the hell is there to take from these men's musical preferences? A whole vague swag-bag of romantic attachment and hopes. That's fine. That's sometimes the stuff of change. And that's certainly the stuff of Obama's momentum. And if nothing else, it's fun to play in the palace of speculation, drawing fun but probably erroneous lines between musical preferences and personal, or presidential failings. But I like to think there's something real there, as there is when one reads that John McCain's favourite book is Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and Mitt Romney's is Battleship Earth. For the record, Obama nominates Moby Dick, amongst others, and you can be sure that he won't be adding any "motherfuckers" on the campaign trail. He's got enough people listening.

Records/songs bought:

Mojave 3 Puzzles Like You
Slowdive Souvlaki
Bruce Springsteen We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions
Dinosaur Jr. Where You Been

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 2:40 PM

February 5, 2008

Billy Bragg

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I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them, but they were only satellites.
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?
I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.

--Billy Bragg, "A New England"

Bragg wrote this in 1985, after Thatcher had reclaimed the Falklands and settled as PM, Reagan had secured a second term across the Atlantic, and the Space Race had settled on the song's protagonist's romantic eye like a fleck of dust. Or shit. This may be what Bragg does best--dovetailing the political and the personal.

For Bragg's character, the heavy atmosphere of the Cold War (literally/figuratively) becomes the strange bedfellow of his love-sickness, and he has his doubts about its appropriateness, but he goes ahead anyway and pins his humble hopes to the orbiting metal. I guess in that there's some sad and lonely emancipation. What else is there to do? ''I'm not looking for a new England, just looking for another girl''.

It's hoped that for Bragg's man a new girl may be his heated chalet--a warm escape from England's urban decay, and the associated disassociation. Bragg himself was more ambitious. He did long for a new England, and railed articulately and humorously against the Iron Lady. When John Major moved into 10 Downing Street, Bragg could still move wonderfully from the political to the personal, but listening to his best of-- Must I Paint You a Picture --one gets the feeling that the Thatcher years inspired his best work.

For Bragg, politics was the personal--your health and home, your security in the great market place, and your position spiritually and emotionally amongst the shuffling masses. Bragg had one eye on Thatcher, and another on a young man crying alone in Brixton.

This was Bragg's balance, enabled by a healthy self-deprecation, and sparkling sense of humour. Not for Bragg the choking narratives of doom-saying and political conspiracies, or the overweening earnestness of those with more piercings, but far less to say. When you see Bragg live you get a warm wise-arse, a raconteur, and an improviser. You get solid banter and the spine-stiffening crackle of authenticity. You get a decent and talented human being. And just who the hell hasn't been, or wanted to be, or wanted to receive, Bragg's milkman of human kindness?

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.

Ahh, to discover something strong about yourself through love, through giving, which recalls a line that's been killing me for weeks: "Everything I give is everything I keep". That's from Scandinavian group Seabear's "Seashell", and may god bless your Hammers, Billy.

Records/songs bought:

Destroyer Thief
The Go-Betweens Bellavista Avenue (the Best Of the Go-Betweens)
Ghostface Killah Supreme Clientele

Posted by Martin McKenzie-Murray at 4:49 PM