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February 5, 2008

Billy Bragg


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 February 5, 2008 4:49 PM