Billy Bragg

There is Power in a Union

Billy Bragg – There is Power in a Union

This past August, while we were in Sweden visiting my mother-in-law, I had the chance to see Billy Bragg. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen him but they were all a long time ago, in the 80s and 90s. His songs from that time were often railing against Thatcherism and corporate greed, songs in defense of workers and the oppressed, all of which are eerily just as relevant today as they were 25-30 years ago.

Sweden isn’t a complete paradise but given how things are here now, I couldn’t wait to leave everything behind for a few weeks this summer and immerse myself in the future liberals want. The prospect of a Billy Bragg show was the cherry on top. I go to shows by myself all the time and I’ll often travel some significant distances to get there. But traveling for a show and traveling and catching a show while you’re there are two different things. For some reason I have been dying to catch a show while traveling for years and years. Maybe it’s the element of doing what the locals do, or the sheer luck of having a band you’d want to see be in the same city and it’s not sold out and the tickets aren’t too expensive. The stars align.

My husband is a good sport who doesn’t mind that I go off on my own to concerts but as he hadn’t been to the venue before and we weren’t sure about the bus situation to get me back to his mother’s apartment afterwards, we figured we should do a dry run the day before. Diagonally across the street is a huge old chocolate factory that has been transformed into a theater arts high school and cultural center. Down the street just a little farther is a square with a daily farmers’ market, lots of ethnic restaurants, and a statue called Arbetets ära (The Honor of Work). It shows a group of men and women holding up a large boulder with the city in relief on the stone. My husband told me the now defunct worker’s newspaper Arbetet, used to be in that same two-block stretch. This was a working class neighborhood going way back.

I managed to get to the club in time to join a short but growing line of people waiting for the doors to open. I came early since I didn’t have a ticket but this also allowed me to snag a spot just at the edge of the stage. There wasn’t an opening band and Billy was either solo or with CJ Hillman accompanying him on a variety of stringed instruments. He played a lot of old favorites and he talked about the fact that his old songs are still just as apt, given the state of the world today. There were newer songs too, about climate change, building walls, white supremacists, abdicating facts, and Brexit. He talked about not giving in to cynicism and the need for us all to believe in each other. Not to worry, there were plenty of songs for the lovelorn too.

But the best moment came toward the end, when he dedicated the next song to the striking dock workers in Gothenburg and launched into “There is Power in a Union.” I wish you could have been there. To be in a foreign country, surrounded by people with their fists in the air, all passionately singing “The union forever, defending our rights, down with the blackleg, all workers unite, with our brothers and our sisters, from many far off lands, there is power in a union.” It makes me tear up just remembering it. When the song ended, Billy Bragg said he hadn’t heard that rousing a sing along to that song in many years. I was up front so I couldn’t get a picture but I found one on Instagram later that caught the moment.

When the show ended and I made my way outside, past the dozens of bikes parked across the street to get the bus, across the street from the old factory, down the block from the workers statue, I was so glad he had played that song there. It felt so perfect. And I am so happy that after years of hoping to see a show while we are in Sweden, this was the show that finally made it happen.

I had contemplated going to see Billy Bragg in New York when he was here in October but I decided it wasn’t going to top my August show in Malmö and I love having that memory to think back on when things look dark. I read a number of super depressing things today that really made me despair that we’ll ever prevail against these forces of fascism. So I came back to this post that I had started just after our vacation and am feeling a little better about things now. These dark forces we are fighting are really dark. Sleep well. Be ready. We are not alone. I’ll be next to you with my fist in the air.


P.S. Did you watch Pride yet? Get on that!

Accident Waiting to Happen

Billy Bragg – Accident Waiting to Happen

Yesterday evening was the first time since about 9pm on Tuesday that I didn’t feel like I was about to either break down in big, ugly, gulping sobs, or throw up. That calm was short-lived as Sunday morning brought the video of Kate McKinnon on SNL as Hillary Clinton singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. 😢 Followed by reports of Orange 45’s cabinet  appointments. 😨😭 Talk about an accident waiting to happen. 😠

It’s a real roller coaster of emotions. I have read so many articles over the last couple of days, some that made me feel like I can handle it and I see a path forward and some that made me feel like we’re all fucked and oh god how do I raise children in a fascist regime? That’s not in the parenting books.

I’m sad. I’m so very sad that our country’s children have to grow up with the worst possible person as president. I’m sad that a tacky, ugly man will be the one to follow our dignified, classy Obama. I’m so sad to have the Obamas leave the White House and leave public life.

I’m scared. I’m scared of the violence against women, people of color and different religions. I’m scared rights will be stripped from anyone who isn’t a white wealthy man. I’m scared that we won’t be able to stop the horrible cabinet and court appointments. I’m scared there will be permanent damage to our democratic society and that our congress people will become so accustomed to the outrageousness that they allow us to slip into a fascist state. I’m really fucking scared of that. I’m scared of the rising alt-right all over the world.

I’m angry. Angry that the people who voted for him have so little concern for their fellow citizens that they were willing to unleash the Furies. Yes, I know some will claim they were voting for jobs or some other reason but shame on you for being so gullible as to believe a reality TV celebrity with no policies for actually creating jobs, who has never done anything for anyone but himself, will magically bring back jobs that automation has eliminated. I’m angry at anyone who is trying to normalize the incoming administration. I have a lot of anger to go around.

Where do we go from here and how do we get there?

Help Save the Youth of America

Billy Bragg – Help Save the Youth of America

<political rant>

Do you know anyone who will be old enough to vote in November who isn’t registered yet? Do you know anyone who says they don’t vote because politicians are all the same? Or maybe even someone who is so devoted to one Democratic candidate that they claim they won’t vote in the general election if the person they’re supporting doesn’t get the nomination? Possibly more than ever before, there is no time for any kind of foolish grandstanding. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation this year and we are all going to have to be way more engaged in this battle.

I hope you don’t know any Trump supporters because I think turning one of them around may be an insurmountable task. It’s getting scarier every day. Truly frightening. Trying to get them to see that he’s only using them isn’t likely to work but perhaps it’s possible to get the disenchanted to realize how much is at stake. You have to tell them, yeah, it sucks when everything feels like a lost cause and you don’t like your choices. I don’t care. This is a true national emergency. I sometimes wonder if we’ll even make it to November or if the whole thing will implode before then.

What also scares the crap out of me is even in the best case scenario, what happens with all of those people that Trump has whipped up into a frenzy? He’s legitimatized their anger and given them the space and support to grow. To me this has always been the biggest threat. I don’t really think Trump even necessarily holds the beliefs he spouts at his rallies, he just says what he knows they want to hear. He’s just priming their fear and hatred. It’s all going to blow sooner or later. Do you think they’ll just slink quietly back into the shadows where they were hiding before? Not a chance. I don’t know who or what can diffuse it and it’s ugly. Really ugly.

</political rant>

I admit, I laughed at the Chris Christie memes, but this is no joking matter.

Joe Hill

Billy Bragg – Joe Hill

I saw a mention earlier today about a Joe Hill tribute out in LA a few days ago in memory of his death 100 years ago today. Given how little some people know about this country’s history, I thought I’d post this Billy Bragg cover of the Phil Ochs song.

These are dark days for us history majors. I am on the verge of tears from the amount of stupid, hateful things I read about today. Unbelievable.


Billy Bragg – Sexuality

The headlines have been giving me headaches and making me angry, depressed, and scared. Sometimes I feel fired up and come out swinging, other times I am just overwhelmed by it all.

Today seemed like a good day to spin this 24-year-old (yet still eerily topical!) Billy Bragg song and watch Kirsty MacColl throw a pie in a stodgy old lawmaker’s face.

Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

Billy Bragg – Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards

It’s May 1st, International Workers’ Day. I thought I’d take the opportunity to post a Billy Bragg song. Not his version of the Internationale, though I thought about it, but this song always brings a smile to my face even while it entices you to be active with the activists.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Billy Bragg but each time I’ve seen him perform this song he changes some of the lyrics to put it in context with events that are relevant to the current time. I looked at a bunch of live clips on YouTube but I’ll leave it to you to look some up if you’re interested. They’re like little historical snapshots. For myself, I’ll always remember the time he sang, “In a perfect world we’d all sing in tune but as we’re all Smiths fans give us some room!” That was the same show where he covered Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” with help from the opening band, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, on the pretext of proving that Billy Bragg fans could dance.

I love the rousing end of this song. I don’t know how you can not feel fired up. When I start feeling pretty discouraged about the state of the world, and lately that’s really easy to do, I need to remember to play this song. One of the live clips I watched was from the City Winery in Chicago about a year ago and I really love how he talked about fighting cynicism, more than anything else. I’m pretty jaded but he’s right.

“So join the struggle while you may, the revolution is just a t-shirt away!”

My Billy Bragg t-shirt from the Internationale tour.

My Billy Bragg t-shirt from the Internationale tour.

The back! Were you at one of these shows?

The back! Were you at one of these shows?








A little t-shirt #tbt with your musical interlude.

Between the Wars

Billy Bragg – Between the Wars

The first person I thought of when I heard Margaret Thatcher had died overnight was Billy Bragg. There’s a short interview with him from a few years ago on Democracy Now that sums it up pretty quickly if you aren’t familiar with his early days.

I grew up in a left-leaning family and I spent my teenage years assuming most people came from the same basic positions we did. What a shocker when I got to college and discovered the campus was teeming with young Reaganites. Clueless ruled the day. We’re talking about people who didn’t even know what apartheid was let alone why they should be demonstrating against it. If I’d landed on a more liberal campus, chances are I would have continued to take it for granted that most people felt like I did and not really become someone who paid an awful lot of attention. Instead, because the political climate on campus, in the country and over in the UK, was squarely at odds with my positions, I became much more engaged.

It surely helped that the music I listened to was firmly in the anti-Reagan, anti-Thatcher camp. I credit those musicians with furthering my education and waking me up to causes and injustices I hadn’t given much thought to before. I got the newspaper delivered daily and spent a fair amount of time in the library, not doing coursework but looking up the background on issues that cropped up in their songs.

I recognize that people not that much younger than me are likely to not really know anything about Margaret Thatcher. They would have been too young to understand it all first hand and not enough time would have passed for it to be taught in school. Even college kids today, are events that happened 25 years ago something they will study? I wonder when my kids are older, what will the history books say?

St. Swithin’s Day

Billy Bragg – St. Swithin’s Day

I was feeling a little low today and when that happens, I often try to make myself listen to the radio so I don’t fall into old habits and listen to songs I know will just allow me to feed that feeling. But the radio wouldn’t cooperate so I gave in and listened to a series of progressively sadder and sadder songs.

This evening Nancy posted a link to this interview with the author of a book called This Will End in Tears: The Miserabilist Guide to Music. Sounds like a book I might have written. The interviewer starts out by saying “Everyone has their favorite sad song, but have you ever thought about the sad song as a whole category of music?” Uh, have you never met a Smiths fan? I don’t have a favorite sad song, I have an extensive collection of sad songs. In college I made tapes with titles like “Morrissey’s Most Moaning Melodies” and “Anguish, Fear, Lamenting” or “Does the Body Rule the Mind or Does the Mind Rule the Body?” (subtitled, I Dunno!).

I made a conscious effort in my 20s to put some distance between myself and lots of those beloved sad songs in the interest of self preservation. And it more or less worked. I still love those songs. Many of them now, with the years that have passed helping to ease the sting, I can listen to and enjoy with a smile. “Oh I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.”

So after the talk of Mozzer, why the Billy Bragg song? Because no one can touch him when it comes to songs that pierce your heart. Just listen.