Friday, October 24, 2008

This is a photo of Billy Bragg in concert at Somerville Theater--though I'm fairly certain that most people who view this photo will be thinking something like,"What the hell is that?"

The picture was taken at the end of the concert from the balcony with my cheapo camera phone and I admit to being a bit foggy--mostly because I'd fallen asleep during the lullaby like ballads and awakened for the rise-up-against-the-man songs.

I apologize in advance to Billy for what I am about to write. If you are here in search of a legitimate concert review, please redirect yourself accordingly.

I first met Mr. Bragg (in song) when I was teaching Animal Farm to unsuspecting high school freshmen. After a robust discussion about the different definitions of capitalism, socialism and communism over PB&J at the teachers' lunch table, Mr. Carlson the physics teacher proclaimed that there was an album that I needed to hear. The next day he brought in The Internationale. He'd recommended that I have a listen to "The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions," maybe even play it for my students in conjunction with my lesson on the -isms. It being my first year teaching I was unaware of the huge potential for major fun making of my music. Rap and "Stairway to Heaven" seemed to be safe choices, but most kids had never heard of Billy Bragg and they especially hadn't heard of "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night."

I went ahead and played "The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions." They didn't really get that Bragg was making fun of the defense of capitalism and they somehow determined that I was a "communist" in the style of Mao or Castro, not in the fashion of Mother Teresa. On this day I also branded myself as having very bad taste in music. During the "tra, la, la, la" section there was a student I'll call Fernando who marched around the room pretending to play a trumpet while laughing hysterically.

The short of it is that the lesson was not my best of all time and in subsequent years I dropped "The Marching Song..." in favor of songs that students found less strange. However, I'd been hooked by The Internationale and Billy Bragg's nods to Woodie Guthrie and The Clash in his lyrics and music.

I bought a couple more albums and took them on long road trips. I thought about joining a commune.

Until recently when I learned that THE Billy Bragg was coming to a concert venue near me. I looked into going. This meant trying to listen to his new album for free and in doing so determining that it was terrible. I could no longer conjure up visions of the younger, protest Billy that I'd fallen for. I envisioned (sorry Mr. Bragg) an old (at 51--I know--I'm a bad, bad person), tired, post punk dude who had said all that he had to say. Or, that if he still had things to say, I wasn't sure that I wanted to hear them. On a whim, I purchased tickets.

And HE shoooooowed me. He kicked my cynicism and apathy on their asses and made me want to do something. Since my night with Billy, I've called the Democratic Headquarters in Gloucester and arranged to canvass for Obama in New Hampshire. I've posted videos on Facebook, where I'm in contact with my LDS family, about Mormons who are NOT for Proposition 8 (small things, but something).

It's not that I didn't care before I went to hear Billy Bragg. I do care. At least I think that I care. But sometimes it takes a swift kick in the butt to realize exactly how much I care. And that I need to act. It's not that I agreed with everything Billy Bragg said. Because I didn't. But there was a real earnestness in the way that he approached politics, cynicism, our election. It woke me up--literally and figuratively.

Billy Bragg--you showed me. And you kick ass. Yes, even for an old guy.

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