In spite of my kidneys, my sweat-glands, and my aching head, I made it to Billy Bragg last night. Late; the Town Hall is like that friend who says "I'll be home at six" meaning "Dinner will be on the table at six-thirty and I'd appreciate some help", but no matter - the first half was Mermaid Avenue, and while that was enjoyable, there was a distinct increase in energy and feeling when he returned from a tea-break for the second half, which was all his own music.
He sounded fantastic. While initially I thought the crowd sycophantic when they laughed at jokes, I found myself doing it too after a while; I suppose having been late it took me longer to get to know him, and to want to laugh. I was a tough crowd; completely sober, fresh from three days in bed and contact with only Vincent, my doctor, and one of the surgery's receptionists, in that time. My vision was slightly blurred after the exertion of a two minute walk from the bus-stop. But more than that, I felt slightly removed; far more sensitive to the situation (seated, an audience of much older people who were very quiet) than I would be usually. It took a bit for me to really connect with the songs, and to his immense credit, he did it. I've never felt more sadly (not sadder; I hope you know what I mean) listening to Must I Paint You A Picture than I did sitting there, watching his face as he sang the words he wrote about a relationship running out before love did. Yet I think he was at his best when he sang his songs about more public political things, like tabloid media and personal responsibility, and Trade Unions. Those were the times when it felt like he was crusading; trying to ignite, or reignite, flames of action. This is a song I had heard only once before he played it at the show (just before we left, while I was deciding between boots and wedges, and Vincent was on Youtube). It was brilliant.
I'm not going to talk about what he's saying. I just want to say why this song resonated with me so much. From childhood, we're told on one hand to ask; to question, and to see how things are for ourselves. But we're not really encouraged to do this. Trust is beautiful, and valuable, and presented as such, we're expected to display it freely, unless given reason not to; never the other way around. To me, this song is a reminder that we don't have to trust anyone who hasn't earned it, and that it's both our right and our responsibility to doubt. Doubt what we read in a newspaper. Doubt what the government tells us. Doubt the figures companies present us with.
You might think I'm paranoid; compared with lots of people, maybe I am. But my level of paranoia is relative to the lethargy of the wider population. The minute Rumsfeld admitted there were no weapons of mass destruction, I think something clicked in me. For the first time, I realised that there was a level of power where a lie didn't even have to be maintained; where perception didn't even matter anymore. Anything could be said, and what did it really matter? When there is money at stake, there are no rules; no code, no ethics, and no morality. It can make life confusing; National claims the country's finances were a mess when they took over 2008, Labour claim the books were in order and there was a surplus. Or it can make me investigate, and look at who I might believe and why, and then believe them as a conscious choice. At the very least, it makes me think I don't have to believe anyone, and that is important because the way information is presented to us/the way we are bombarded with messages, is as if all of it is true, or complete, when we know that it isn't. Once we get into the habit of questioning, we're far more likely to hold to account those who try to deceive us, and are less likely (hopefully) to be hurt by what they peddle.
The other part that stood out to me was when he says "But everyone who loves that kiss n tell, they must share the blame as well". Like the post-death of god realisation that we're free, it is a scary but also really positive thing to know we have a part in these things. We tell the people who lie and cheat that we don't care about that by voting for them, buying their papers, and going to their parties. Spectators are part of the game; they can affect the outcome, and most times we're more than spectators - we're active participants. It's hard giving up things that might not seem so bad; I don't think it's right to take photos of children when they're being dropped off at school or on the beach with their famous parents, yet I still read Suri's Burn Book, and every time I do, that's another hit on the website and more reason for those photographers to carry on doing their shitty work.
This was a lot longer and more serious than I had intended for a Saturday morning (now afternoon). I won't give you an insincere apology; I had to say it. Instead I'll give you this. Nietzsche bless Steve Coogan, Thorn In Their Sides. May we all be Thorns In Their Sides.