WHY MUSIC NEEDS TO GET POLITICAL AGAIN

How ironic that The Clash should be on the cover of the NME in the week that London was burning, that their faces should be staring out from the shelves as newsagents were ransacked and robbed by looters intent on anarchy in the UK. Touching too, that the picture should be from very early in their career – Joe with curly blond hair – for The Clash were formed in the wake of a London riot: the disturbances that broke out at the end of the Notting Hill Carnival of 1976.

At the time, the press reported it as the mindless violence of black youth intent on causing trouble; now we look back and recognise that it was the stirrings of what became our multicultural society – the moment when the first generation of black Britons declared that these streets belonged to them too.

The Notting Hill Riots of 35 years ago created a genuine ‘What The Fuck?’ moment – the first in Britain since the violent clashes between mods and rockers in the early 60s. While west London burned, the rest of society recoiled in terror at the anger they saw manifested on the streets of England. In the aftermath, severe jail sentences were handed down and police patrols stepped up in areas where there was a large immigrant population. Sound familiar?

But something else happened too – in the months that followed, bands appeared that sought to make sense of what went down on that hot August night. Aswad, Steel Pulse and Misty in Roots were among the reggae bands that stepped forward to speak for the black community.

Punk was galvanised into action by The Clash, whose debut album featured a picture of police charging towards black youth under the Westway on the back cover. Their first single, ‘White Riot’, was an explicit attempt to make a connection between the frustration faced by unemployed white youth and their black counterparts whose employment prospects were blighted by racism.

In the Clash interview from 1976 that was reprinted in the NME ‘riot issue’, Joe Strummer boldly said “We’re hoping to educate any kid who comes to listen us, just to keep them from joining the National Front”. That certainly worked in my case. When Notting Hill went up in smoke, I didn’t get it, yet, a year or so later, the first political activism that I ever took part in was the first Rock Against Racism Carnival in London. I’d been drawn by the fact that the Clash were top of the bill.

That event brought me into contact with some of the aforementioned British reggae bands, acts that had previously struggled to find white audiences. This coming together led directly to Two-Tone and to Artists Against Apartheid. These bands, black and white, didn’t end racism in Britain, but they helped me to understand why it had to be confronted.

Fast-forward 35 years to the present day. Much has changed, yet we find ourselves in the same quandary. The August riots of 2011 are another WTF? moment, when society recoils in horror and says ‘I don’t understand you’.

Everyone who has seen the footage of the ‘Bad Samaritans’ pretending to come to the aid of the injured Asyraf Haziq Rossli, while their mates rummage through his rucksack and rob him, will have made an instant judgement about the kind of people who would do such an unspeakable thing.

Undoubtedly, many people in the 15-24 age group will know people like that and be quick to condemn them. For the rest of us – who know nothing but what we see – we’ll damn you all, because of your clothes, your music, your haircuts, your attitude. You can already hear the generational disdain in mainstream reactions to the sentences handed down to looters.

Now, you don’t have to do anything about this. You can simply shrug your shoulders when politicians speak dismissively about feral youth leading futile lives. But it won’t end there. The authorities are going to lean on your generation and hard. You are being set up as the new enemy within. ‘Feral’ is a word that is virtually interchangeable with ‘vermin’.

The disturbances of the past weeks have stirred up a shit storm of opinion in the mainstream media, much of it from people who have no real experience of the pressures faced by this generation, the first in a century that are likely to grow up worse off than their parents. Though this situation has been building for some years, the disturbances have created an opportunity for young people to provide an alternative commentary.

I know things are different now, not least in the music industry. Back in 1976, we only had one medium – pop music – through which to speak one another and the world. The internet has changed that. Now, if you have an opinion about something, you can blog, tweet, and post your thoughts for everyone to see. It makes you feel like you’re making a contribution, but are you really?

Nobody ever got rich writing snarky remarks in the comment section nor got to tour the world performing to thousands of people on the back of writing a blog. Sure, you may get a lot of ‘likes’ on your comments, but nothing beats the thrill of making an audience of 50 people cheer a line in a song that you’ve just written that hits on something that they feel strongly about.

I know that there are artists out there who already understand this, but I am also aware of the atmosphere of cynical post-modernism that has warped the music scene to such an extent that musicians who write ostensibly political songs spend their interviews desperately back-pedalling to avoid being ‘divisive’. Joe Strummer is spinning in his grave.

I can understand why young artists might be unsure of how to approach politics. Since the ideological battles of the 1980s, the whole distinction between left and right has disappeared under the rubble of the Berlin Wall. Even I have trouble making sense of it all – does anybody know what Tony Blair really stood for?

But making political pop should not be a matter of setting Karl Marx to music. I’ve heard that stuff and it never sounds right. Pop becomes political when it stops being self-pitying and self-aggrandising and starts to speak truth to power.

Punk was born in a time of rising unemployment and stultifying boredom among young people. It contained a strong nihilistic streak that claimed to only want to destroy, an impulse that bands like the Clash constantly had to fight against. I’m not looking for a nostalgic trip down memory lane nor for a punk revival. That was another time. Yet, it at its core, punk contained a revolutionary idea that remains relevant today: ‘Here’s three chords, now a form a band’.

Of course it doesn’t have to be a band – technology has put the means of production into the hands of anyone with a computer and some beats. The riots last week were a spark – what is needed now is an alternative commentary. Some of you who are reading this need to produce songs with spirit that tell us something we don’t know about what the fuck happened last week, how we got to such a place and where you think we should be going from here.

A truncated version of this article appeared in the NME 27.8.11

96 Responses to “WHY MUSIC NEEDS TO GET POLITICAL AGAIN”

  1. Scott ffolliott says:

    Civil disobedience has less to do with the bad laws created to oppress people’s liberties and more to do with disobedience to property interests.

  2. David Archer says:

    “Back in 1976, we only had one medium – pop music – through which to speak one another and the world.” BB

    “But making political pop should not be a matter of setting Karl Marx to music. I’ve heard that stuff and it never sounds right.” BB

    “ Pop becomes political when it stops being self-pitying and self-aggrandising and starts to speak truth to power.” BB

    “I miss the hell outta JOE. In an age of Floyd n’ Stones, Beatles and such, He woke my mind up!” BP

    “Nevertheless, in the interests of everyone’s dignity, we should leave it to the kids.” JJ

    “Use ‘beats’ and the message disappears” DK

    “the only form of music that has been consistently political over the past few years has been beat-based urban music. ” BB

    WTF?

    I proffer this comment with all due respect to other commenters and to to Billy Bragg, a man and a musician I respect, and who I happily and freely acknowledge has more front-line, real wold experience in political music than I will ever have. Nonetheless, these are my views, I hold them strongly and for some reason I feel a compulsion to continue posting them here as long as I am welcome.

    As you may be able to see from my second comment above, after my initial positive reaction to this blog post, something began gnawing at the back of my mind about the views expressed here – in both BB’s original article and in the comments.

    While some of you folks are busy determining who and what can be deemed political music – based I think more on your own personal political views and personal musical tastes than on the broader spectrum of human political and musical experience, I will add this to all musicians:

    Take your influences from anywhere, from anytime, but speak in voices that are not appropriated from anyone else, voices that you know are authentically yours as best as you can determine.

    Do not be intimidated, shouted down, ruled out of order, out of time or out of fashion by those who seek to hold your music only within the scope of their own experiences and understanding.

    Recognize that politics, like human emotion and music itself, comes in shapes, shades, sizes and colours not always immediately obvious to each of us.

    Listen -, both musically and politically – beyond what you know you like, while building and re-inventing on the foundation of what you feel in your heart and head to be true.

    Learn all you can about your subjects – for your own growth and to filter through your music. Avoid those attempting to place constraints – any constraints at all, for any reason at all – willfully or accidentally – on you or your music.

    Do not be bound by styles, generations, tribalism, radio play-lists, popularity contests, You-tube, concert promoters or the stern faces of those whose who are pleased to tell you that your’re ‘not doing it right’.

    Your views and goals may be political – but your tools are artistic and musical – and therefore uncontrollable by outside forces unless you explicitly invite them in to do so.

    Stand strong and be aware that the only rule in this game is that there are no rules that must always be followed.

    My advice is – don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

    David Archer
    Toronto, Canada
    http://loontheory.wordpress.com/

  3. oudiva says:

    Thank you for this post, BB, and for your comment, David. One of the purposes of art (I speak as a musician, by the way) is to speak truth. Speaking truth, and drawing people in so that they hear the truth, is the musician’s job, and anyone who tries to prevent him from doing that job is wrong. Pure and simple. It can be punishingly hard work, and if you think you’re going to get rich at it, as J. J. Fux said to his pupil back in 1725, you might want to consider another line of work. But it’s the most honorable work there is, so go for it!

  4. Thankyou for your music, and for speaking truth as fearlessly as Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs.

  5. mw says:

    maybe shout (link) out your top 100 political music acts working right now.

  6. Political Music is alive and well, you just have to find it!
    Is This Revolution?
    http://vimeo.com/28175357

  7. Charlie Newman says:

    I agree that music has to become political again.
    Getting it heard will be harder than before as the corporations have tightened their grip on distribution and countries are getting into the shutting-down-the-web mode.
    It will be truly clawing and scraping to get heard this time around.
    Which should make the music even more extreme.

  8. mainsteam music today is so removed from most everyday life that anyone with anything real to say is gonna b lost in an ocean of bullshit,punk in the 7o,s had a gravitas n relevence unique to its period of history,todays punks will never experience top of the pops with access to peak viewing by most of the nation,more likely to b sidelined to late night corporate sponsered indie land,or worse the jools holland show,packeged n processed into little genres,fragmented n diffussed their is no buzz of something big going on,no surprises in the mix,.i,m not lamenting the end of totpops,just stating the obvious that a multi media like we got today has fragmented n lost its collective audience,rebel music whatever style or form it takes old or new is never gonna b like the late 70,s,but maybe playing your song at your local pub or open mic is the new frontline,maybe thats where our message is best heard n understood,too quote mr dylan,bringing it all back home,thats where i think it matters,so mr bragg if u ever feel inspired too sing one of your songs too unsuspecting n new audience you more then welcome too come down too our local open mic,certainly cause a buzz round this town

  9. Dana Simon says:

    Billy–I love this article and I especially appreciate your references The Clash, who I saw several times and who helped shape my world view.

    A recent story:
    I’m a union organizer in Boston, and what an organizer is supposed to do is to look for and develop leaders. A few months ago I had been planning to talk to a member of our Union named Tommy, because something made me think that he should be helping to lead the movement.

    I had a whole conversation planned until he saw me looking at the Thompson submachine gun tattooed on his right forearm, and he said, “It’s kind of a pun. It’s a Tommy gun. It’s a reference to my name and to my favorite band.”

    Stunned, I said, “The Clash? The Clash is your favorite band?!” And out came this wonderful story of how one day Tommy had happened upon Joe Strummer walking around Boston on the afternoon before a show, and how Tom had walked with him, and what Joe Strummer meant to us.

    If Tommy decides to be a leader in the movement for justice for workers he can count me in with him.

    And so, returning to Billy’s point: The role of artists in creating a movement for change cannot be underestimated. Temptations abound to stay away from “sounding political” for fear of turning off someone somewhere.

    In music as everywhere else in life there are people who will try to rationalize their fear for taking a public stand by saying, “Well, I wouldn’t have made a difference anyway.” But it’s just a rationalization. I believe it was Gandhi who said, “Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” He was absolutely right.

    The music of The Clash (and of Billy Bragg) have changed many lives and inspired people to inspire others and to build movements. And the fact that they were saying something that desperately had to be said made them the bands that we had always been waiting for.

    Solidarity.

  10. Guy Patterson says:

    I was watching yet another ‘edgy’ analysis being made by people on newsnight, with the younger members of the panel obviously desperate not to appear unhip, and the older members doing their best to stay awake, and it occurred to me that it was impossible for the mainstream media to get a handle on what lies behind civil disorder, simply because of what antony sampson once described as the ‘gap between the great inside and the great outside’.

    solution? move away from the mainstream, and begin the struggle to reclaim the media by starving it of our attention, and then we will be some way down the road to reclaiming the streets. I know this is probably bs, but i’ve lived long enough to see that we have been brainwashed into thinking that we can’t do things for ourselves, in our own way, without imitation – the technology is everywhere, we just have to use it – didn’t the rioters? Why can’t we?

  11. Some of us are doing what we can — it takes a while to get something going.

    Have a listen & a read: http://fold.fm/

  12. GCK says:

    Music and politics from U.S. Presidential candidate and songwriter Bob Hall:

    “Dollar to the Giant”

    Echoing rust. Factory line.
    Dead-child memory of another time.
    The sign said this spot was USA—
    Too young to know it didn’t have to be this way.

    Sweat-stain genius, practical hands,
    Built factories, built the goods, built the land.
    First steps forgotten. History blind,
    We’re connected to our roots by a credit line.

    Wakening giant. Hunger and rice.
    Caught the scent of our money, knew we wouldn’t fight.
    Slippery giant. History wise.
    Put down his guns, put on a friendly disguise.

    We closed our eyes

    And the Giant from the East woke up from a sleep, hunger for the heads of our young.
    No suspicion of war, through the open door, manifest of Mao Tse-Tung.
    Ulterior plans in the giant’s hands, steel cages hit our shores in a flood.
    And all we received for a moment of greed was paid for with our children’s blood.

    We gave up our future, families and friends.
    Dollar to the giant, dollar never seen again.

    Agreeable climate: pickpockets and noise.
    The bankers jumped to the giant like little boys.
    Economy experts selling their time,
    But nothing made nothing. Can you spare a dime?

    Productivity’s children sleeping in chains.
    Giant kept our credit up, kept us entertained.
    Fear-fallen children couldn’t say no.
    Wouldn’t read label made in Chinese. Where did the money go?

    Detoured discussion about manufacturing trade.
    Instead we’re led to every trap the giant made.
    The future decided at the giant’s store—
    Took every dollar we had and loaned us money for more.

    Who are we doing this for?

    The Giant from the East, a billion-head beast, feeding on the hopes of our young.
    No resemblance of war, through the open door, mannequins of Mao Tse-Tung.
    Invisible plans in the giant’s hands, temptation hit our stores in a flood.
    And all we received for bargains we believed was paid for with our children’s blood.

    We traded in our future, families and friends.
    Dollar to the giant, dollar never seen again.

    Reckoning rust. Factory line.
    Lost-dream memory of a better time.
    All the signs say this choice was Made in USA—
    Too numb to know it didn’t have to be this way.

    ©2008 Robert Hall
    Music By Robert Hall (ASCAP)

    http://www.facebook.com/BobHall2012Campaign

  13. Okasis says:

    Billy Bragg! Great name, Great music.

    Too bad the kids are probably listening to their own tunes.

    The big question for me is whether I’ll recognize the politics when I hear and see them, or will I flinch because it’s just a bunch of noise and apparent violence?

    I think the politicians, professors and media mouthpieces call it ‘Generational Change’. I just call myself an old bag and wish I wasn’t so damned hard of hearing…

  14. ken lusk says:

    Political music in the USA. It existed until the 90’s, rap provided a good forum, but the record companies wouldn’t grant contract to those artists unless they quit their political music and since then the music has been pablum. Tupac Shakur and Biggie Small wrote and distributed political music, anti police and so forth, and both were assassinated in the 90’s and their assassins have never been found. My bet is that they were assassinated by the government. There was an attempted assassination on Bob Marley in the 1970’s in Kingston, Jamaica. I’ve lived there. Anyway the assassins have never been apprehended. The CIA was active in Jamaica then. Jamaica is a small country where the criminals murder their victims because being so small the chance of being apprehended is increased. Had the Marley assassins stayed in Jamaica, or had been Jamaicans they would most likely been identified, which means they were spirited off the Island and not Jamaican, but CIA operatives. Finally, Joe Strummer’s rendition of Marley’s “Redemption Song” is truly great. p.s. Their is a excellent Reggae singer from Trinidad, Sparrow or Arrow, but Sparrow I think, who does some great political music.

  15. [...] Why Music Needs to Get Political Again Billy Bragg posts an uncut version of an essay recently published in the NME comparing the London riots of the mid-’70s, which gave birth to The Clash and British punk, to the chaos that just erupted in that country — and how the conditions now should inspire a new wave of political commentary in popular music. [billbragg.co.uk] [...]

  16. Jim Kneubuhl says:

    Part of the problem might be that we have a very fixed notion of what exactly “poltical music” is. We immediately think of the classic “protest singers” of the 1960s (Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs… who else?) and often consider the very act of singing a protest or topical song part of a bygone era. But in the art of songwriting both than and now, there’s only a fine line separating personal and political expression. To focus on Dylan, I really doubt anyone will ever pin him down on whether he expected his songs to galvanize public opinion the way they did, or whether he was just expressing how he felt perosnally about what he saw and heard going on around him. Of course he wanted his songs to be heard, but were they intended as a political ideology or personal expression, and does it really matter? (And don’t forget that almost as soon as the media began referring to Dylan as the “voice of a generation”, he very quickly began subverting that image as well as coming out with new songs that were less obviously “political”.) I suggest to the songwriters of today and the potential songwriters of tomorrow that maybe it’s just a matter of singing honestly about your own life and your own views – it may be more of a poltical act than you think. At the same time, if you want to consciously focus on events, politics, and/or social issues, that’s all part of the human experience and therefore fair game for writing songs about. Songs DO have the power to change people’s minds. I’m reminded of what Robert Kennedy said in South Africa in 1966 about how every act in the name of something you beleive in sends out a ripple of hope.

  17. Rob Burns says:

    An inspirational post. On this point:

    “the whole distinction between left and right has disappeared under the rubble of the Berlin Wall”

    May it rest in peace. It seems to me that the privileged few enjoyed an undue political advantage – either deliberately or by happenstance – by dividing us rabble into ‘left’ rabble and ‘right rabble. They used these left/right divisions to maintain their privilege and to fortify themselves against the political ideals we all hold dear. So rather than understanding the lingering and corrupt privilege that remained within our government and our other centers of power, we instead saw each other as the enemy.

    Some of us gravitated toward ‘left’ because it challenged these reigning elites and traditions of all sorts. However, that ‘leftist’ spirit also fostered and promoted a ‘rightist’ spirit that defended and bolstered the status quo: even to the extent that this status quo involved the corrupt vestiges of reigning power. By reigning power I mean the type of power that is not political – not deriving from the polis, the people – but reigning power that is carved out through might and manipulation to serve the interests of a corrupt and privileged few.

    So we need to break through this left/right animosity so that we can unseat the vestiges of this corrupt reigning power. You can read more about this in an essay entitled ‘Federal hierarchy versus feudal hierarchy. The essay is part of an initiative called Path to Prosperity for US All, designed to bring comprehensive political economic reform to the United States and even the World.

  18. [...] PostPopdose Roundtable: Does Music Need to Get Political Again? Popdose Staff August 29, 2011 0In a recent post at his official site, Billy Bragg reflected on a year of political turmoil in Europe and the Middle East — and he [...]

  19. Chris T-T says:

    I guess this piece is at least partly written in response to NME editor Krissi Murison’s piece in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago, bemoaning the lack of political artists.

    10 days ago I wrote a response to her in The Morning Star, here: http://bit.ly/nYSPbG

    The problem with her position (and to a lesser extent Bragg’s here) is that in fact there is a huge amount of radical, political music already being made and shared. Anyone who has in recent months re-engaged with radical and progressive organisations, as they fight to save the UK, will have heard it; at occupations, protests, strikes and fundraisers.

    The challenge is (as ever) not for the creatives but for the gatekeepers; which include Murison and to a lesser extent Bragg.

  20. Embed says:

    Artistic Intelligent Political Truth musical weapons exist and need to be heard in the mainstream if we are an open society defined by our evolving culture through edutainment/infotainment. Time to act is now before our hard fought freedoms are lost forever to the totalitarian fear based police state.

    EMBED – SONIC WEAPONS

    West London’s EMBED present their own brand of anarchic raptronica…

    PROTEST BEATS & INFO BREAKS.

    EMBED debut album ‘SONIC WEAPONS’ pierced the matrix with a series of thought provoking Counter intelligence Anti-propaganda Sonic Weapons exploring the hidden agendas of the Secret Cabal of Institutionalized Corporate Societies and their covert plans for a NEW WORLD ORDER.

    The message transcends to global proportions warning and urging us to WAKE UP now or face the consequences … of doing nothing.

    EMBED the self styled BOUNDARY HUNTERS weave through alternate styles of breakbeat electronica from drum n bass, dubstep, rap n punk to the outer reaches of dance music into EDUTAINMENT in order to spread their consciousness awakening message.

    Featuring and presenting the mighty KAPULET punctuating the electrodubstep breakscape grooves with deep thought provoking lyrical flows and informative rhymes about these dark times throughout the album.
    Covering a range of geo-political globalization agendas capturing the mood of disaffected citizens of earth and the rise of the Police State.

    UK rap delivered with attitude and intelligence not usually associated with mainstream music.

    ‘DO WE REALLY HAVE A RIGHT TO FREEDOM,
    AND EARN THE TITLE OF UNITED KINGDOM’

    A Warning to wake up join forces and resist the forces that manipulate our world for their own selfish ends with peaceful non compliance.

    :::: RESISTANCE ISN’T FUTILE! ITS ESSENTIAL! ::::

    Embed Electronic Press Pack :
    http://www.reverbnation.com/c./rpk/260557?access_code=fde6dac0cb189700ca82&auto_play=true

  21. I’m with you Billy! Except, I DO think we need a revival:) Punk or folk, carry the vision forward. “The Tide” Protest Song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2Rm9uX9sPA

    SIGN THE GLOBAL LABOR TREATY PETITION TO THE UNITED NATIONS

    It was labor and austerity that sparked recent citizen movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Wisconsin, Spain, Greece and London, just to name a few, and I believe it will be labor that unites the world in solidarity.

    Please SIGN and (really important) SHARE the petition to the U.N. for a Global Labor Treaty to enact Universal Living Wages – so that workers around the world will have the leverage they need to address political misrepresentation, end slave labor, build infrastructure, strengthen labor unions and end social inequality.

    http://www.change.org/petitions/sign-to-enact-a-global-labor-treaty-world-peace-through-economic-justice

  22. [...] Read the full story … Bookmark on Delicious Digg this post Recommend on Facebook share via Reddit Share with Stumblers Tweet about it Subscribe to the comments on this post [...]

  23. [...] Billy Bragg thinks we need new political music. [...]

  24. [...] In a recent post at his official site, Billy Bragg reflected on a year of political turmoil in Europe and the Middle East — and he couldn’t help being taken aback by the lack of commentary from the musical community. The post, titled Why Music Needs to Get Political Again, includes the following observation: [...]

  25. jp says:

    this from a guy who supported obama … dream of phil ochs? sure

  26. Danny Pike says:

    I was listening to Alan Parsons Project with Chris Thomson performing ‘Your The Voice’ and I remembered a programme I saw recently where a group of clog dancers slowly congregated in a Newcastle Square and gave a sort of impromptu concert. I thought that it would really hit the headlines if a group would do the same thing in Trafalgar Square. Oh, regards the Politics in music, I think it would only work if our politicians had at least an atom or two of decency left in them – which they don’t! I’m not saying that all politicians are scum, it’s just that damned 97% that gives the whole lot a bad name.

    No Pasaran

  27. Hello, Billy. I am the co-filmmaker of the Howard Zinn film that you so selflessly lent one of your songs to. I agree with what you said. The young people in the UK were justified in all of their protests. The media is made up of people who have a vested interest in maintaining their power to screw the people and that has become their full-time job. Deb Ellis and I are doing a new film about war resisters in Canada and their fight to stay in Canada called Peace Has No Borders.
    The new civil right movement for the entire world is a fight against the corporate state and its war machine. In the US and the UK they seek to destroy the middle and working classes. To the young people I say please fight and continue to fight because they are so short-sited that by the end of the 21st century the rise in temperature will destroy the earth. Rise up and be angry, as we are a world wide movement, the likes they have never seen before and that is why they will come down on you. Remember what Shelly said, “they are few and we are many.”

  28. Bev says:

    There is a great musician with a political message, his name is Jordan Page. Please check him out at http://jordanpagemusic.com/music.html

  29. Listening again, Billy, to your http://www.DemocracyNow.org interview. It’s Labor Day. My friends and I held our own town hall meeting in the 110-degree desert heat outside our Congressman’s office. He, Congressman Joe Heck, hasn’t held a meeting during Congress’s August recess that wasn’t on private property with his preferred and carefully I.D.’d constituents. It’s easier to toss out any dissent that way. Meanwhile, he’s taking checks from EXXON and skipping our Green Energy Conference. Billy, we have to keep saying their names: the corporation owners, CEO’s, and hedge fund managers that are a hair away from turning the world into their totalitarian corporate state. So glad your voice is their to encourage, educate, comfort and tell the truth. Please come to the States…any chance you could make it to Freedom Plaza October 6th, 2011 in Washington? We’re occupying it until they end this murderous lie of a war.

  30. Justin Toast says:

    Thank you, Billy, for the clarion call. I’d like to share my songs, ‘Mourning Patrol’ http://www.myspace.com/just2btoast/music/songs/mourning-patrol-20005777 and ‘Lost Nation Rd.’ http://www.myspace.com/justoast/music/songs/lost-nation-rd-40484840 I saw you play the all-star Woody Guthrie show at Severance Hall in Cleveland several years ago ~ what a night! I’ve worked up one of his called, ‘Dead or Alive’ (“The new sheriff wrote me a letter…). Cheers!

  31. bets says:

    I`m a 59 y.o. Quaker woman in the US, and I love your music and your commentary. It is thrilling to see you ressurecting the songs of Woody Guthrie as well. I`m a published writer and poet, and in writing workshops I`ve actually been told poetry shouldn`t be political. Talk about a WTF moment! No subject should be censored! I`m trying to work on a poem about the abuses of UN “peace keepers” of Haitians. peace & blessings, bets

  32. FreeDem says:

    As one whose taste in music was frozen in the late ’60s & early ’70s It became quite obvious even back then that money was forcing a path of either rock&roll with ear smashing noise that I could not take or the zombified Country that was folk music with the soul ripped out and replaced with right wing propaganda. So I stopped listening to music at all except seeking either old things or in later years Celtic rock that at least did not burn the ear, but that now has largely disappeared again from common availability.

    I have seen you speak of the need for a new left, freed from carrying the burden of totalitarianism that was the Soviets claiming the left that it never had a right to do from the first human right abuse. Even now the Socialism that is defined as the government owned business, calls forth a result that is not necessarily good, apart from the real origins that are, but have been lost in the fighting.

    George Lakoff pointed the way several years ago and is still a voice in the wilderness, but provides a powerful tool to anyone who would move people with words. I think it goes deeper than Lakoff has said, but when I apply his concepts to songs people and politics the far right appears as expected, but the really far left such as the Soviets show up on the right as well when Lakoffs method is applied.

    I have broken out 4 really basic values that right opposes and all of the genuine left ideas can be derived from. The first is the sort of empathy as laid out as Jesus’s Golden Rule, the second is to have accountability for anyone who makes decisions that affect others (this makes dictatorship the opposite of such an idea) the Third is to empower all people to advance their lives as much as they are able, without barriers. Fourth is a commitment to actual reality, if something is a reality and not made up and not spun but not what you would like it to be you have to embrace and work with that reality.

    The facts about how our brains actually work, and the ideals of the Enlightenment do not coincide, and in desperate attempts to deny it lose the fight. Please look at Lakoff’s work as I believe that it is the definition of left and right that will eventually win the day.

  33. [...] of you have probably already seen this, but I’ll post it here again. Billy Bragg wrote last week (this link takes you to the full piece at his site) about the need for political music, not for [...]

  34. Bob, Bob, Bob and Bob. says:

    There is political music out there but it’s not going to get any mainstream airplay. The BBC are too frightened to play anything and the commercial stations won’t touch it. As long as you sing about everything being ‘So Lovely’ it’s fine. The minute you start to say things like shooting people and blowing each other up isn’t such a great idea the mainstream media run a mile.

  35. sam says:

    Hi. I am 13 and I completly agree that we need more political music but this can only conceivably be done by forcing it into mainstream until people notice it. The majority of people my age will ignore it but older more politically set generations may take notice. It is possible to force music into the charts I belive we got the song “killing in the name of” as a christmas number 1. If we all tried (we as in all those who belive music shold be more politically motivated) we could get a politically motivated song into the charts and keep it there for long enough for people to notice it.

  36. jon says:

    wow a great read (including all the views opinions of people in the comments) i think and believe that all forms of music definitively needs to get political again but i seriously doubt it will, the whole industry needs freshening up again just like punk did in the 70’s and 80’s. god save the queen by the sex pistols should have been number1 in the national charts if it weren’t for the music industry bosses and the state stepping in, why did/would they do that? i think its because they were scared because they wasn’t making money of it and they wouldn’t control it plain and simple as that.
    90% of music now is controlled and produced to make money. personally i’m fed up of listening to different songs singing about the same old shit that isn’t relevant to how i feel and how the world is today. i don’t want to listen to songs about love, girls, fast cars having loads of money and other bullshit like that, i’m also fed up of fake plastic artists that are given a song to sing and sing it because it’ll make money..
    Billy Bragg wrote the best song ever in my opinion “which side are you on?” he wrote it, sang it and meant every word and you can feel that, it were about something that was real and effecting thousands of people and more importantly some thing he believes in and its as fresh now as it were when 1st recorded and just as relevant now as it were then but this what i feel is missing from music today…
    until artists (most but not all) stop thinking about money and fame and stop producing shit for the sake of it because it sells and show the likes of Simon Cowell and others the door so they can take back control of there music and maby they’ll write, produce and release something that is real raw and worth listening to.
    sorry for the essay rant

  37. Nick Noobles says:

    I am a 40 year old politicaly inactive father of five. I wish I could love my country as much as I should . I wish I could understand my leaders as they wish i could. Unfortunatly I am not alowed, prehaps my words would seem too proud. I never wanted anything but peace, unity and understanding. The political beast is so far removed from the basic human need that it is obsolete and insignificant to the human being. However, Billy you suck because although you think you stand for all the downtrodden unmentioned hard workers there is no chance you could ever answer us all! PS Love you dude …peace and love Nick

  38. joy grech says:

    Enjoyed your comments on question time, you were the only one that made sense. I will make sure my daughters are aware of you!

  39. Was reading a similar call for the politicisation of music or people who spoke up in their music on the Sound Strike campaign against Arizona’s racist citizenship laws. http://www.thesoundstrike.org

  40. [...] Read Billy Bragg’s NME article ‘Why Music Needs To Get Political Again’ here: http://www.billybragg.co.uk/blog/?p=192 [...]

  41. I have a very short video which you can see on my axis site or on you tube

    ‘The money trick Animation One man went to mow’ will bring it up on you tube.

    I sent an e-mail to Billy Bragg to ask if he would like to use my song but I have had no reply yet.

    This is inspired by Tressell’s ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’

    Its easy to criticize capitalism, harder to envisage how to change it. The Labour party with its socialist basis is one way to work towards a more humane system.

  42. KMT says:

    Bless can we get this event part of your tour https://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=121575384611730

    Nothing more political than dealing with Water, Food & Housing.

    I have also performed at Leftfield twice 2008-09 and I was the official tutor for the LMHR Training course for 3-4 years.

    Peace KMT Freedom Teacher

  43. KMT says:

    BTW Music has always & will been political, you need someone like me to assist with the Tour :)

  44. [...] Read Billy Bragg’s NME article ‘Why Music Needs To Get Political Again’ here. [...]

  45. [...] was struck reading Billy Bragg’s recent polemic in the NME, ‘Why music needs to get political again’, how much Iagreed with the old left wing firebrand about the need for contemporary musicians [...]

Leave a Reply