On Age, Empathy and Class – Billy Bragg, in review

As Billy began to approach the chorous of  ‘Scousers Don’t Buy The Sun’, audience members rose to their feet and at the songs end, Bragg showed his trademark compassion by raising a fist of solidarity for those affected by the Hilsborough disaster, “Justice for the ’96!”

Sporadic standing ovations were a footnote of the evening. When Billy Bragg’s name is on the ticket, every utterance gets an enthusiastic response.

Sexuality’ had been repeating on loop in my head ahead of gig day and as fate would have it, it was his opening number. He squeezed in a cheeky “Don’t threaten me with Morrissey” lyric-change to keep things topical and segway into Brexit talk when the time was right.

There’s a distinct lack of social commentary in today’s music so thank Marx he doesn’t rely on his prior success to sell tickets. Once musicians reach super-stardom, they go one of 2 ways: exclusively play new material and only begrudgingly play old hits, or try to incorporate as many fan favourites as possible inbetween the new tunes. Of course, the bard of Barking went the way of the latter. Most of his new set was proceeded by succinct explanations of the recent political motivations behind their inception: King Tide and the Sunny Day Flood came about after recent Climate Change discoveries, and Saffiyah Smiles was inspired by a muslim counter protestor at an EDL rally in 2016.

When he did mention Thatcher it was a clever recontextualisation of the phrase ‘it doesn’t feel like my country anymore’,

“I can understand that sentiment because that’s how I felt in the 1980s when Thatcher got in again, and again, and again.”

The sincerity of his down-to-Earth demeanour is transparent by the pathos of his speaking voice: he hasn’t lost his Essex accent! None of his impassioned words tugged on my cockney heartstrings more than his send-off, “I’m Billy Bragg from Dagenham, Essex. Goodnight”. I grew up a stone’s throw from his hometown so I was most looking forward to basking in the nostalgic comfort of over-pronounced d’s and t’s. And I was by far the youngest face in the crowd. My sister and I guessed the average age would be 46 but we were as misguided as my attempt to locate the toilets after 2 cocktails and a fruity cider.

“At one of the gigs the crew were handing out bottles of water and I thought ‘Hmm. It’s a 2 hour show, and well… my audience…”

He’s genuinely funny. Like any outspoken activist with the audacity to care, he balances self-depreciation with earnest ruminations on the big stuff so as to avoid the inevitable eye roll of the cognitively dissonant. I nodded ferociously as he highlighted how unpopular it is to be empathetic and the absurdity of cloaking yourself in cynicism so you can appear ‘cool’, “the enemy isn’t the Daily Mail or conversativism – it’s cynicism.”

It’s difficult to vocalise these thoughts without facing the obvious backlash of being ‘on your high horse’ from people who would rather protect their insecurities and project their fears. Again, Billy pre-empts such judgement in his re-telling of a forward-thinking environment he played in,

“I was disappointed because it really took away from my moral superiority.”

It’s very clever how our self-serving society has shamed us into complacency but for those few hours we were free to care as much as we wanted about things that matter, yell out ‘there is a power in a union’, and there was no defender of stagnation present to sneeringly say ‘get over yourself’ as if the ‘self’ is the operative point. He also waited until the very end to play ‘A New England’, with a loving inclusion of Kirsty Maccoll’s additional verse to commemorate his friend.

In the words of the middle-aged balding man behind me, “Nice one Billy!”

 

 

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Signs You Are In Your Twenties

  • You have no idea what you’re doing.
  • 18 year olds have started to look 12.
  • You log into Facebook every day and you don’t know why. It’s just a habit: a necessary tool for connecting with friends & acquaintances.
  • Conversations you once pretended to enjoy have now become mildly pleasant experiences; small talk is no longer the enemy – you can talk about tax if you wanna. (And sometimes you genuinely need to).
  • Relationships are a whole load more scary than they used to be – a feeling intensified by the myriad of ‘we’re engaged xo!’ posts that crop up on said Facebook ever so frequently.
  • Chart songs are unrecognisable to you, just like the baby-faced singer’s of said songs. Once upon a time, you thought adults were bluffing when they heartily laughed, “Who’s this?!” but nowadays you can’t feign the effort required to keep up. You are the adult.
  • People in their 40s and above begrudge your false sense of old age while simultaneously asking you questions regarding marriage and babies.
  • You have no idea what you’re doing.
  • Alcohol exists that isn’t vodka – you understand this now. Also, you don’t need to double up all night! Single measures get you just as crunk without the “did I ruin my life last night?” feeling in the morning.
  • Strong emotional reactions are triggered by these words: ‘Nickelodeon’ ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ ‘Power Rangers’ ‘Toy Story’ ‘I’ll never let you go, Jack’
  • You genuinely think your mum is cool and have new-found respect for her. If you aren’t hip to this yet, you are a shitbucket.
  • Hangovers are not myths anymore.
  • You went from ‘mature for your age’ to ‘childish’ in a few swift years…
  • Britney is important – Britney matters: fan or no. You understand this in a way the youth of today seemingly cannot.
  • Only recently did you realise how many years it has been since you were 16/17/18, and therefore relating to people that age is inexplicably difficult. You try, and often succeed, but secretly know they think you are past it.
  • This picture affects you on a deep, emotional level

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  • You have no idea what you’re doing, but that’s okay because you’re still young enough to have fun and you’re entitled to live in the moment. Nobody knows at any age, you’re just supposed to keep on truckin’…

Films You Need To Rewatch: Wayne’s World, Bill & Ted and Trainspotting.

Hearkening back to days of yore may be a foolish past-time in your personal life but it’s a worthy endeavor in the realm of cult films and classics. Time is kind to pop culture when its creator cared to preserve its appeal; idiosyncratic characters, universal stories and well-written comedy are the ideal mix for nostalgic indulgence. Be wise, choose something your conscious mind hasn’t registered in recent years in order to experience key moments as if they’re completely new to you. They won’t be but contentment comes from familiarity and we live in the Matrix anyway. (That one isn’t on this list).

Wayne’s World

My big brother and I adored this in our youth so I was praying for good things. Thankfully, the dumbass duo trope still amuses my adult brain: Garth’s ‘Foxy’ dancing and the Bohemian Rhapsody headbanging scene are still precious. All of the meta jokes in this self-referential comedy will make you chuckle knowingly as you yearn for Mike Myers to break down the fourth wall just one more time. It’s typically clever in having the social commentary exist in undertones that you can feasibly ignore if you’d rather just soak up the obvious stuff, yet we view our two protagonists as anti-heroes for revering self-expression. As such, I newly appreciate Rob Lowe’s nuanced portrayal of the textbook selfish yuppie who tries to capitalise on our protagonists’ romantic dreams. Less exciting is Meatloaf’s brief bouncer cameo as he’s inevitably overshadowed by Alice Cooper rocking up to perform another lyrical shit-show: Feed My Frankenstein to the infamous reception of ‘We are not worthy!’ Humorous ridiculousness.


Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

I recently made a most excellent life choice to devour this alongside a beastly curry (chicken Jalfrezi). Whimsical japes include masquerading as medieval knights to re-enact the Luke vs. Darth Vader lightsaber duel. Nearly every adventure they have is typically tame 80s high school hedonism and yet you long to escape your mundane reality in favour of their random expedition. When you realise the similarity between a time-travelling phonebox and the Doctor’s Tardis a smirk will appear on your big, nerdy face. Silly and escapist, their characteristic goofiness is still most quotable. Examples include calling Socrates ‘So-cratz’ and miming air guitar to news of the ‘Iron Maiden’ like it’s a stage invite from Bruce Dickinson. It’s also notably unique in portraying metalheads as cool, laid back people who sometimes look like Keanu Reeves. To my surprise, Rufus was played by satirist George Carlin – a fact my child self didn’t know. Alas, I can now congratulate myself on my reformed historical knowledge like my heroes Bill and Ted.


Trainspotting

It’s a rite of passage for every pretentious teen to watch Trainspotting in awe of the brilliant cast, innovative directing and stellar 90s soundtrack. Now you’re older, you may feel like you’ve recovered from your wide-eyed fascination with drug-fueled debauchery and wish not to return to such territory but have faith in its iconic reputation. You will still impulsively rave along with Born Slippy and recoil at the baby scenes in terrible enthusiasm before making a mental note that injecting heroin is clearly just not cricket. Inspiration is a lusted-after feeling and the brazen swagger of Diane is undeniably enviable. Danny Boyle’s low-budget triumph invokes the idea that you could go rogue and successfully film an indie adaptation of a new novel. It just seems likely for you. Besides the sequel, Porno, has a 2016 release date now so if you relive this arguable PSA against compulsively chasing the dragon, you can hype yourself up way ahead of time.