Billy Bragg the English singer songwriter is well known for his strong leftist politics that are clearly apparent in his songs without being shoved down your earholes. How does he accomplish this? Well he always takes the very personal and uniquely British viewpoint of how those values and points of view could make the world a better place. His combination of influences including The Clash, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and the English Pub rock scene of the late 70s and early 80s make for a potent mix of folk and punk and more lately Americana.
Linked to that and what I think he is even better at is his ability to sing about love in its practicalities as well as its emotional ups and down. The combination of his voice which like Bob Dylan is not immediately identified as being a great singing voice, his personal style of guitar playing, generally sparse arrangements and most of all his dry wit and spot on lyrics makes for a unique journey around the pleasure and pain of love.
And not just romantic love or lust, his songs about family relationships between siblings, parents and children are also spot on. It is no surprise that on the hard to find Sgt Peppers tribute album “Sgt Pepper Knew My Father” that also featured Sonic Youth, the Triffids and The Fall, Billy sang She’s Leaving Home, a minor Beatles masterpiece.
One fine example and where I first fell in love with Billy’s work is “The Saturday Boy” Detailing perfectly the heartbreak of young love and social rejection in a perfect rhyming couplet Billy sings,
“In the end it took me a dictionary to know the meaning of unrequited
While you were giving yourself for free at a party to which I was never invited”
You could be smug singing this. I know I would be if I had thought of it but it is just one example of a series of great lines and Billy just goes for the honest emotion. Not overwrought like Mariah Carey who always sound like she has just misplaced a million dollar piece of jewellery that she just has to wear out tonight.
All this comes to mind because I have been to a wedding. Some would say the natural outcome of romance and given some recent events now a welcome option for all couples. I say option because of course nowadays I kind of wonder why get married at all. It is a ceremony with its roots in patriarchy and was until relatively recently just as much about politics and riches as it was about love. Given one third of marriages end in divorce in Australia one has to wonder what is the point. I guess it does give a public declaration of a couple’s love and for the actual couple there is the supposed reinforcement of this declaration although I’m not sure that is always so given the divorce rate. Legalities don’t matter so much anymore and the other factor, the role of religion can of course be either critical or a zero concern.
I guess what I am saying is, in the modern world this ceremonial bedrock of Western civilisation is, like so many bedrocks, not as solid as it used to be. That said last weekend’s wedding and the following party were truly wonderful and celebratory and maybe that is why ceremonies like these are still important. With so much in the world that is keeping people apart they bring people together.
Of course to get married you need to have a partner who is ready, willing and able which brings me to the other factor that seems to get everyone especially parents of teenagers all hot and bothered; the modern world way of hooking up and how the youth of today are first exposed and work their way through sex and romance.
When Western civilisation in the 60s finally shook off ridiculous conventions and women gained the ability to control their own fertility we were all hoping for honesty, equality, and non-judgmental relationships for as long as it took to get it on or for the rest of your life or whatever in between. Well in some ways we got that but things can go in ways unexpected.
Technological advances never quite take us exactly in the way we think they will. And of course this is all about the Internet; every kind of porn, dating apps, Instagram, Pinterest, endless texting, and of course scads of useful and useless information from the crass to the scientific are all on the web.
But how do the young folk learn to have a face-to-face conversation especially when there is an overlay of desire between them? How do they get a feeling on what the other person is thinking when they are just reading and typing words on a screen and viewing carefully chosen pictures where the subject is presented in the best possible light.
Obviously thanks to modern technology it is quickly and easily possible to know everything about the mechanics of sex, everything about what a potential partner looks like, what they do and what their interests are but only in a general sense and only by what they put out there or what they decide to allow to be put out there.
Sure, all this technology probably saves a lot of time being wasted on having to work out whether there is even a degree of compatibility, but hanging out and bad dates bring experience and wisdom.
I never thought I would think this but maybe the biggest problem with digital devices is not the possible health problems or data costs, or the possible addiction, rip offs, bullying, fake news, data theft or the permanence of the record of any foolish thoughts and actions on the Internet forever. The biggest problem in this world of instant communication around the globe actually is the loss of our ability to relate face to face. Experts agree that 60% of human communication is non verbal meaning body language, tone of voice, gestures, figures of speech. How do you receive those signals when you are texting? Well that would be why we have emojis but remember the sender using the emojis has to be honest. Clearly texting is never going to convey the richness of communication that a conversation brings.
Of course I know the answer to this, which is if everyone is doing the same thing then nobody will be disadvantaged, or care less and besides we humans always find a way to get together. It is the biological imperative.
But no wonder we are living in a world that is becoming more fractious and divided. On one hand we are busy taking entrenched positions on so many subjects and if someone disagrees they must be an idiot or anti Australian or a whiner and beneath contempt, fit only to abuse.
And in the affairs of attraction be it lust or love maybe we don’t really get to know other people well enough soon enough.
With millions of songs about love and lust and relationships where shall we begin? Perhaps from the sublime to the ridiculous and back.
Billy is still touring and recording and is one of the enduring and unique talents to emerge from the alternate 80s. You really should check him out and best place to start is with the album “Must I Paint You A Picture” containing all the great early hits of Mr Bragg.
Tim Rogers solo career is filled with songs about relationships but none better than “Last Night I left My Heart All Over The Place”
Matthew Sweet, the late 80s and 90s master of power pop gives us the fantastic “I’ve Been Waiting.”
The Beach Boys ‘God Only Knows” is the most beautiful song about love in rock.
The Beards “You Should Consider Having Sex With A Bearded Man” is one of a kind.
Spinal Tap - Big Bottom
Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is still awesome.
Ian Dury’s Wake Up and Make Love With Me” has got to be there.
Frank Sinatra – “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” because we need a classic
And for the funky - Marvin Gaye – Lets Get It On and Beyonce` - Single Ladies
And five shockers
I Honestly Love You – Olivia Neutron Bomb
Do Ya Think I’m Sexy – Rod Stewart finds the bottom
Love is Like a Butterfly – Don’t know don’t care
Afternoon Delight – Starland Vocal band
Any country song with love in the title