Wonder (part 3)

This forms part of a short series of posts.  Part 1 can be accessed by clicking here and Part 2 is here.

In today’s society, I struggle to see that someone can say with authority that all Christians should vote for a specific party.  I do believe, however, that each of us should responsibly consider with conviction how to use our vote and how to try to influence matters.  So, I am fairly well aligned with one political party in my own voting practices and the agendas that influence and concern me in particular. 

In our own congregation there are people who hold loads of opposing ideas, viewpoints and political allegiances, some of whom are party candidates and, yet, church is one of the rare places were those differences become secondary.

I can see why it could become easy to be disillusioned or bored by politics, but I firmly believe that every vote counts.  If we really voted with our conscience rather than tactically, how would the political landscape look? 

Countless bands have probably helped shape my political views over the years, but few have done so to such an extent as Fugazi and Billy Bragg.  Fugazi in that they wrote and sung about their own straight edge ideology (often associated with their previous incarnation as Minor Threat) and lived out their ethics with such authenticity.  Billy Bragg has always sung with such conviction and many of his observations form the 80s and 90s still make a lot of sense to me as I look around our global village.  I’ve not always drawn the same conclusions or party allegiances, but these artists have made me see the importance of how I practice what I believe in.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Billy Bragg in the Guardian earlier this year which connects with me in many places and makes me realise that I need to take ownership of where I place an “X” on a voting paper…

Tuesday March 11, 2008
The Guardian


“I don’t mind being labelled a political songwriter,” says Billy Bragg, his voice snouty and rough, and his eyes sharp little specks in a well-freckled face. “I am a political songwriter – that’s the life that I’ve made for myself. What really upsets me is being dismissed as a political songwriter.” He pivots on the word “dismissed”. People do dismiss Billy Bragg. He has spent 25 years in the music industry, and is one of our greatest living songwriters. Yet for all those who adore him, Bragg still exists in the wider public imagination as the Bard of Barking, the voice of the miners’ strike and Red Wedge, a voice still singing a refrain of Old Labour and New England.

The album opens with a song named I Keep Faith. It is one of those overlapping songs, a perfect Venn diagram of the political and the personal. “Firstly, it’s about some of the people that I work with closely – Labour backbenchers,” Bragg explains. “It’s probably the closest I’ve worked with politicians, those bright young Red Wedgers who are now ministers. I did some shows for them during the 2005 election campaign, and I got to see how hard they work, and how little they get back for that. And then also it’s about my missus, Juliet, and the struggles she went through to do what she wanted to do with her own life, and she’s setting up a business as well, and that was a great inspiration for me.”

The final verse was inspired by a songwriting workshop that Bragg held at a women’s hospice in Weymouth, working with half a dozen women over a six-week period in 2006. “Trying to help them write songs, songs that allow them to say the things they can’t say over the dining table in the evening but that you can say in a song – that are namely, ‘I love you, but I’m not always gonna be here,’ ” he says softly. “That probably is one of the things I’m most proud of. And that last verse, that whole idea of, ‘I know it takes a mess of courage to go against the grain/You have to make such great sacrifice for such little gain’ – what those women went through, how they retained their dignity and kept their self-pity at bay was just phenomenal to witness. And yet they were able to communicate to me deep, deep feelings they had which then we were able to make into something for their families to treasure. And I just came away every Friday incredibly inspired by these women and their fortitude.”

“So,” he says, leaning forward in his chair a little, “I’d like to think it works on a number of levels – on the level of a personal commitment to another individual, on the level of a song about faith as in the sense of solidarity, faith in humanity. I’m not sure I want to live in a world without faith, you know? Faith in one another, faith in community, faith in humanity: I don’t think I’d like to live in a world where everything’s a matter of science and reason.”

The song has allowed him, he says, to speak to audiences about something of which he has grown increasingly aware: “Our real enemy in trying to make a better world isn’t conservatism, or capitalism or racism – they’re manifestations of a deeper malaise, which is cynicism. And there’s so much of that about, in our political and social discourse. And I speak as someone who has to fight to overcome their own cynicism – I helped get Tony Blair elected. In some ways I’m complicit in the invasion of Iraq because of that, despite our best efforts to stop it happening. So you know, I am overcome by waves of cynicism. But as Woody Guthrie said, ‘I never want to write a song that puts people down.'”



4 Responses to “Wonder (part 3)”

  1. 1 exactscience December 12, 2008 at 4:25 pm


    Well Straight Edge was the name of a Minor Threat song. And I agree with a lot of what they were saying but identify more with Out Of Step because I really don’t understand golf.

    The point you make about voting with our conscience really stuck out. My parents and indeed grandparents all voted for party X to keep party Y out. Interesting point is that my mother at least admitted she would have preferred to vote for party Z. I pick the party that best represents what I think is important.

  2. 2 thestatethatiamin December 12, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Thanks S.

    I guess I got into Fugazi before I really heard Minor Threat and whilst “Straight Edge” is indeed a Minor Threat song, I learned of the ideology through Fugazi. I guess I liked the idea of standing out, thinking for myself and not necessarily conforming to the accepted norm. I loved the fact that Fugazi just let the music speak for itself, always put an upper price limit on albums and gig tickets, never produced t-shirts or promo material, etc. It just seemed really pure to me (much as I actually wanted a Fugazi t-shirt to show my love of them).

    I voted tactically at times, but came to the conclusion I should follow my heart so decided just to put the “X” where I believed it should go.

    The part about being implicit in the Iraq war struck me as an honest comment from Billy Bragg who is obviously linked with the Labour Party. It strikes me that it is easy to join an antiwar coalition after the event or condemn the legacy that Blair and Bush left us. But, who raised the questions at the time? Where were the protest songs? It strikes me that Bright Eyes was the voice of one calling in the wilderness at that point in time and his album “Motion Sickness” still sounds urgent whilst chronicling for me what that chapter of my recent history sounds like. Radiohead often sound to me like the world feels in recent years…


  3. 3 bringonthejoy December 13, 2008 at 10:05 am

    I would agree with your Radiohead comment… but if you recall, the last time we saw them, I ended up angry, fed up and frustrated as well as slightly nauseous. As I said, spot on with the Radiohead comment! (I used to love them, but definitely fell out of love with them that night)
    The Billy Bragg interview is great, and has the feel of a really true reflection of the man. The struggle I most often have with politics is that so often I can’t find a comfortable fit when looking at the parties on offer. I agree with parts of one party’s manifesto and parts of another but seldom find one party that I am able to completely invest myself in. But I am more often than not a passive recipient of those manifestos and I guess if I felt really strongly about it I should actually get involved and attempt to shape things.

  4. 4 thestatethatiamin December 13, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    @ BOTJ, Mmmmmm – I think a bunch of things had conspired against us the last time we went to see Radiohead live. After I last saw them in Edinburgh and felt that I was in the presence of genius, I was really looking forward to seeing them again as “In Rainbows” is one of my favourite albums to have bought this year. I don’t think you’ve really heard that album properly yet and I think we had just had a lousy day and were grumbling at eachother before we left and in the car before we even got to Glasgow this year. We had the pressure of getting ready to leave on holiday the next day. The weather was awful, the band were late to take the stage, the ambient music before they came on stage was doing our heads in and when Thom Yorke starting singing, he was out of tune and the Pa mix was pretty poor for the first few songs. I think we were getting on eachother’s nerves and that overshadowed the whole thing. I’m happy to put that behind us and just appreciate that they are a genius band and their music still sounds like how the world often feels to me. Sorry for a rubbish date! Why do I do that to you? You stopped liking Red House Painters after we saw them in London back in ’98.

    Thankfully we had a much better night out when we went to see Billy Bragg this year. It felt like a gospel meeting at times with his zealous communication between songs and talk of need for faith and action. That night was topped when we saw him walking up Sauchiehall Street on his way to the gig and giving us a big smile and an “ello”. I thought it was so cool to discover that he later entered through the front doors with the rest of the punters – no heirs or graces – just a passion to play, to connect and to keep challenging the system.

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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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