I’ve been buying up more cassette tapes from eBay over the last week or so, mainly to satisfy an itch for stand-up comedy, but also to gamble on a few titles from the 70’s and 80’s without suffering the ear-splitting din that comes from “digital remasters” and without the risk/expense of getting vinyl through the postal network. In amongst those purchases was Billy Bragg‘s “difficult” third album, Talking with the Taxman About Poetry. I’d heard odd songs of his, but never a full album – put it this way, I’ve listened to little else since Saturday.
Yesterday, I was looking for an analysis of one of its’ tracks: “Levi Stubbs’ Tears”. I found one on, of all places, The Spectator – not a publication I’d say would take a very favourable view of Bragg (an often-outspoken socialist) or his music. The comments at the botton (yeah, I know), rather than comment on or discuss the song itself, levelled numerous criticisms of Bragg’s personal life: accusations of being a “champagne socialist”, moving to the rural county of Dorset and various other slurs.
On the same site, I read another article that took pot-shots at liberal lefties for complaining when Kate Bush said she quite likes Theresa May. The article then went on to list a number of artists who, at least as far as the author was concerned, were right-wing or conservative; as an avid Rush listener, calling them “conservative” on the grounds of their Ayn Rand-inspired lyrics during the mid-70’s makes me think the author merely read the Wikipedia article for 2112 in lieu of actual research.
It’s clear that the author of the latter article, and the comments on the former, were written by conservatively-minded people. I came away with the impression that they believed those on the left could not separate an artist from their politics, and that political ideology is explicitly linked to wealth.
Firstly: Kate Bush’s views on Theresa May are her own, and hating on her for holding them is, at best, infantile. Equally infantile is suggesting that Kate’s politics would cause many ‘liberals’ to delete her music from their iPods; personally, even in the highly-unlikely event that her next album served as an overt musical shrine to Thatcherism, my admittedly-meagre Kate Bush collection would still remain – I just wouldn’t buy the new one until I’d heard it first. The widespread view of liberals as snowflakes is grossly over-exaggerated.
Secondly, I want to deal with the term “Champagne socialist”. If you’re unaware of the term, it is used to describe someone who holds left-leaning or socialist views despite living a privileged life or having personal wealth; in effect branding them as hypocrites.
Whatever Billy Bragg has in his bank account he has worked hard for, and I doubt anyone reasonable would begrudge him that: musicians don’t exactly get a pension when they hang up their guitars. There’s a sneering belief that any socialist with a bit of cash in the bank should practice what they preach and give it all to the poor, but he shouldn’t have to; he, like many of us, pays his taxes and has a right to speak his mind on how those taxes should be spent. Money, on the other hand, is not the one true commodity; it doesn’t take much digging to see how Bragg has used his creativity, talent and voice to educate the ignorant and speak up for those to whom nobody listens. Knowledge is power.
But where are the right-wing songs? Where are the folk ballads extolling the virtues of laissez-faire capitalism or the dangers of wealth redistribution? Why does Bruce Springsteen continue to outsell Ted Nugent?
I have a few theories.
- We’re still enamoured with music from the summer of love, particularly the peace-loving works of The Beatles.
- We relate to music on an emotional an empathetic level; when someone’s struggles and hardship are borne out in the lyrics, we react with sympathy – hence the success of charity songs like “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and “We Are the World”. A song describing the life of a Banker on a 7-figure salary is more likely to be perceived as bragging than aspirational.
- We also like to connect with the artists whose work speak to us, and like to feel as if they understand the people who buy their music.
Alternatively, it could be perceived that right-wing music exists, but doesn’t take the same form as the folk ballads and protests songs of the left. Right-wing music could simply be the musical equivalent of fast food: low quality, mass-produced and disposable music designed purely for short-term profit.
Music to give your brain a quick buzz rather than enlightenment.
Music born of capitalism, not creativity.
Music to stop you from thinking.
Music to stop you asking questions.