Sunday, December 02, 2007

book learning #39

The Progressive Patriot. A search for belonging by Billy Bragg.

Ever since I picked up the 12 inch single "Greetings to the new brunette" in January 1987 I have been wedded to Billy Bragg.
It's been a pretty good marriage, there have been times when all I needed was to listen to 'Worker's playtime' or 'Talking to the taxman about poetry' and all was well. I had Uncle Bill, those strange teenage years were bearable.

Then came 'Sexuality' and all that success.

Then came some truly lean years.

I kept the faith and I kept going to gigs, I just lived in a different place, a different time.
I think that at one gig Uncle Bill talked a lot about his wife and son and how hard it is to get a babysitter and I felt pretty much marginalised. Added to which I thought that the album he was promoting was crap. I have always loved his hostile attitude to nostalgia but dammit, if there's one man who can make me feel nostalgic for so many things it's Billy Bragg 1983-1988!

However, I saw him a couple of years ago in New York and loved every minute of it, my estranged Uncle Bill had come home. OK, he'd not really come home,it was more like he was attending a family function on good behaviour, but still, here he was, just as chatty as ever and playing all his old classics in a gorgeous venue.

So, I read his book.

In the midst of a self imposed enquiry about Englishness and what it means, a self imposed thought fest about returning to England, I picked up this book and began to read.

Bragg tackles a most complex issue, a complex issue for any nation, the idea of national identity and awareness.


It's not all that intense, it flows in the way that an Uncle Billy mid gig chat flows, he fills it with family history (he is an incredible and quite fascinating geek) and a left centred view on English domestic history. He quotes heavyweights such as George Orwell and Sir Winston Churchill as well as lighter notes Sir John Major and Lord Tebbit. Billy takes you on a ride and it's a great conversation, I love the fact that he apologises several times for being a Londoner who now lives by the sea in devon!

All this made me realise that you could read a book a day on Englishness (Billy makes the distinction that this bok is about being English, not British) and still not get halfway close to an understanding. It also made me realise that whilst I don't rate much of Billy's recent musical output, he's not a half bad writer (always was a superb lyrical poet) and his books certainly hold the reader and keep the interest. yes, it's a geeky read full of semi obscure English history and the need for a formal, written constitution, but it's also dead entertaining.

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