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Ron Radosh

Billy Bragg and the Neighborhood Bullies

June 5th, 2010 - 11:32 am

Thanks to Sean Curnyn, the proprietor of the wonderful website RightWingBob.com, I have just learned that the British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg wrote one of the most vile and vicious songs honoring a terrorist dupe, the late Rachel Corrie. Bragg wrote it a few years ago, but until now (fortunately) I had not heard of it.(If you’re not familiar with the real story, please refer to the open letter I wrote a few years ago, which is available here.

Bragg, as many of you undoubtedly know, is a British leftie who considers himself someone in the tradition of both Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. With this song, as well as some of his other rather didactic and crude lyrics, he proves himself instead to be anything but a singer who gets what Bob Dylan is all about. Dylan, as most anyone who knows something about him realizes, is a subtle artist who eschews the kind of political venom that Bragg indulges in. Indeed, it was decades ago, in fact rather early in his long career, that Dylan abandoned the Old Left milieu that others were trying to force him into. His college friends in Minnesota have written about  how all their attempts to indoctrinate him came to naught, as did Dave Van Ronk in his own memoir.

Dylan absorbed what was best in the political culture that existed in New York City when he first arrived there, and soon transcended their world.  He decided first to stop sending songs to Broadside, the political song magazine published in mimeographed form by the late Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen, and broke with Sing Out! when its then Stalinist editor, Irwin Silber, wrote an open letter condemning him for turning inwards and deserting the left-wing path they wanted him to inherit. He made this clear when he wrote “Maggie’s Farm.”

Well, I try my best To be just like I am,

But everybody wants you

To be just like them.

They sing while you slave and I just get bored.

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.

Later, when Dylan sang “Ihere’s something happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” some said he was addressing it to Silber. And as for the Left and their desire to put him in their straitjacket, he sang “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

What Bragg has done in this song is a desecration of all that Dylan stands for. He has used his melody of a beautiful and poignant song about the death of Hattie Carrol, which lyrically is the opposite of the didactic screed meant by Bragg to honor the opening of the “play” by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner that I wrote about in my own letter referred to earlier. If it resembles anything, Bragg’s song is more in the tradition of the worst political songs penned by the late Phil Ochs, many of which, if one hears them today, are dated and sound turgid.

Bragg’s lyrics are so vile that he dares compare Corrie to the American Freedom Riders of the 60s. He also sings, as Curnyn writes, “ ‘Is there no place for a voice in America /That doesn’t conform to the Fox News agenda?’  That’s right, Billy: It’s all Fox, all the time, here in America now, even on the stage.” The song is so silly, only the British anti-Israel press would see fit, as the British Guardian did, to print such drivel.

Now that the so-called Free Gaza Movement is once again honoring the memory of their “martyr” by naming the ship that has now reached Israel after Rachel Corrie, we can expect new articles heralding her supposed martyrdom in the various web pages of the international left-wing.

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