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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.

I don’t know if Bob Dylan ever heard this despicable rip-off of one of his great songs. Perhaps he did, and decided to simply ignore it. But if I had Bragg’s address, I would recommend one easy remedy: flood his home with copies of Dylan’s song “Neighborhood Bully,” from the album Infidels. Or perhaps that is not such a great idea. Bragg might decide to rewrite that one too.

Lyrics by Bob Dylan 1983 Special Rider Music

Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man,

His enemies say he’s on their land.

They got him outnumbered about a million to one,

He got no place to escape to, no place to run.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,

He’s criticized and condemned for being alive.

He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin,

He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,

He’s wandered the earth an exiled man.

Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,

He’s always on trial for just being born.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized,

Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.

Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad.

The bombs were meant for him. He was supposed to feel bad.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim

That he’ll live by the rules that the world makes for him,

‘Cause there’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back

And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

He got no allies to really speak of.

What he gets he must pay for, he don’t get it out of love.

He buys obsolete weapons and he won’t be denied

But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace,

They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease.

Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep.

They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone,

Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon.

He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand,

In bed with nobody, under no one’s command.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon,

No contract he signed was worth what it was written on.

He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth,

Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

What’s anybody indebted to him for?

Nothin’, they say. He just likes to cause war.

Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed,

They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed.

He’s the neighborhood bully.

What has he done to wear so many scars?

Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars?

Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill,

Running out the clock, time standing still,

Neighborhood bully

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