Of Cribs and Capitalists

Sojourners’ intern house was burgled twice in 10 days last year. I lost one of my favorite possessions—a Billy Bragg top with the insignia "Sea, Sun, Socialism" and, on the back, a depiction of Lenin on a surfboard with the caption "even socialists surf." The burglary was a hard lesson in detachment, which prompted us to look at the underlying causes of the violence and crime in our neighborhood. Here, "the third world is just around the corner," as Bragg sang in his 1988 hit "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward."

In 1996, Bragg released his latest album, William Bloke. True to his self-given designation of "pun rocker," the title refers to William Blake, one of Bragg’s favored poets. Bragg has always used poetry and history for inspiration, reclaiming the traditional canon for the ordinary bloke. Often this invites controversy. When Bragg recorded "Blake’s Jerusalem," he revealed: "My belief that Jerusalem is a left wing anthem has got me into arguments with public schoolboys at Eton and Trotskyist newspaper sellers in Trafalgar Square." Nevertheless he remains convinced that Blake was a radical and a visionary worthy of an album title.

It’s been a five-year pregnant pause between releases for Bragg. He spent the intervening years co-parenting his 3-year-old son, Jack, and living in ordinary England. Before I had a chance to listen to the album, I was disappointed to hear that Bragg had gone soft with new fatherhood. I like my Bragg loud and politically "in your face," so I was extremely relieved to find, when I listened to William Bloke, that the crooner of such classics as "Help Save the Youth of America" is in fighting form.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1997
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