Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More political influences: music

A little while ago I was asked to compile a kind of reading list of the books that shaped my initial political development. They weren't the kind of books I'd necessarily go for today but were important to me as I came to a more coherent political position.

One criticism at the time, which I thought had merit, was that books rarely have the most impact on people's development. I think that's right and I followed that post up with one on key events. Ever since then I've been planning my songs that most influenced my burgeoning socialist soul. Frankly they were a lot more influential than the books I read later on and although there have been many political songs I liked more, there are few songs that actually shifted me politically as much as these did.

The Slits - Typical Girls

For the whole of the eighties I don't think I met anyone, at all, who actually expressed explicitly feminist ideas. At least not to me. I did however have The Slits (and others) to give me a good grounding in the ABC's of gender politics in a humane and humorous way.

Billy Bragg - Between the Wars

Jesus, my school mates ripped the piss out of me for liking this. They simply could not understand why a person of sound mind and body would listen to someone who could not sing, singing. They were the poorer for it. Passion, depth, class loyalty and the protestant work ethic - this song has the lot.

The Subhumans - From the Cradle to the Grave

Many of you may well find this completely unlistenable too. You might like to know that at just over five minutes this is a massively cut version, the full version runs at something like half an hour. Oh yeah. Crucially I had the album and could therefore read the lyrics, so didn't have to rely on listening really, really hard. This was the first time I encountered the idea that "from birth, to school, to work, to death" we're part of one big project run on someone else's behalf.

Stiff Little Fingers - Barbed Wire Love

Containing the immortal line "You set my arm-a-lite" SLF were both funny, angry and unacceptably Irish. Independently minded they really helped me gain confidence when arguing that British troops should get out of Ireland, which was pretty difficult at times. It seems so oddly out of date today that it's probably hard for a younger generation to understand how that little island to the West could possibly have been so important in British politics.

Linton Kwesi Johnson - Fite Dem Back

Central to me was the struggle against the very present (at the time, in my area) nazi National Front and whilst my strategy to defeat the local fascists would lean, cough, towards the robust, cough, and was quite possibly rather lacking in nuance I can safely blame LKJ for that.

Public Enemy - Fight the Power

People often comment on the enormous clock that I wear round my neck - if you listen to this jaunty little number you'll see why. As the chronologically last song in the list I suspect the fact that I was learning more about radical traditions had a great deal to do with why I clicked so completely with a song that contains the line "most of my heroes don't appear on no stamp."

Musically my tastes have moved on but I'll always look back on these songs with real affection. Music, which probably was more politically charged in the eighties, has a real power that Das Kapital and State and Revolution can only gaze upon enviously. This is not a meme, but I would be curious to see similar contributions from other bloggers if that appears to be an interesting thing to do...


Matt Sellwood said...

Nice to know that we have a pseudo-Flava Flav convening SOC this year. Worryingly, I did sometimes think in years past that Flava Flav would do a better job than the actual incumbents...

Happy New Year!


P.S. "We're the Forces of Victry, and we're coming right through..."

Ed said...

"People often comment on the enormous clock that I wear round my neck"

Ha ha!