Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?

Any time before 7am is dead to me, and the last half an hour – after my alarm has gone off and the radio gone on – is no exception. Things from this time are hazy and unreal, like the last dreams before waking; things rarely jolt you fully awake, but just to that tight edge before. This morning was the same – I pressed ‘off’ rather than ‘snooze’ which meant the sink back into unconsciousness was that little deeper today. 

But not so deep that I couldn’t hear a thing, and today’s thing was Billy Bragg on the radio singing A New England. With that hyper-imaginative clarity that only comes at that level of awareness, I constructed around Bragg an all-star band line-up and had you got a response out of me at the time I could have told you. Now, no idea. Silly really, because of course A New England is one of the Bard of Barking’s legendary solo electric guitar outings. What hasn’t changed from this morning is that it’s rattling around my head, and still ever so slightly breaking my heart.

It’s an ode to Thatcher’s Britain crossed with the crushing realism of the time; somewhere between a break-up song and a protest song. It’s one of the few I’ve heard that pulls it off successfully. It’s often difficult for a man so clearly engaged with activist politics to reconcile it with the deeper emotional resonance of the heart, so here he pairs them off, one against the other. He doesn’t want to change the world, he’s not looking to overhaul the system, sometimes he just wants a girl. I’ve seen this marked down as a replacement for Thatcher – possibly that’s in there, I’m not so sure.

What I can be sure of is that some things never change: if you’ve made it all the way to twenty one and your schoolmates are only now pushing prams around, then you’re doing well. I put you on a pedestal/they put you on the pill, alright. The England of 1983 (when I was barely a year old) ain’t all that different to today. I’m not wearing brown, flared, corduroy dungarees anymore, but heartache’s still the same, and there’s still a place for someone like Billy Bragg.

I met Billy Bragg once, you know. It was near Christmas, he looked a little harassed.

Listen on Hype Machine/Billy’s blog/Billy’s Myspace

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