Jean Smith from Mecca Normal is one of my favorite writers who utilize the blog format.
Check out her recent review of Billy Bragg. Here's an excerpt:
At the record store, fifty-one year-old Billy looked and sounded great -- he did about a half dozen songs and turned the chorus of his most famous single "A New England" into a sing-along. "I don't want to change the world. I'm not looking for a new England. I'm just looking for another girl." From my vantage point, beyond Bragg, several young women sang with delight, but I wondered if the protagonist's perspective -- the guy in the song -- was perhaps lost on them, when, in this era, the idea of being able to change the world has been relegated to unrealistic, while the concept of participating in a re-structuring of society has been set aside for immediate comforts. "I don't want to change the world. I'm not looking for a new England. I'm living with my folks, looking for a cell phone plan."
If it's possible to detect the difference between lower case and capital letters in aural communication, I got the impression people were singing "I'm not looking for New England" -- the region north of New York state or the white clam chowder as opposed to the Manhattan red. A place on a map and a bowl of soup are easy, tactile associations -- a new England is a more complex prospect to grapple with. Please pass the Rand McNally's and the Tabasco.
Or maybe it's that thing that happens when the sound of a song becomes synonymous with its purpose. Lyrics turn into agreeable noises to be chanted without connecting them to the words -- their actual, undeniable and important meaning. Seems to me that the song's purpose was to foist an average youth, circa 1983, into our awareness, to expose a vignette of apathy within the human condition -- not to celebrate the guy's decision to opt out in favor of finding a new girlfriend.
I like that she thinks about how a song is being received by the audience--how its meaning changes over time--and that she brings her own thinking about politics and art to her discussion of Billy Bragg's music.
In conclusion she writes:
We need new political songs to add to the ones that may become diluted by becoming popular. The friendlification factor has a way of putting intention and meaning on the back burner.
While I get what she means--the more popular a song becomes, the more a status quo interpretation of its meaning takes over to obliterate its intent--I wonder if there is a contradiction at work. If we do want to change the world, don't we want radical ideas to become popular? How should our music, art and cultural work address this complexity?