Magazine article New Internationalist

Heroes, Frauds and Trojan Tories

Magazine article New Internationalist

Heroes, Frauds and Trojan Tories

Article excerpt

If anyone ever tells you that music can't radicalize people, tell them to go buy some proper ears. Billy Bragg did it to me in my early teens, galvanizing my disparate beliefs and throwing in a few more on top.

Ten years on from the death of punk hero Joe Strummer, and 100 years since the birth of dust-bowl balladeer Woody Guthrie, it's worth remembering that protest music - at its best - mainlines into the heart and brain simultaneously. It can articulate the anger, passion, love and confusion we all feel better than anything else. At its worst, however, it's a trite, reductive, moralistic, cringeworthy dirge. Just because something is politically on message, doesn't mean it can't be utter shit.

But at least it's our utter shit. One of the great things about protest music is it belongs almost exclusively to the Left. If Guthrie had been a right-winger it just wouldn't have worked:

'This land is my land,

This land's not your land.

This land belongs

To me not you.'

When it comes to music, 'Left' used to equal credible. But this hasn't stopped the odd reactionary interloper trying to muscle in. Take Olympic ceremony opening act Frank Turner: a free-market libertarian who has hidden his politics and courted the likes of Billy Bragg and his fans in a merciless attempt to profiteer by flogging himself as a plastic protest singer to progressive audiences.

Worse still - worse even than the bloated, tax-dodging U2 -types - are the perennially lukewarm, proudly righton and cynically dishonest Coldplay. While lapping up the goodwill gained from endorsing Amnesty International, on New Year's Eve 2011 Coldplay pocketed a cool $1. …

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