Tuesday 30 June 2015

Politicans can't get the musical melody

More noise from empty vessels

Written after the UKIP calypso fiasco, but they're not the first to get it badly wrong

One of the odder moments in European politics happened last week when UKIP issued a song – a calypso no less – to raise funds. It is performed by one of the few former radio disc jockeys in the UK not currently residing in the sexual offenders unit of their local nick.

It is a truly dreadful song, released on the same day that UKIP resurrected their group thanks to a deal with a party led by a man who believes in beating up women, but not the holocaust. This deal was done so they could get their hands on millions of euros of taxpayers’ money, exactly the sort of thing they campaign against most vocally.

The sound, one hesitates to use a word like tune, shows that politics and music rarely mix well. For every Bob Dylan there’s a Boy ‘War is stupid and people are stupid’ George, who can bring things down to Russell Brand levels.

There’s also the fake protest, where U2’s earnest cry for peace ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is about not wanting to go to church, rather than exploiting one of the most tragic incidents for monetary gain. But that’s Us for you, the Starbucks of protest.

The problem is that, well, people don’t listen to the lyrics that often. John Lennon’s Imagine was taken up after 9/11, and quickly dropped. People objected to the line ‘Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too’ which, given the motivation of the hijackers, may have a relevance.

Another example is the Republicans love of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. The boss is having the last laugh, if you watch the flag waving video and listen to the lyrics, a sad snapshot of a veteran’s experiences after coming home from war, then you understand why so many over there have trouble recognising irony.

But America gave us the best political songs, coming from the worst of circumstances. Billy Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ is as disturbing today as ever, yet Holiday’s humanity makes it just barely tolerable to listen to. It was written by a white, Jewish school teacher from New York, who had been pushed over the edge by a photograph of a lynching.

Sometimes a song can change attitudes. Tom Robinson’s Glad To Be Gay did just that and was a brave and challenging move in 1978, when public figures were referring to HIV as a divine punishment and some police forces were prosecuting homosexuals with a vigour that appeared to grow from self-repression and loathing.

There was courage and anger too from Elvis Costello, who wrote ‘Shipbuilding’ about the Falklands War, which also reserves recognition for Robert Wyatt’s version, which Costello prefers.

But perhaps the finest such song is both radical and establishment. If the dreary God Save the Queen ever stops being the anthem – and maybe that will be Camilla’s contribution to public life – it must surely be Jerusalem, the metaphorical city to be built, one of light and justice.

With lyrics from William Blake, it’s hard to beat and certainly the EU anthem is as stodgy, dated and obscure as Commissioners, but isn’t it time to ditch ‘Ode to Joy’?

If you don’t think so, go and find the lyrics. Yes there are some, otherwise we’d be left with just the soundtrack to one of Clockwork Orange’s more awful moments as the sonic representation of a continent.

If Blake’s not good enough, then let’s be led by the verbal dexterity and wisdom of that fine trans-European, Plastic Bertrand.

Ca Plane Pour Moi Jean-Claude!

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