Coming home from the studio yesterday, I caught the end of Democracy Now! on the radio, where Amy Goodman was talking to Billy Bragg. They discussed many different and interesting things, but one exchange struck me particularly:
AMY GOODMAN: But this is David Rovics’ other question. "You were on the ground floor of the punk rock scene that was sweeping much of the world in the late ’70s, early ’80s. What impact did the early punk scene have on society culturally and politically?"
BILLY BRAGG: Well, the thing that it did was it—the great thing about punk was it was DIY. You know, the year before punk rock broke, I went to see The Rolling Stones at Earls Court, in a massive stadium, some of the first stadium gigs in the U.K. The distance, culturally, for me, in row Z, and Mick Jagger, I had absolutely no concept of how I would ever get from here to there.
Within a year, I had been to see The Jam. The Jam were my age. They looked like me. They had the same guitar as me. They had the same attitude as me. And suddenly a light went on in my head. How do you do it? Well, you just do it. You don’t wait to be asked. You don’t have to be a brilliant musician. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest singer. You know, I’m not technically a great guitar player, as your viewers would have already worked out, nor, you know, do I have a fabulous singing voice. But I have an idea. And that is all the justification you need to stand up on this table and sing as loud and as out of tune as you want. I mean, Woody Guthrie did that. I do that. And that’s what punk was all about. It was in your face. It was all about attitude. It wasn’t a haircut. It wasn’t a pair of bondage trousers. It wasn’t a ripped T-shirt. It was about, this is what I’ve got to say, and you better listen, because I’m not going to go away until you’ve heard it.
Bragg’s response to seeing the Stones playing a stadium show is similar to the response that I have when going to a museum and seeing contemporary “museum” art—it’s big & expensive & spectacular & seems to come from a world totally different from the one that I (and my peers) inhabit.
At this past College Book Art Association conference Ann Hamilton was the keynote speaker. She talked about her work, naturally. Her work, both big and small. Ann Hamilton is a very intelligent person (& she seems really nice too) and we have many interests in common, but I am definitely most intrigued by the simple, elegant videos that she makes with a tiny camera sitting at her kitchen table:
& the pictures that she takes with her mouth:
There is something to be said for work that one can make at home or with a relatively simple studio, without an enormous grant and an army of assistants. & I think I will be writing some of those things to be said on this blog this week. TO BE CONTINUED!