by John Zonn
As Ralph Waldo Emerson – the great American Individualist and Transcendentalist – once said: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better”. And so, the new Zonn mini-album “Songs Of Truth And Freedom” started off, as many experiments do, with the inventor watching the world around and perceiving that something needed to be done. This approach, coupled with my fondness for re-writing old tunes, led to the interpretation of a 1980s new-socialist stalwart into a novel anthem for the 2020s.
Listen to the song while reading the text.
Billy Bragg – as far as I recall – used to stand for human rights. So, to hear that he was now echoing (albeit in a more contemporary way) the Nazi WW2 imperatives of “Papiere bitte!” at his current set of gigs, left me dumbfounded. Had this (once) “man of the people” decided to change his tune? Or had he been ordered to do so? Either way, he was apparently demanding that only those with a “vaccine” passport could enter the venues he was booked to perform at.
A woman associate of mine had re-written the lyrics to one of his songs (O Freedom) and was to form part of a demonstration where this new version was to be sung outside one of Bragg’s “neo-fascist” outings… while his audience queued to show their “digital (smartphone) Papier”.
Inspired by the action of said woman, I decided to re-write another of Bragg’s numbers – one for which he is very well-known: A New England. I kept in as many elements from the original song as possible; you can hear these in the Zonn version.
I researched Bragg’s initial ditty and its development into his gift of a third verse to (the late) Kirsty MacColl, for her rendering of the same song. In my interpretation of the third verse, I imagined how she would now react to Bragg’s right-wing stance as a proponent of a “new normal” and his (selfish?) belief that he would only be safe when his audience was “vaxed”.
My “Kirsty” attended “A Stand In The Park”, at which “awake” people meet up every Sunday in various parks all over the world; the people there helped Kirsty feel less scared. The Kirsty whom I characterised also browsed posts on alternative media channels, via the digital communications platform, Telegram. In this way, she discovered a less mainstream version of events, compared to that which is propagandised by many TV and other legacy media outlets.
Kirsty admitted that she still didn’t want to catch a cold, though as well as this she was not looking for a new normal and that she felt vaccine passports should be scrapped. She also asked whether people now felt free when they’ve been “vaccinated”? This sentiment repeats through until the end of the song – where Billy suddenly chimes back in stating that he is “relaxed, now you are vaxed!”.
And in case you were wondering… at the start of the song there is an allusion to Bragg’s Essex upbringing, with a purposeful reference to East London’s fruit and veg markets of old, characterised by the tune “Yes! We Have No Bananas”.
Billy Bragg, protest, Covid, vaccine passports, poetry