Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Day 34: Bragging Writes

Well here comes the future
and you can’t run from it
if you’ve got a blacklist
I wanna be on it.

One man and a guitar; many believe, an angry man? I don’t think so. If I have a regret, and believe me I try not to entertain them, one might be that I didn’t see Billy Bragg in his prime: circa: the late ’70’s, when he was singing from the same hymn sheet that I (and two fellow-travellers of my youth) subscribed to in our church of social dissent (Billy wouldn’t care much for that little quip of’s a bit fancy-schmancy, possibly even contrived).

I love you.
I am the milkman of human kindness,
I will leave an extra pint...

Crass, double entendre of the Are You Being Served variety, possibly, but I don’t think so. Billy Bragg is a great lyricist and not everyone’s cup of tea. He truly is a poet, with a heart and mind in the right places. I’m listening to the Bill’ster whilst writing this and waiting for my baked beans to heat up (don’t tell me that I’ve lost touch with my idealistic younger years and forgotten those whose drum I marched to?!).

I loved you then as I love you still,
though I put you on a pedestal,
they put you on the pill.

“Pithy” is a word that I use, often. Billy Bragg is pithy, even his name is to-the-point. There’s no fat in his words, no wastage, no jetsam...just the kernel and cogency.

I don’t want to change the world,
I’m not looking for a new England,
I’m just looking for another girl...

Kirsty MacColl had a top ten hit with New England (penned by Billy Bragg) back in 1985. For the record (shocking pun), Kirsty MacColl also dueted with with Shane Macgowan on the Pogue’s sublime Christmas tune The Fairytale of New York. Four years later and Bill had a #1 hit of his own in the UK with his melancholy, barrow-boy version of Lennon & McCartney’s She’s Leaving Home; for me, popularity is no measure of anything other than popularity. In comparison, the strident, Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards only made it to #52. As I’m oft want to say: “If you think that the Academy Awards are about talent then you think that elections are about politics.”

I saw two shooting stars last night,
I wished on them, but they were only satellites.
It’s wrong to wish on space hardware,
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care

It’s famously anecdotal now, and perhaps a tad well-worn, but when Australia’s ex-prime minister, John Howard, was asked what it was that he liked about Bob Dylan, he said “his music”. I don’t need to explain that statement do I. Somehow, I don’t think that the conservative (with a political ‘C’) John Howard would have cared for my mate “Billy the Red”. I don’t think he would have liked him much at all and my guess is that the affection would have been mutual.

I kept the faith and I kept voting,
not for the iron fist but for the helping hand,
for theirs is a land with a wall around it
and mine is a faith in my fellow man

Day #34 Tip: Talk Is Cheap
I’m probably going to get this all wrong, but the anecdote goes something like this:

Warren Beatty (the Director) was holed up in some swanky London hotel, possibly The Dorchester, with British playwright Trevor Griffiths, working and reworking the screenplay for Reds (Beatty’s epic and labour of love about the Russian Revolution [I think he was a producer]). The writer (Griffiths) has been quoted as saying that the atmosphere around him and Beatty in that room, was “poisonous...foul-mouthed on both sides”. There is a scene, near the end of the script, where the White Army, counter-revolutionaries, attack the train. According to an article in Vanity Fair, by Peter Biskind, Griffiths complained about the scene, telling Beatty that what was important was the argument that took place on the train (between two of the lead characters) not the attack. Here’s what the film-seasoned Beatty said:

“Listen. One thing you have to learn: in a movie, one bullet is worth a thousand words.”

That piece of pith is taped right at the top of my qwerty keyboard on this laptop and one of my daily prayers, to the writing Gods, is that I never forget it, lest I get all flowery, magniloquent and highfalutin. Don’t get me wrong, words are the very tools of my trade, but I have to study the craftsmen who’s work I admire, to learn how to use those tools well.

“Don’t give me a scene about men discussing how they are going to attack the castle, show me the men attacking the f**king castle!” I can’t remember who said that one, but it’s a cracker. Show don’t tell, show don’t tell, show don’t tell.

I could write pages, nay reams, offering up a character who says he’s gonna do this, threatens to do that, claims this, declaims that, then proposes and suggests all manner of things. The only character insight the audience might get, is that he’s a windbag and full of bluster.

There are, of course, films that disprove my point, where plenty of yacking is done and then some: Twelve Angry Men is a fine exception to this ‘rule of thumb’; but d’you know what? Director, Sydney Lumet, said that film was actually about “listening”.

Action reveals character. Words mean very little, however, I’ll make an exception in Billy Bragg’s case (and one or two other writers).

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