Stood at the traffic lights halfways-down Kingsway of an afternoon, marvelling some at the lass to my right with the tendrils of sunlight all lolling about the frames of her glasses, noting also the headline on the Evening Standard held under the arm of a fella to my left (“London shook by quake!”, and me wondering how come I never felt anything? How good was that fucking flick, anyhow, that not even the ripplin’ of the very earth beneath me could slacken the grip those images held?), when all a damn sudden a thought regarding my recent encounter with Billy Bragg comes shootin’ up my spine, blustering along my neck, exploding at the base of my skull in a cacophonous squall of recollection and revelation.
What occurs to me is that, by shaking Billy Bragg’s hand, I was in some way wrenching him from out the firmament, shearing him - albeit only for a fraction of a second - of those wings that over the years I’ve been drawing out the skin of his back, an inch further with every fresh encounter with that flugelhorn in The Saturday Boy or that line in St Swithin’s Day about “With my own hand / when I make love to your memory”, or those harmonies in You Woke Up My Neighbourhood or that stunning bluegrass rendition of There Is Power In A Union on the second disc of the re-mastered Internationale or those thunder and lightening clangs and crashes in the middle of The World Turned Upside Down or the Hammond organ tremors in A Lover Sings or the line in that self same song about “Sittin’ in the park / kissing on the carpet / and your tights around your ankles…”… Those wings, yes, festooned with sapphire and ruby and emerald - in the shaking of Billy Bragg’s hand I was momentarily plucking those wings from off of him anew, and so he stood there as a man, and I also, at least officially, stood as a man alongside.
What it amounts to, I get to thinking, is an attempt to bring the Ideal onto my turf in the hopes of being someway carried onto his turf in return.
Maybe more - Maybe in bringing Billy Bragg down from the heavens for a moment what a fella is doing is hoping that, in some way, at some level, an allegiance has been formed. The Songwriter takes hold the extended hand of the writer of songs and thereby forges a connection - yes, a bind, by Christ, a union, and there is power in a union, remember.
Shaking Billy Bragg’s hand is reminding a fella that Billy Bragg is as the fella himself when it comes down to it. If an ant or a sparrow or a tiger were to gaze upon the scene, what they would see would be two humans, one of whom has great hair and is impeccably dressed whilst the other looks like he’s been shafted in the gums by an antelope and obviously fell asleep whilst trying to bleach his head, but two humans, nonetheless. One is as the other, so far as they’re concerned.
Shaking Billy Bragg’s hand a fella is vicariously charged with a sense of Braggness. Shaking Billy Bragg’s hand becomes as the act of reading Proust in public, the idea being that folks will obviously equate reader with text, and from a distance might not even be able to tell the difference.
Shaking Billy Bragg’s hand, the writer of The Myth Of Trust and A New England shaking the paw of the fella who wrote some songs you never heard of about a lass you never knew - what it represents is the attempt of the latter to assimilate the former, to bring Billy Bragg into his realm at the same time as he slides the heel of a boot into Billy Bragg’s.
These things thus thought, I waited for the green man to appear and footered for a time with the hood of my coat, caught as it was round the strap of my bag, thinking also of a song I heard a lass sing a few 9 P.M’s ago, song about a fella with ale on his breath that she didn’t much feel like kissing.