An Electric Evening With Billy Bragg

Saturday, I experienced the inspiring ecstasy of getting in to see Billy Bragg do a combination conversation/music show at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.

The host of the conversation was the amazing Barry Sanders, whom I had the privilege of meeting, chatting with, hugging, and thanking for his profoundly enlightening intellectual work.

Barry and Billy labored hard to get the remarkably stiff audience of art-school donors (NOT art students) to pick up on Billy’s amazing work and thought. I suspect it was an impossible task. Despite the fact that both the exchange of ideas and the music were truly electrifying, the audience, which included Woody Guthrie‘s old Portland taxi driver, mostly sat on its hands.

No matter. In a very intimate room, Billy played a fan’s dream setlist of songs (roughly 3/4 old classics and 1/4 gems from his wonderful new album) in his old-school solo-act/no-band style. Along with a dozen or so fellow ruffians in the seats, I yelled and whooped throughout the show. When (I suspect and hope as a small jab at the obviously privileged and too-polite audience) an encore included “There is Power in a Union,” I jumped up, sang along, and pumped my fist with abandon.

This I assure you: Billy Bragg remains what he has always been — a lifeline to sanity and (rational) faith in embattled humanity. He’s a former young Clash fan who’s become an “Old Clash Fan” who more than carries on the work of Strummer, Jones, Simonon, and Headon. He is also a very rare thing: a long-careered popular songwriter who gets even better over the years. He shows no signs of running out of energy or ideas.

Beyond Poseur Politics: An Open Letter to Adbusters

logo Adbusters is impressive in many ways. It has made some waves, and its founder and CEO Kalle Lasn has some smart things to say, such as calling advertising “brain damage” and “one of the most powerful cultural forces in the world.”

Many of Adbusters’ “spoof ads” have also been indisputably brilliant.

And, as reported in this week’s Advertising Age magazine, Adbusters has also pulled some clever pranks that underscore the purpose and workings of the commercial media. Whenever Adbusters tries to buy airtime on corporate TV for its “anti-consumption” ads, for example, it draws and then publicizes telling (if entirely predictable) replies such as this:

“Suck it up, it’s the real world,” an ABC executive is recorded angrily and loudly rejecting the pig spot a few years ago. “There’s no law that says we have to sell you time.” (Advertising Age, November 27, 2007)

100,000Finally, subscriptions to Adbusters have also now surpassed 100,000, a very substantial feat for a non-capitalist publishing effort.


Does all this mean that Adbusters is making progress toward its stated goal, which is “to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century”?

Alas, it definitely does not, and here are the major reasons why not:

Read moreBeyond Poseur Politics: An Open Letter to Adbusters

Pierre Tristam on the Economics of U.S. Survival

Pierre Tristam is my favorite newspaper journalist. He has a great piece on his blog. It explains how expensive life has become in our ultra-commodified, automobiles-ueber-alles, corporate capitalist society. [Note: Tristam’s numbers do not include the costs of paying credit card bills and other modes of servicing past cost-of-living deficits.]