August 4, 2012
I started on the left. And Wayne Swan’s account of pop music influencing his political and economic views struck a responsive chord, as it were.
Me, I am not a Springsteen fan, but coming from Liverpool in England, and a little older than Wayne, I was quite fond of the Beatles and John Lennon in particular. I remember being struck by Lennon’s intense performance of Twist and Shout. For those of you who forget; the song started with the lyrics: “Well, shake it up baby now, shake it up baby, twist and shout”.
This song had no overt political or economic connotations. It was all about a baby shaking, twisting, and shouting. On the other hand, we can’t rule out the possibility that it was a working class baby in distress for the want of milk. The baby’s mother might have been out begging for food to supplement the meagre rations that the rich and mean-minded pit boss doled out to her miner husband. Personally, I think that may be stretching a point, but who knows?
We need to go to Working Class Hero for an unambiguous political message from Lennon.
As soon as you’re born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all, till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all.
Now I am not exactly sure what the complaint is here. Again though, it may be that the working class parents have to work so hard to put food on the table that they are unable to give adequate attention to their baby? The song becomes clearer as it goes along; though not initially by much.
They hurt you at home and they hit you at school, they hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool, till you’re so crazy you can’t follow their rules.
There is clearly a lot of physical and mental abuse going on directed at working class children. Not only at school but parents also seem to be complicit. We can only imagine that deprivation causes them to lose their tempers with their kids.
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV, and you think you’re so clever and classless and free, but you’re still peasants as far as I can see.
At last the message is clear. The powers that be – the lords of the manors as it were - are keeping the working class in a subservient position by using the opiates of religion, sex and TV. This completely resonated with me at the time; particularly the sex part. This was an unrequited preoccupation of mine which plainly subdued my revolutionary tendencies.
There’s room at the top they are telling you still, but first you must learn how to smile as you kill, if you want to be like the folks on the hill.
This is rapacious capitalism unmasked by magical Lennon poetry; it could be Springsteen. It led me to despise the rich and successful. The smiling assassins in their big houses and big cars; and yet, and yet, I had to subdue that envious lust to be like them and aspire to having what they had. How the heck to square that away with being a working class hero?
In the end I couldn’t hold the faith. I succumbed to the lure of capitalism. It was common sense that did it. The older I got the more common sense I got, and the more I appreciated that most of our progress and prosperity, and rising working class wages, was down to rapacious capitalism.
In some ways I admire Wayne Swan and all those on the left. They have stuck to the faith. Not for them the salutary impact of common sense. Their political and economic philosophy is shaped still by pop songs. They are swayed by callow, idealistic, youths penning lyrics around a repetitive melody, while possibly imbibing mind-altering substances. Wayne reminds us all of our youth; and is to be commended for that at least.
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray