I discovered Billy Bragg this year. I still don't quite understand how I had missed him. So much outrage; so little time...
Anyway, back in 1988 Bragg released Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards.
The Great Leap refers to a period of rapid cultural change and advancement in the course of human evolution—sort of like the monolith-to-bones-to-weapons moment from the Arthur C. Clarke novel and Stanely Kubric film, 2001: A Space Oddity. And back in 1988, Billy Bragg was waiting for it (lyrics):
It may have been Camelot for Jack and Jacqueline
But on the Che Guevara highway filling up with gasoline
Fidel Castro's brother spies a rich lady who's crying
Over luxury's disappointment
So he walks over and he's trying
To sympathise with her
But he thinks that he should warn her
That the third world is just around the corner
In the Soviet Union a scientist is blinded
By the resumption of nuclear testing and he is reminded
That Dr. Robert Oppenheimer's optimism fell
At the first hurdle
In the cheese pavilion, and the only noise I hear
Is the sound of someone stacking chairs
And mopping up spilt beer
And someone asking questions and basking in the light
Of the fifteen fame filled minutes of the fanzine writer
Mixing pop and politics, he asks me what the use is
I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where the van is waiting
I'm looking for the great leap forwards
Jumble sales are organised
And pamphlets have been posted
Even after closing time there's still parties to be hosted
You can be active with the activists
Or sleep in with the sleepers
While youre waiting for the great leap forwards
One leap forward, two leaps back
Will politics get me the sack?
Here comes the future and you can't run from it
If you've got a blacklist, I want to be on it
It's a mighty long way down rock n roll
From top of the pops to drawing the dole
If no one seems to understand
Start your own revolution and cut out the middleman
In a perfect world we'd all sing in tune
But this is reality, so give me some room
So join the struggle while you may
The revolution is just a t-shirt away
Waiting for the great leap forwards
(Bragg's TV debut on Letterman, 1988)
But times have changed, and so have the lyrics. Rumsfeld makes it in by name, as does YouTube. Great statement about patriots after the performance, also.
This is a song that makes me happy and sad at the same time. It laments being stuck in failed policies, stuck in a political quagmire, stuck somewhere in the course of human evolution, waiting. It also revels in hope for the future and the possibility of tomorrow. It delights in the struggle; it frolics in progressive optimism while wading through the muck of the morass of the moment. I choose to have hope, otherwise there is no reason to work for or expect a better world.
It's somehow fitting that Bush, who doesn't believe in evolution, is content "staying the course", and wouldn't recognize the Great Leap if it crept up on him from behind.
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