Friday, November 07, 2003

Drivel du jour

Here's my latest from today's Isthmus:

Rock the system
Billy Bragg takes on the powers that be on the Tell Us the Truth Tour

Billy Bragg wishes he could be home to protest when President Bush pays a state visit to Great Britain the week after next. "The balls of the man to come here!" says Bragg on the phone from London. "Sadly, I'll be in America, but I'll be able to watch it from your side."

The folk-punk singer, he of the celebrated pique, arrives as part of the Tell Us the Truth Tour, and he thinks the worst dissembling these days comes from the White House. "The Tell Us the Truth Tour is trying to make a point of explaining why it is that 70% of Americans think that Saddam Hussein was responsible for Sept. 11," says Bragg.

The tour kicks off at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7, at the Orpheum Theatre, and joining Bragg there are the Chambers Brothers' Lester Chambers and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, who performs as the Nightwatchman. The Madison concert is part of the National Conference on Media Reform, whose organizers aim to challenge an increasingly monolithic American media. Says Bragg, "We feel that the lack of a diversity of views in the media � consolidation, particularly in the radio industry in the last few years, since the FCC changed the rules of media ownership � has led to a monopolization of views." The tour is scheduled to hit 13 cities and ends Nov. 24 in Washington, D.C.

Steve Earle joins the tour Nov. 16 in Atlanta, and Nov. 19 brings the musicians to Miami, where trade ministers are gathering to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Globalization also angers Bragg, and he thinks it's linked to media consolidation. "The free-market agenda is the consolidation agenda," he says. "What globalization means is the breaking down of rights."

Although lately Bragg has played with bands like Wilco, he made his name singing with only his electric guitar as accompaniment. That's what he'll be doing at the Orpheum, and Morello and Chambers also will play solo. "There'll be songs, there'll be comments, there'll be a bit of tabling," says Bragg. "If you want to participate in politics, that'll be there. If you want to have a beer and sing along, that'll be there, too."

Bragg is excited to tour with Chambers, who with the Chambers Brothers charted 1960s hits like "Time Has Come Today." Asked about Chambers, Bragg croons a few bars of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," which the Chambers Brothers famously recorded, and adds, "I picked up my politics and my worldview from the American civil rights movement, and the work the Chambers Brothers did in that area puts me in deep respect of Lester and what he's done."

The Tell Us the Truth Tour organizers approached Bragg after he had already planned a U.S. tour. "Someone said we could link this [Madison conference] up with the FTAA meeting in Miami and make an activist tour," he says. "I'm always up for a bit of that. I'm Billy Bragg" (24).

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