Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Billy Bragg - Talking with the Taxman About Poetry

Billy Bragg – Talking with the Taxman About Poetry
Elektra, 1986
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
Price: $6

While awaiting my shift leader interview at the St. Paul HPB, I should have read finding a copy of Billy Bragg’s Talking with the Taxman About Poetry as a good omen. I can’t think of another album I’ve listened to more in 2012. It’s a crying shame that year end lists have to be made up of albums that actually came out during that year. If not, this would be at the top. Which always happens. A personal best-of transcending time. Or maybe a sort of music nerd’s Chinese Zodiac, where for me 2010 was the Year of the Lemonheads, 2011 the Year of the Lemonheads, and 2012 is the Year of Billy Bragg.

Something just clicked. I first heard Bragg’s music my first year on KJHK’s music staff. It was 2006 and it was a very good year. Music staff kind of cracked open the cage of my inner music snob, the one I kept locked away for fear no one would like me because I was mean or elitist or whatever. By that point, I didn’t care. I wanted to take in as much music as humanly possible and quite frankly, there is probably no better way to facilitate that than to work on a college radio station’s music staff. It’s where I met people like Nick Spacek and Nick Dormer and Sean Galloway and other fellow music nerds who made this sort of venture into the dark side of the recorded arts a real, true, honest and life-altering joy. The whole thing was a fantastic privelege, and somewhere in that first year Yep Roc Records reissued Billy Bragg’s back catalog and I reviewed a sampler that covered the first half of his discography. Up til that point, I’d just known Billy Bragg as that guy who wasn’t Wilco who did the Woody Guthrie Mermaid Avenue thing. And then I heard “A New England” and I feel like after that, I thought about everything differently. Some brand new thing was revealed, some life lesson taught, some transcendent moment that music nerds long for the way wine nerds scour the land for ancient vintages or comic book nerds track down an issue with the first appearance of Wolverine or Superman. The way a drug addict chases scrapes together enough money for that next fix. I’ve never been a drug addict, and have no desire to become one, so I can only pretend that instantly hearing a song, acknowledging that it is changing your life, and having a sort of orgasmic personal moment is just as good as smack.

And I got to have that feeling all over again when I listened to Talking with the Taxman About Poetry all the way through for the first time this summer. I’d just moved to Minneapolis and they had me doing CDs. I would spend any free time not on the register or at the buy counter in the basement, pounding through flats and flats of CDs in a strange daze. The thing that made the daze manageable was having music going in the background, and one day I saw Talking with the Taxman About Poetry sitting on top of a pile and put it in. And then I listened to it again. And then that was all I listened to for a week. And then I took it home and ripped it to my computer and burned it to a CD and it didn’t leave my car stereo for a month and now I’m here and a true believer. Sometimes you just stumble on music that speaks right to that black little shriveled up thing inside your chest that may or may not be your soul and a la the Grinch your heart grows three sizes. These days this is the record I push off onto anybody asking for a recommendation.

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