Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Savage attack on Labour

Kiwi music legend Bill Direen is about to return to this country after one of his regular sojourns in Paris. In the 1980s Bill was one of the pioneers of the Flying Nun sound, along with acts like The Clean and Chris Knox. In the nineties and early noughties Bill spent most of his time abroad, but in recent years he has made a return to the stages of his native land. Last year he undertook a national tour with a new incarnation of his legendary band The Builders, and released a new album called Human Kindness, which the Sunday Star-Times called 'a rare gift' that 'makes the world a perceptibly better place'.

Bill is also a writer, and his 2006 novel Song of the Brakeman has attracted both acclaim and scorn from local literary critics. The New Zealand Review of Books criticised Brakeman for being too complex for New Zealanders to understand; by contrast, a reviewer for the venerable literary journal Landfall found the novel 'immensely entertaining'.

In an interview last year with the Dunedin student magazine Critic, Bill said that Song of the Brakeman was written partly as an attack on US foreign policy. The scenes of imprisonment and torture in the novel were, Bill said, inspired by reports from the US 'facility for illegal combatants' at Guantanamo Bay. Bill made another political statement when he and The Builders headlined a benefit gig for the victims of the police raids on pro-Tuhoe activists last year.

Next week Bill will mix music and politics once again, when he launches a new mini-album called Songs for Mickey Joe at the Alleluya Cafe on Auckland's Karangahape Road. The album looks back to the 1930s, and the popular movement that brought Michael Joseph Savage and New Zealand's first Labour government to power, in an effort to draw some lessons for present-day New Zealand. Songs for Mickey Joe is being issued by Powertool Records, and it will be unveiled alongside Enclosures, the new 'short novel in five parts' Bill is publishing with Titus Books. Bill will be reading from Enclosures and playing songs from his new album at the Alleluya. You can listen to one of the tracks off Songs for Mickey Joe and watch one of Bill's quirky 'stick videos' here.

Reading the Maps asked Bill about the message behind his new music...

What interests you about 'Mickey Joe' - Michael Joseph Savage - and the first Labour government?

I was born the year the second Labour government came to power. I grew up during twelve years of National rule. Until the fourth Labour Government, Labour represented a true alternative to selfish, blinkered, uncreative National. Until Labour gained REAL power, that is. The poet and playwright Alan Brunton approached me in 1990 with the idea of putting his words to music. His words would be based on the speeches of Michael Joseph Savage. The idea appealed. Where had Labour gone wrong?

I knew Alan already, and admired both his poetry and his theatrical activities. We were neighbours. I lived in Newtown and he in Island Bay. We both staged performances at the Newtown Community Centre in which our children took part. So I agreed. Alan asked only that the arrangements have the flavour of piano songs from the beginning of the century while capturing something of the aspect of political Messiah that many working people had for Savage. So it was Alan's idea. It was he who was drawn by Savage. However we had discussed with each other (and were shocked by) the steady erosion of the care-based State during the eighties by MPs elected on a Labour ticket.

Note that his play was called Comrade Savage. It was published after the first performances. When he gave me a bagful of lyrics the play had not taken on the 'final' published shape. My album is called Songs for Mickey Joe and not Songs from Comrade Savage because not all the songs I fashioned out of his lyrics were used in the final production. Performances of the play took place over several years using some of my recordings and some instrumental recordings or live work by Michelle Scullion as soundtracks. The lyrics of some of 'my' songs do not appear in the playscript.

Does Comrade Savage have a political message for us today? Should the Labour government of our day listen to it? Could it help them avoid electoral disaster later this year?

The release of this mini-album of songs highlighting the suffering of the unemployed and dispossessed of the 1930s can only help to bring about the end of the current Labour Government. Capitalism relies upon exploitation, and New Zealand society is becoming like a monster that is feeding upon itself, upon its own people.

A new party is needed, one that will provide a true alternative to Labour. People are tired of Labour and through boredom they are going to choose any of the right-wing alternatives. What we need is not a centrist Labour Party, we need a left alternative, so that democracy can really function. The people, especially those who are suffering, who have no hope, poor health care, and whose children are getting brainwashed with dodgy ideas from corporate-controlled television and internet sources have no alternative to Labour. Democracy is in danger.

What's it like recording an album of New Zealandocentric material in faraway Paris? Did the location help or hinder you?

I am a New Zealander. The New Zealand story is my story. My grandfather, a lino-typesetter after he returned from 3 and a half years in Western Europe fighting for NZ (World War 1) lost his job in the '30s. He worked on Savage relief schemes, such as quarrying stone and building breakwaters. My dad grew up in extreme poverty. I had a privileged childhood thanks to his success in life, but the last thirty years I've been on the bones of my bum (like most other musicians and artists who do not make marketable product). I know a wee bit about the tough side of life.

If anyone is interested in Savage, they should buy this mini-album. If they are are interested in Alan Brunton, get hold of his Bumper publications and other poetry. If they are interested in my philosophy I suggest they get hold of my new book Enclosures and take a look at the music-video of the song 'Fewer than Few', on You Tube. That song does have my own lyrics. I am a bit pessimistic these days, but that doesn't mean the fight is lost.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Y R U censoring me???

It's true about sellout pro-Labour musicians.

They = the enemy.

U R out of line.

5:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is a lot of evidence that Obama is really just a single man (or maybe partnered with Michelle) Al Qaeda sleeper cell who was instructed to take over the White House and America from inside and turn it Muslum!

I have seen some evidence that suggested that Obama had a special "timer" setup by Osama bin Ladin to trigger Obama into action. The suggestion was that the trigger was "Once McCain says 'my friends...' 1000 times on CNN begin your mission" and I happen to have gone back and checked and it all matches up. Just 5 days before Obama announced McCain went on CNN and said "My friends, there is no doubt that we will be out of Iraq within 6 months" and that was his 1000th time saying "my friends". I think that is more than a coincidence.

8:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lately I have been wondering, "Am I the only one who thinks John McCain and Jesus have a TON in common?" I am glad to see that many others agree with me that McCain and Jesus are nearly 1 in the same.

Georgia Republican Party chairwoman Sue Everhart said Saturday that the party's presumed presidential nominee has a lot in common with Jesus Christ.

"John McCain is kind of like Jesus Christ on the cross," Everhart said as she began the second day of the state GOP convention. "He never denounced God, either."

Everhart was praising McCain for never denouncing the United States while he was being tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

8:14 pm  
Blogger علي معظمي said...

Hi
I am not a regular reader of this blog, but recently searching about E. P. Thompson led me to your posts on him. I really enjoyed them and I got more glad when through those posts found that you (maps) have been writing your PhD thesis on him.
I wanted to know more about your dissertation and know how i can provide it. Excuse me because the comment is irrelevant to your post (do feel free deleting); but I was not able to find your email to contact more directly.
It would be very kind of you if you can reply me (my email is available from the profile).
Best Regards, Ali

10:31 am  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Interesting connecting Savage, Bill Direen and Brunton! Strange how he lived near to Brunton.
Brunton was one of NZ's most important writers of his generation.

The savage "Savage" question - liberal bourgeois Labour v Right Wing v National (pro farmers and big business altho labour gave only lip service to socialism - we got as better deal from Savage perhaps than the Russians got from Lenin) is problematic [ALL versus some (distant?) (pipe dream?) (Utopian?) revolution] but certainly the special rights afforded to workers and others were very helpful to my parents when we were growing up (although we were not poor at all - partly as my father had been able to get a University education and thus a good job but he was able to buy state house outright (or with a small mortgage that was soon paid off) - paradoxically (paradoxically?) under National): from conditions - the basis of the ideas of which (the Welfare State -whihc within limits was very good - Bil is right it has been eroded especially by Lange's very right wing Government (except from some superficial moves against nuclear warships etc) and with help of Rogernomics)) derived from such as W B Sutch (accused of spying) ) and many who were less fortunate.

As far as Labour politicians go Clark is one of the best we have had - but -it would be interesting to get her to comment on Bill's stance. Bill's song is good...Brunton was very inventive and Bill sings it just right for me.

3:11 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

anonymous - you don't have to worry -I saw Osama Bin Laden on TV (he was hiding in a holeo in Kentucky of all places!!) eating a McDonald's and some of the Colonel's chicken, and he was also reading Penthouse and so on...

He was so emaciated (he was pretty out of it also BTW) from his diet of Coca Cola and so on they (US Special Green Beret crack forces who discovered his lair) put him into a hotel in Dubai so he could live out his life eating takeaways and watching videos of (porn and explosions perhaps?) etc

Barrack Obama is of course plotting to take over the US... you are on the button - HE is the man to watch -very very evil he is...

Rather a dark complexion he has also which worries me a bit but may not be of concern at this stage...

He can (at any time) have a shower and there are special things he can use on his skin ...other than that that we are at an exciting turn in US and world history!! I share this enthusiasm with such as Mugabe, Dr Phil, and David Letterman (a great fan I am of him)...

3:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous and Richard Taylor you are both wrong.

It should be completely obvious that it is McCAIN who is a sleeper: we all know he was captured by communists, held captive, tortured and brainwashed until he broke. He has been reprogrammed to become a successful politician who is also an enemy agent and he has microchips implanted in his cheeks. You heard it here:

MCCAIN IS THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

3:31 pm  
Blogger Simon said...

Hey man, can you give me a call asap on 021 922 551 or 09 817 9222. I want to reprint one of your articles in the NDU union express. (Bastion Point article). Sorry for posting this here, don't have your email!

11:30 am  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Yes - McCain - He is (was) the man!!!

5:06 pm  

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