260. mixing pop and politics

Mixing pop and politics
he asks me what the use is.
I offer him embarrassment
and my usual excuses

Quote taken from Billy Bragg’s great song, “Waiting For the Great Leap Forward.”

I’ve been a fan of Bragg’s music since the early nineties. He writes the most amazing love songs with lines like these:

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care


If you want to talk about it
you know where the phone is
Don’t come ’round reminding me again
how brittle bone is


I love you
I am the milkman of human kindness
I will leave an extra pint

It’s lines like that that first got me listening to his music. But I quickly discovered that he has a very strong, very leftist, political streak to his music as well.

So you bought it all, the best your money could buy
And I watched you sell your soul for their bright shining lie
Where are the principles of the friend I thought I knew
I guess you let them fade from red to blue

In my last post I wrote about how I want to get more intentional about my writing (fiction). And though I didn’t share it in that post, I’ve always wondered what part my writing plays in the grand scheme of the Kingdom of God.

And I think I have a clue.

A few weeks ago on my pastor’s blog he put up an entry about Burma. Then earlier this week I saw a report on the situation in Burma on the Frontline World website.

That’s when it hit me. Like Bragg, I can intermingle pop and politics, lighter stories about love and life mixed with weightier stories about injustices in the world.

One of my favorite writers comes to mind, the incomparable T. Coraghessan Boyle. His short stories cover a wide range of topics and that tells me that it’s more than possible for me to aim wide and to be generous in scope.

There is a danger though. Some of the worst writing emerges when one tries to drape fiction over an agenda. What results is often a clunky, tedious narrative weighed down by its own ideology.

In fiction, the story always comes first. It’s been my experience that every time I’ve started a story thinking I knew where it was going to end up, one of two things would happen. Either I make the story go where I want and it ends up being a worthless rant or I follow the story where it leads and in the best of cases, I end up somewhere I never would have come up with on my own.

One last bit about writing.

I used to think that writing was like a bird who finds a worm sticking its head out of the ground. The bird has to swoop down quickly before the worm can duck his head back into the mud and once it has him in its beak, it has to pull until either it or the worm is spent. What I mean is, I thought writing was a matter of finding inspiration and then tugging on it until I get the whole worm (story) out or I get too tired to continue writing.

I have a new metaphor for the writing process. It’s like fishing on the lake of the collective unconscious. You cast out your line and you troll the waters, hoping to land a big one. Sometimes you’ll come up empty, but the only way to be there for the big bite is to keep casting that lure out there. In this way, writing is a discipline. The ideas are out there under the water and the only way to fish them out is to be out there every day, luring them out and fighting like mad to land the sucker once inspiration does strike.

I gues I’ve gone from being a bird to being a fisherman. That’s progress, no?


One thought on “260. mixing pop and politics

  1. In case you hadn’t heard, Anne Lamott just released a new collection of essays titled Grace (eventually). Read it over the past week and really enjoyed it. Thought you’d want to know it was out there (and you can get it pretty cheap at Borders, I think).

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