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Billy Bragg: ‘The challenge is to overcome cynicism’

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Folk-rock great Billy Bragg plays two Bay Area dates this weekend. (Courtesy Jacob Blickenstaff)
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In 2011, British folksinger-political activist Billy Bragg issued a standalone anthem, “Never Buy the Sun,” his response to the celebrity-phone-hacking scandal centered on Rupert Murdoch’s UK tabloid The Sun. He’s continued on a single-release course with the new anti-Trump track, “Why We Build the Wall,” and three more heated numbers coming before Christmas. “With topical songs, you have to get them out there,” he says. “There’s no point in waiting until your next album, because music doesn’t play that vanguard role in youth culture anymore.”

How do you view these insane times we’re living through?

People want change, and everything that was introduced by Reagan and Thatcher has been incredibly divisive, and it’s not delivering for the majority of people. And unfortunately, for all of her positives, Hillary Clinton was not a change candidate. She offered more of the same. And Britain remaining in the European Union is not a change, either. If people are not offered change that makes a difference to their lives and their communities, they will willfully vote for chaos, which is what Trump and Brexit represent.

Meanwhile, one American party repeatedly denies climate change as hurricanes simultaneously destroy entire islands. It’s stupefying.

Yeah. The evidence is all there. And the same thing is happening in the UK, as well. The rains are getting heavier, the tides are getting bigger. And the thing that the right most complains about — immigration — is only going to be exacerbated by climate change. When people can no longer live in one particular coastal place, they’ve got to go somewhere. In Europe, in the high Alps, the snow is melting to such an extent, the bodies of people who disappeared 75 years ago are suddenly reappearing. But at least California is doing something about it. And for all the ridiculousness of Trump and his tweets, there’s very little executive power behind those statements.

Are there any honest, incorruptible men left in the world?

Listen, man – the enemy of all of us who want to make the world a better place is not capitalism or conservatism. It’s cynicism. Fox News wants you to believe that no one gives a s— about this stuff, that nothing will ever change and that you’re wasting your time. So the challenge for all of us is to overcome our own cynicism, because if we can’t see the glass as half full, how can we affect change? My job as a musician is to bring people together in one room, for one night, and by singing songs like “There is Power in a Union,” allow them to believe that.

IF YOU GO
Billy Bragg
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 8
Tickets: $41 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.eventbrite.com
Note: Bragg also plays at 2:35 p.m. Friday on the Banjo Stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park.

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