Got a Woody

With Mermaid Avenue, Billy Bragg and Wilco turn a myth into a man

"I felt William Bloke was an album where I was trying to work out what a 40-year-old Billy Bragg who's a parent sounds like," he says now. "I'm coming to the conclusion as I get older that I'm not a political songwriter at all. I'm an honest songwriter. It's just that the honesty I bring to my songs about relationships cannot just end at the bedroom door. It's got to come out into the world with me, and when it comes out into the world, it starts to talk about the things it sees in the world. I'm not a political songwriter. I'm an honest songwriter, and so was Woody."

There are hundreds upon hundreds of Guthrie's political songs left to be discovered and recorded in the archives (a second volume of Mermaid Avenue sits completed, awaiting release), and Bragg could well have chosen to make a record consisting purely of them. A decade ago, he probably would have. But Bragg has grown considerably since his younger days singing "Nicaragua Nicaraguita" and "The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions" or "Like Soldiers Do." He still shouts "Smash fascism!" from the stage, but now, on occasion, he will whisper it as well.

"I put down some markers with William Bloke, but I didn't define myself," Bragg says. "Now, having Mermaid Avenue and these possibilities, I still feel when I come to define myself, I'll still be taken as much from Mermaid Avenue as I am from William Bloke. It's a good time to be thinking about taking on possibilities without getting too hooked up on being Billy Bragg. I don't have to be Billy Bragg anymore." Now, for the time being, he can be Woody Guthrie.

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