Worker’s Playtime

May Day is a worker’s holiday, first established in the UK in 1978. In 1988 Billy Bragg gave us his most perfect song, Waiting For The Great Leap Forward, a song written from personal experience of an 80s vision of revolution, benefit gigs, fanzines, activism and t-shirts. Billy is a wordsmith but words can be easily missed if the music isn’t good enough. Thankfully Waiting… has a tune good enough to complement the lyrics. I could try to pick the bones out of the lyrics and give some analysis but they’re best presented as you hear them, as a rush of Billy’s thoughts, scribbled on the back of a beer mat…

‘It may have been Camelot for Jack and Jacqueline
But on the Che Guevara highway filling up with gasoline
Fidel Castro’s brother spies a rich lady who’s crying
Over luxury’s disappointment
So he walks over and he’s trying
To sympathize with her but he thinks that he should warn her
That the Third World is just around the corner

In the Soviet Union a scientist is blinded
By the resumption of nuclear testing and he is reminded
That Dr. Robert Oppenheimer’s optimism fell
At the first hurdle
In the Cheese Pavilion and the only noise I hear
Is the sound of someone stacking chairs
And mopping up spilt beer
And someone asking questions and basking in the light
Of the fifteen fame filled minutes of the fanzine writer
Mixing pop and politics he asks me what the use is
I offer him embarrassment and my usual excuses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where the van is waiting
I’m looking for the great leap forwards
Jumble sales are organised
And pamphlets have been posted
Even after closing time there’s still parties to be hosted
You can be active with the activists
Or sleep in with the sleepers
While you’re waiting for the great leap forwards
One leap forward, two leaps back
Will politics get me the sack?
Here comes the future and you can’t run from it
If you’ve got a blacklist I want to be on it
It’s a mighty long way down rock ‘n roll
From Top of the Pops to drawing the dole
If no one seems to understand
Start your own revolution and cut out the middleman
In a perfect world we’d all sing in tune
But this is reality so give me some room
So join the struggle while you may
The revolution is just a tee shirt away
Waiting for the great leap forwards’
Have a good bank holiday everyone.

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