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SXSW Interview: Billy Bragg

Austin Convention Center, Friday, March 17

Longtime fascist-fighter and sometime Woody Guthrie disciple Billy Bragg proved in a jocular interview with journalist Rick Karr that he doesn't need a guitar to act the provocateur. Indeed, the veteran British showman, who's celebrating the reissue of his career-making early discs, recently turned his energy to book writing. Tentatively titled The Progressive Patriot, his tome will trace the history of radical politics in England (what else?) stretching back to the birth of punk, if not before, while exploring solutions to globalization's political malaise. "People say, 'Why are you writing a book?'" Bragg said, comparing the writing process to climbing a mountain. "And I say if I could write a fucking song about it, I would." Clearly, the effort has energized Bragg, and if his talk was any indication, Patriot should be one heckuva read. During the interview, Bragg discussed his love for Bob Dylan (he traded a Jackson 5 album for his first Dylan at age of 14), how the Notting Hill riots in the late Seventies politicized the Clash and gave rise to Rock Against Racism, and the feeling he had on stage in Belfast when Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990. "I was adrenalized enough to beat Mike Tyson in the first round," Bragg crowed. For the most part, however, Bragg stayed true to his roots and avoided piety. "Only the audience is capable of changing the world," he said. "I'm just a guy with a guitar and PA." And sometimes, it appears, not even that.

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