A little while ago my favourite radio station BBC 6music regularly played tracks by American ‘Anti-Folk’ singer Jeffrey Lewis. I like his style- witty, intelligent, satirical, left of centre and just generally pleasant to listen to.
From telling great stories as in “Back When I Was Four”- a guy growing to 128 whilst children, girlfriends, Dogs and Goldfish all come and go, to stories of drug hell “Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane” to songs about people misunderstanding his songs “No LSD Tonight”- despite the horror described in “Last Time I Did Acid…”, people still offer him Acid at his shows. Not forgetting the brilliant view on youth culture that is “I Saw A Hippy Girl On 8th Street”- he realises he doesn’t look hippy anymore, and is blending in with everyone else and his mate, Eric, doesn’t look like a Punk anymore, but then you realise how you feel on the inside is more important than how you look on the outside. Fantastic.
Exploring his material threw up an album called “12 Crass Songs”, I wondered if it was what it said, ie 12 songs by anarcho-punk rockers Crass, covered in his own inimitable style.
It is also a fantastic introduction to Crass, especially if the harder side of Punk isn’t to your taste. I’d not particularly given them much of a listen- just thought they were a bit shouty and aggressive with the usual fuck the system stance. What I hadn’t realised was the intelligence behind the lyrics, and indeed, their anarchistic politic is actually much closer to my own political stance than I had ever imagined. And much closer to proper ‘Hippy’ ideology- what with self-sustenance, conservation and DIY ethics as parts of their manifesto- it all looks like a great way to live.
In “12 Crass Songs”, we get tracks which deal with how we are dragged along by ‘The System’- and pushed into stereotypes having our lives planned out for us to ‘be normal’- “Systematic Death”, commentaries from ‘out side’ the system in “I Ain’t Thick”- clued up in the mind, but not treading the party-line, the dehumanising thought of being reduced to nothing in “End Result”, demanding something back in “Do They Owe Us A Living?”, the topical feel of “Securicor” (read G4S)- “I’m a private in a private army- Securicor scares the shit out of me.” and the ultimate statement of what happens when relevant youth movements become taken into the system, accepted and packaged (Postcards of Punks in London? Remember that?)- “Punk IS Dead”.
I am now acquainting myself with all things Crass- as a lot of it makes a lot of sense. Here is a documentary about Crass about the band, with interviews from band members Penny Rimbaud, Steve Ignorant and Gee Vaucher
Have a listen to the album, and maybe buy yourself a copy. Here is Jeffrey Lewis’ website– lots of great things there.