Here we are, on a Sunday morn, watching football instead of being in church. I don’t often go to church- being single parent, i usually spend my Sunday doing various pieces of housework that need more than ten seconds of concentration. Saturdays often belong to various appointments and groceries.
I grew up with religious parents who eventually gave up on us kids as we reached our teenage years. My mother’s illness left me furious with God for years. Then I felt punished for my anger by my own increasingly bad choices. My childhood fear of hell was made real in my adult years. It really couldn’t be worse than the actual life I was leading.
The last few years I have drifted back. I feel comfort in the routine and customs of the Lutheran service. It makes me feel closer to my mother, a woman of deep faith and understanding with enormous patience. I am not a regular churchgoer- my life is so busy and my insomnia so consuming that Sundays are frequently the only day I sleep in. But I try to hit the important days- and this year I went to Ash Wednesday services for the first time (that I can recall).
What des this have to do with Billy Bragg and a song called “Blake’s Jerusalem”. My mother was raised Anglican. The long and complicated history of religion in my mother’s family sometimes gives me good chuckle. “Jerusalem” is a poem by William Blake, everyone’s favourite British eccentric poet, that was largely ignored until Sir Hubert Parry added music in 1916. Apocryphal stories about Jesus visiting Glastonbury are told by many an English religious man, and Blake, inspired by the Felpham countryside and the encroaching Industrial Revolution mills, wrote a brief piece. “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green?” “And was Jerusalem builded here among these dark Satanic mills?” It was turned into an unoffical national anthem in the 20th century- Republican writers favour it as the song they would choose as an actual national anthem if the monarchy was abolished.
Billy Bragg, modern-day troubadour, on his 1990 album The Internationale, covered and rewrote several left-wing protest songs. In the middle is a straight cover of “Blake’s Jerusalem” (as he labelled it on the album sleeve). Amidst the overt politics of the rest of the record, he went sweet, quiet, and contemplative. A beautiful song is treated tenderly and respectfully by a rabble-rouser. How can one ignore that?