Today, Will Butler has shared his second Guardian-news-inspired song, ‘Waving Flag’, a luminous and uplifting hymn-like song with an insistent beat and on-the-top-of-the-mix bright vocals. There is an inkling of melancholia all along and the tune takes a sort of Panda Bear all-choir-y-and-churchy shape… like an ascending chant that never really explodes and gives up its cathartic ending,… may be a bit Magnetic Fields like?
Interestingly, the song is inspired by Soviet communism and I would have never guessed based on the feeling I got when I listened to it, although the lyrics mention a flag, the ultimate symbol of nationalism, and a line like, ‘I am tired of waiting for a better day, I am scared, I am lazy, nothing gonna change’… But more precisely, Butler wrote the song after reading about the repatriation of the body of anti Apartheid hero Moses Kotane from Russia to South Africa. Kotane was a great influence on Nelson Mendela and he was also a communist, which first confused Butler as he wrote for the Guardian:
‘My initial reaction to reading about the repatriation of Moses Kotane’s body to South Africa from Russia was influenced by my distrust of communism. Was he really a great man? The answer: yes. And then I thought, how horrifying that my initial reaction to reading about a hero of the anti-apartheid movement was vague suspicion. For all their failings, the Communists were the only political entity in South Africa for years that talked about racial equality. They were the only integrated party for years and years. They worked for democracy and to help the poor. So, yes, I am an asshole.
Moses Kotane: nationalist, pro-Soviet great guy.’
No, you aren’t Will, I get it, it’s weird and disturbing to consider that someone who attended Lenin School, was part of the solution against apartheid. But the song is also inspired by Ukraine separatists celebrating a Soviet holiday.
‘And then I was reading about the Ukraine separatists, our latest pro-Soviet nationalists, and I thought, man, what jerks. I don’t doubt that there are members of the separatists that genuinely feel like a beset upon minority. But the shape of the conflict is a historically powerful nation invading a historically weak one. Anyways.
This is a song about backward-looking violent nationalism contrasting with future-looking lift-up-the-weak nationalism. And then there’s me, a million miles away in America, watching from a great and blurring distance.’
Talk about blurring distance, is there someone who clearly understands what’s going on over there? One thing is sure, Will Butler is very aware of the state of the world, and interested to turn complicated political situations into credible pop songs.
So far it is working, but I wonder whether he will be able to hold the bar this high story-wise, all week long, will Will fall for the lighter part of the Guardian at one point? American people are shallow Will, and they need something they can relate to. I am going to give you a few ideas found on the Guardian site: Patricia Arquette’s controversial comment at the Oscars? Scarlett Johansson’s new supergroup? or why old men look at women half their age?… These are things that interest people, not the Greek crisis or a South African guy nobody has ever heard about. Now go to work Will!
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