A song about being frightened

This is the fourth song from our Bring The Good Times Back EP that I’m blogging about, and it’s called Battlecry. It’s one of the first songs I wrote with the band, and it began life with Kenny’s brilliantly propulsive bass line.

Although it’s a serious song I had an old Bill Hicks routine in my head when I was writing the lyrics. It’s the one where he compared US foreign policy to Jack Palance in the famous western Shane. In the film, Palance throws a gun at an unarmed shepherd’s feet.

“Pick up the gun,” he says.

“I don’t wanna pick it up, mister,” the shepherd says. “You’ll shoot me.”

“Pick up the gun.”

“Mister, I don’t want no trouble, huh. I just came down town here to get some hard rock candy for my kids, some gingham for my wife. I don’t even know what gingham is, but she goes through about 10 rolls a week of that stuff. I ain’t looking for no trouble, mister.”

“Pick. Up. The. Gun.”

The shepherd moves towards the gun and Jack Palance shoots him.

“You all saw him. He had a gun.”

It’s a good example of how the powerful can manipulate the powerless into apparently justifying whatever the powerful want to do to them. You create a bogeyman and taunt him until he snaps, at which point you can say: look how angry and unreasonable and not like us he is! You all saw him! He had a gun!

This kind of demonisation is as old as time, and historian Michael S Roth has written an interesting op-ed about two of its more recent examples: the “welfare queen” and the “woke student”.

Every age seems to need a bogeyman, some negative image against which good people measure themselves. When I entered college in the mid-1970s, the term “welfare queen” was being popularized by Ronald Reagan as he campaigned for president and was starting to be taken up by the mass media. It would soon go on to upstage the outworn “commie” and well-worn “dirty hippie” as objects of vitriol in the American political imagination. Self-described regular, decent Americans had in “welfare queen” a new image against which to define themselves.

…the trope of the “welfare queen” was nicely constructed to seep into a white American psyche already anxious in the 1970s and 1980s about race, single mothers and an urban culture that challenged more than a few mainstream myths.

…The images of the welfare queen and of the woke student are convenient because they provide excuses to not engage with difference, placing certain types of people beyond the pale. These scapegoats are meant to inspire solidarity in a group by providing an object for its hostility (or derision)

In some parts of the world this is being used in very frightening ways. Including here.

Across the world, the far right and religious extremists are demonising immigrants, LGBT+ people and their allies, often with very violent consequences. Supposedly respectable media outlets in supposedly respectable western democracies print articles that wouldn’t be out of place in a Britain First newsletter. In the UK, the Conservative party has been running polls to see if it can weaponise trans rights against Labour by painting us as predators and is reportedly planning a “blitz” of anti-immigration, foreigners-are-coming-for-what-you-have rhetoric to try and terrify English voters. And the slightest sign of anger from the people being targeted relentlessly by politicians, pundits and thugs will be used as evidence to justify dismissing and demonising the entire group.

Battlecry is about that.

It’s about being forced to fight when you don’t want to fight, to be backed into a corner and to be forced to defend yourself, to be forced into activism when you just want to be left alone. I wrote it in solidarity with the LGBT+ marchers attacked this year at Pride festivals, people for whom simply walking down the street meant encountering physical violence, but it’s really for anybody who’s marginalised: so many of us “just wanted a quiet life” but have not been allowed to do so by people who have so much more power than we do.