With it being Leap Day today (February 29th), I was inspired to share this song, which has no connection to Leap Day or Leap Year whatsoever – the Billy Bragg gem, “Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards.”
Englishman Billy Bragg has been releasing music since 1983, and in that time, he’s tackled Punk Rock, protest songs, Alt-Rock, Americana, Folk Punk and even did a couple of well-received albums with Wilco (of Woody Guthrie lyrics set to their music) in 1998 and 2000.
I’ve long been a fan of Billy Bragg, and his passion for what he’s singing about – whether it’s sexuality, growing up, politics or a broken heart – exudes in every song he does. When I saw him in perform at the Somerville (Mass.) Theatre in March 2006, he was brilliant. It was just him and his guitar, and his presence filled the room. That night, he turned a reworked version of Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Blues” into his own “Bush War Blues.” Genius. He released the song as a free download the following day.
“Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards” appears on Billy’s 1988 album, WORKER’S PLAYTIME, his fourth full-length record. While on tour promoting the album, Billy said this about the song:
“I know that today it’s not very cool talk about Maoism. Everybody says, ‘Maoism! Oh, no! How gauche!’ But this next song is called ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards.’ Now, the Great Leap Forwards was a plan by Mao to modernize China. There was going to be a huge burst of activity and development for 18 months, and then China was going to be fully developed to compete in the modern world.
“Well, it didn’t work, and then things deteriorated into the Cultural Revolution, which was a very bad thing indeed. But Mao once said a very interesting thing. Someone said to him, ‘What do you think the effects were of the French Revolution in the late 18th century?’
“And Mao said, ‘It’s too early to tell.’”
Some truly great lines in this song, like “If you’ve got a blacklist, I want to be on it” and “If no one seems to understand / Start your own revolution, cut out the middleman.” “Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards” comes replete with some reverse psychology, too. The bottom line is, if you want to take the leap, whatever that may be, just go for it… and don’t wait…
Hope you check out the video link below. It’s Billy Bragg singing this song on Late Night With David Letterman in 1988 (with an interview too!). Miss you Dave. Miss you, too, Billy – hope you come back and see us again soon. Cheers…