This song is a very difficult one to sing - It makes people feel uncomfortable - and so it should.
I wrote it for people like me, who suddenly found themselves not citizens anymore, but unwelcome guests. Tolerated solely on account of one’s income and perceived usefulness to society.
I wrote this song for people like me, who felt an unstoppable wave of hostility and hate roll towards them, seemingly out of the blue. For people like me, who suddenly experienced what other nationalities and minorities already knew all too well.
But by the time I got to perform the song, many of us had left. All my European friends, unless they were tied down by family and other commitments, had left. Instead I was standing in front of a crowd of British people, who looked at me in uneasy silence.
I realised how many people generally aren't aware of our experience at all. I was assured that - although hard to hear - it was an important song to sing.
It’s a difficult song to sing, because as well as compassion, it might draw hate. I’ve read so many hateful comments online, it’s outright scary.
But silence doesn’t sit well with my conscience. In December 2019 I was a wreck. I had almost completed my application process - the application to stay in what I had considered my home. The application of which a government video promised me, using smiling stock footage Europeans, would be a simple process, taking no longer than 20 minutes. The application that in reality took me a year and several near-nervous breakdowns to complete.
I should be okay, I knew that. But what about all the others that wouldn’t be? The children in care homes who neither knew about the Settled Scheme, nor had the required papers? The women whose abusive husbands withheld their passports? The rough sleepers? The elderly? Those who already had a legal immigration status and were unaware the government decided on a whim to declare it void? The list went on. I couldn’t bear to think of it. I didn't want to eat. I didn't sleep. I couldn't stop crying. I was a wreck.
My conscience wouldn’t let me apply. My conscience wanted me to risk being deported, to risk a stay of indeterminate length in a detention centre, with all the unspeakable horrors it would bring. I couldn’t make myself click the submit button. I wanted to protest. I felt quietly complying would not only make me a coward, but somehow also complicit. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. I would carry guilt.
I had to admit that my deportation ultimately would not make any difference. I sent off my application, but wasn't sure how I'd live with myself. I vowed to at least speak up somehow.
It may seem rather irrelevant now - Brexit is done. We’ve all accepted our situation, you don’t hear us whine about it, but things don’t feel any better. We don’t feel welcome, and we don’t feel valued - which is only aggravated by the government’s response to the present worker shortage - and we still feel anxious. There's an application backlog, a government that normalises and promotes xenophobia, and we've no physical document to prove our status. It’s deeply unsettling.
In December 2019 I was travelling to Germany for Christmas. I had to cross London, which, due to an event, was heaving with crowds, and it looked impossible for me to make my plane in time. I HAD to make that plane. I had nowhere else to go. And I was desperate to spend the holidays outside the UK. The tube was a nightmare full of more people I’d be comfortable with at the best of times, and I watched in panic as people kept pushing in front of me to leap inside. It was so crowded the doors didn’t close anymore. It was hopeless. “I need to get on this train!” I cried out in despair, and a moment later a hand grabbed mine, and pulled me up into the carriage, baggage and all. I looked up at a young woman, who calmly said , "There is plenty of space.” This moment was both so inherently funny and beautiful. I will never forget it.
I hadn’t planned on working on any music that winter. But on Christmas Day my cousin unexpectedly messaged me and asked if I wanted to come over to his studio the next day - and I knew just the song. All my friends in the UK had been nothing but wonderful, kind, and supportive - but the general atmosphere of hostility, the otherness, the unbelonging-ness almost broke me. It was very therapeutic to be working on this song in Germany, with family.
So, almost 2 years later I finally dug out the track again for a video performance. To keep the promise I made in my heart that winter.
There is plenty of space for us, but not many of us want it any more. You can change that.
I know the majority of you didn’t vote for this. I know the majority of you isn’t full of hate. I know you all lost so much as well. What I ask of you is to not be silent in the face of the government’s dogwhistle rhetoric. That has never ended well.
I'm taking a break from being serious this week. And what could be better for that than a Randy Newman song? Both serious and hilarious, one can spend hours getting lost in his universe of wacky perspectives and unreliable narrators.
Except, obviously his "normal' songs. But, as he said, "you've got to be normal when somebody's spending a million dollars." I can't blame him - if someone offered me a million dollars I might consider having a go at being normal. I doubt I'd be as successful though.
This is the final song from Bruce Springsteen's album "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Don't know why I picked this song, when it appears to be the odd one out on an album that otherwise seems to have a storytelling focus, with mostly social observations. For this reason it definitely has a Woody Guthrie vibe. There's not only echoes of Guthrie, but, more obviously, of John Steinbeck. Tom Joad, after all, is Steinbeck's hero in Grapes of Wrath, and it is him Springsteen is referring to. It's a very stripped back and heartbreaking album, with its realistic depictions and social observations, but I loved it nonetheless. You listen to the album, maybe cry, and feel the grim determination to stand with Tom Joad.
"Now Tom said, "Mom, wherever there's a cop beating a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight against the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me, Mom, I'll be there
Wherever somebody's fighting for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helping hand
Wherever somebody's struggling to be free
Look in their eyes, Ma, and you'll see me""