West Coast Sound first stumbled across the information that respected British songwriter Billy Bragg would be covering
Woody Guthr -- Ludwig van Beethoven when we were picking up an order of lentils at the Curious Palate restaurant and grocery in Mar Vista. A pile of fliers sat on a table next to a basket of tomatoes. It was a head-scratcher, some weird non sequitur on a couple levels. On the flier, there's a photo of him wearing a flannel shirt and playing a Fender guitar.
The flier read, in part:
Bragg MEETS Beethoven
A New Interpretation of Beethoven's 9th for a new era
Featuring BILLY BRAGG, Live Orchestra & Chorus
Plus Performances Inspired by the 9th,
from Jazz to Blues to Indian Raga and More.
Weird. Billy Bragg first gained attention in the 1980s by walking around London with an electric guitar, an amplifier strapped to his back like a a backpack, and playing treble-heavy post-punkish protest songs. He's best known Stateside for his work with Wilco; in 1998 they released two volumes of the fantastic, totally epic Mermaid Avenue, which featured unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics set to the musicians' new music. He's always been a blue collar kinda guy is what we're saying, no more likely to cross the Great Divide between rock & roll and classical music than the Ramones.
But then, a lot of musicians have crossed the Great Divide and lived to tell. The secret is to no be too precious about it, to do what you're going to do to the music without posing, co-opting or taking yourself too seriously.