When Barney was at school they said he'd never make the grade
he was living in a kipper coloured dream.
Barney ought to learn to concentrate his teachers used to say,
as he drifted in the bottom bottom stream.
The commodification of creativity, as with anything, results in exclusion. Only those privileged enough to be called “artists” or “authors” have the right to freely express themselves (and even then, it is a freedom only within the confines of the market. Barney’s Epic Homer is a song that captures perfectly the soul-destroying denial of self-expression that we see in this world of specialization and inequality.
It was on one summer's evening Barney crossed from work to home
with a tube of twisted metal that he'd found
and he stuck it in the garden like a broken totem pole
and he planted piles of pebbles all around
Written by legendary folk singer/songwriter Leon Rosselson, and covered by Chris Foster among others, it tells the tale of a young man who is doomed to become another cog in the economy, working a machine in a sausage factory day in day out, daydreaming his only escape. He regains enthusiasm through the junk-sculpture he creates in the back garden, made from other people’s throw-aways. Unfortunately, such self-expression is not acceptable, in a world in which the only sanctioned forms of activity are those that constitute “economic growth” – buying; selling; producing; consuming. His sculpture is not “art”, it is uncommodified, a kind of very human resistance, and therefore forbidden. It is ultimately dismantled, and Barney’s fragile spirit crushed along with it.
Now they say that Barney scavenges the scrap heaps of the town
doesn't answer to his name and no one knows
why he wants to throw his life away just wandering around,
making crazy patterns everywhere he goes
The song is an epic, with Barney the tragic hero – and his labour of love is itself an epic (if not a poem, if not “literature”). It is an ode to the impulses of the human spirit. Question: what have you done with yours?