A Requiem for Chumbawamba

I felt a real pang yesterday hearing the news that Chumbawamba, the left British band best known for its 1997 single “Tubthumping,” had decided to disband. “Chumbawamba was our vehicle for pointing at the naked Emperors, for telling our version of the truth; it gave us more than the joy and love of playing live, writing songs and singing together – it gave us a chance to be part of a broad coalition of activists and hectors, optimists and questioners,” the members wrote on their website, explaining that the felt they were no longer living up to the ideals they’d set out for themselves to be not just musically excellent but politically relevant and responsive. That’s as good a reason to go out as any, but I’m still going to miss them.

I was 12 when Tubthumper, dropped, and bought the album through one of those twelve-cassettes-for-a-penny scams on the strength of the lead single. I had no idea, as I assume most people who listened to the song didn’t, that the introductory lines to “Tubthumping” were from Brassed Off, the very funny British movie about coal miners fighting the Thatcher administration’s closing of the mine that provided their livelihood. The album I bought was more than a raucous set of football anthems. It was about New Labour, and welfare, and gender, and religion, and solidarity. I may have come for the catchy tunes, but I stayed for the rare fusion of politics and music that wasn’t swamped in sentimentality. “Outsider” has always been, and will remain, one of the best pre-Internet age expressions of what it means to recognize that there are people who share your beliefs, and to force other people to recognize that you aren’t marginal, or crazy, or isolated:

Chumbawamba’s music was one of the first things that really suggested to me that your politics weren’t something that only mattered when you voted, that they shaped your entire life, and that they could grow out of love. “Home With Me” is an amazing expression of that, and certainly the best love song to namedrop the Kronstadt rebellion.

I’ll miss them.