Celebrating the determination of “one hundred thousand teenagers” to take over the streets of London to save their future from calamity, KIDSTRIKE! by novelist and singer songwriter JB Morrison – aka Jim Bob – is taken from the UK Top 40 album Pop Up Jim Bob released in August 2020 and inspired by the real life activism of countless young activists. But the song is run through with a rueful recognition of the singer’s own fading urge to save the world.
On the surface, KIDSTRIKE! pays tribute to a group of young people standing up for something they believe in. But listen a little closer and the song is just as much – or even more – about the dismissive attitude of an older generation who we hear mentioned in the lyrics or in recorded sound bites.
“I was walking through the West End of London and stopped on a corner of Piccadilly Circus to watch a march pass through,” says Jim, recalling the moment that inspired him to write the song. “All these school kids with banners and singing songs, full of life, followed by bored looking police in vans and a helicopter overhead. I was struck by the positivity of the kids, and also by the negativity from older people talking about it on TV. People like Piers Morgan saying the kids should be at school etc. I had this feeling that we (the grown ups) had given up. In a way I was envious of the positivity. I wanted to be young and angry again.”
Fridays on Their Minds
The movement known as Fridays for Future (FFF) or, less snappily, Youth Strike for Climate, started in Sweden in the summer of 2018 and had swept the world by the following year, with youth protestors inspired by the actions and rhetoric of Greta Thunberg skipping school to take part in demos protesting at the actions of industrialists and the inaction of politicians as a global climate crisis promises them a frightening future.
Thunberg is just one of many earnest young people who have shamed their elders with the depth of their convictions in recent years. Malala Yousafzai went on to become a UN Messenger of Peace and Nobel laureate after she was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for the crime of going to school; Emma González survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre of 17 students in Florida and, along with fellow survivors, organised March for Our Lives, a series of coordinated nationwide demands for gun control legislation which was one of the largest protests in American history. Teenage trans activist Jazz Jennings is co-founder of Purple Rainbow, a support charity for transgender kids; Bella Lack is a 17 year-old conservationist and youth ambassador for the Born Free Foundation; Jamie Margolin is the founder of the Gen Z climate change movement Zero Hour and author of Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It…
The list goes on. And the achievements of these kids are hard to live up to. But does the head-spinning urgency and vitality of this new generation of committed activists give the rest of us licence to give up, knowing they’ve got it all under control?
“These kids haven’t given up like we have,” sings Jim, morosely, on KIDSTRIKE! “They’re not happy to sit back and relax while their world burns.”
But in person, Jim is cautious about depicting the generations in broad strokes. “I’m sure there are just as many young people not interested in protesting or changing anything one way or another,” he says. “It’s not as simple as being generational. Kids can be just as selfish or self-centred as adults. And vice versa.”
At the heart of KIDSTRIKE! there is the sense of guilt that is leaving some people – young and old – feeling paralysed or apathetic. We know that these young people are doing what we should be doing. And yet we feel disengaged from politics, because it seems like modern democracy isn’t working. There is no dialogue, only opposing political parties with entrenched positions. Our career politicians serve themselves and their parties before the interests of their constituents, so what’s the point of the charade of voting once every five years?
“It’s a tricky thing, nowadays more than ever, to have any kind of nuanced and uncertain opinion on stuff, particularly politics,” says Jim. “That’s probably why I steer clear of aligning myself to any one political party. I never have really. I’m a floating voter I suppose. Luckily not floating anywhere towards the right, but I’m not as easy to pin down politically as I might appear. If I’m honest, I don’t feel I have any responsibility, certainly not as a pop singer. It’s a cliché but everything I have to say is probably best said within the songs. Where I‘ve had the time to think it through.”
Do No harm
KIDSTRIKE! is a snippet of reportage, imbued with a wry sense of humour, which makes us feel like we are being included rather than lectured. But as a piece of social commentary, it makes us consider the juxtaposition between the passive commentator and the activists. As someone in the public eye, for want of a better expression, does Jim have a duty to speak out? Is Jim, on the side-lines, part of the problem or the solution?
“I don’t personally feel responsible for ruining the future of the young,” he insists. “I would blame the governments and big businesses. And maybe a natural human desire for looking after ourselves. But everything is fixable. I might be cynical but I can’t let myself not believe there’s no hope. All my songs come from a ‘why can’t we all just get along’ point of view. I’m not a doctor, but do no harm is my motto as well.”
“The only problem with me being a social commentator is I don’t really have any great idea what I’m talking about,” he continues, modestly. “Maybe I’m just sharing my thoughts in the only way I know how. I am part of the problem, if you think that doing nothing at all is as bad as doing something negative. But I’m not sure that’s true. Maybe my time as an activist has passed.”
And what exactly does activism mean to him?
“When I say activism I probably mean getting up from a chair, switching the telly off and protesting,” he says. “Changing my life to improve the lives of others.”
But this undervalues the power of music to be influential, particularly to young people. Surely Jim Bob has his own experience of being influenced by popular music?
“When I was a lot younger, I was massively influenced by the bands I liked,” he admits. “Luckily they were saying the right things. Paul Weller, when he was in The Jam, for example. I’d read the books he read and wear the same clothes. But I also probably had some of his opinions, too. I don’t know which came first. Was I attracted to his songs because I felt the same, or did I feel the same because of his songs and opinions on the world?”
The penultimate song on Pop Up Jim Bob, leaden with bitter irony, is called #thoughtsandprayers, a meditation on the well-meaning inaction of the masses that represents the flip-side of the dynamism celebrated by KIDSTRIKE! And finally, as the album draws to a close, Jim and “Mrs Jim Bob” disappear into the sunset in the song You’re Cancelled and We’re Done, giving two fingers to the world and finding Shangri La.
So, does this mean Jim is giving up on us? Could this album be his swan song?
“It does feel like my last record, as a statement, song-wise at least,” he admits. “But the fact it was so well received and my desire to make more music with the same bunch of musicians has made me already start thinking about new songs. Hopefully I’ve still got stuff left to say. I do still want to escape though. I probably just need a holiday.”
“The best thing that’s happened with Pop Up Jim Bob is that a lot of people are happy to hear somebody singing about something they’ve been thinking themselves,” Jim concludes. “I didn’t set out with that idea. But it’s great to feel that what you’re doing has some positive effect on the world. Sometimes all we need is to know that we’re not alone.”