Thursday, 17 February 2011

Party of the people

One of my grandfather’s is dancing a jig right now while the other murmurs, “the chickens have finally come home to roost."

The demise of Fianna Fail has undoubtedly caught the attention of these two very different gentlemen in whatever zone of Hades they find themselves.

The very mention of √Čamon DeValera could send the jiggy one into paroxysms of rage for his people were staunch Home Rulers and later adherents of the Fine Gael Party.

The more thoughtful one had strong Republican sympathies. He tended to vote Fianna Fail but had his reservations about DeValera’s entry into constitutional politics.

Indeed one learned early on to tread carefully on the subject of politics. Both sets of grandparents spoke civilly of each other and yet I can’t remember ever seeing my grandfathers in the same room.

I never mentioned my admiration for James Connolly to my Fine Gael grandfather, for I was fond of him and had no desire to be responsible for his suicide.

My Republican grandfather, a small businessman, had little time for Connolly either declaring him to be “nothing but a little Scottish troublemaker.”

This opinion didn’t take a feather off me for I was at that very fortunate age where one knows it all. To my mind, Fianna Fail was like a great big damp rag lying upon the face of the country. Indeed, I would have voted for Big Tom and The Mainliners had there been a chance of dislodging “the boys” from power.

And, mark you, I lived in the progressive metropolis of Wexford where Brendan Corish, the leader of the Labour Party, on occasion served me pints of cider from behind his brother’s bar. Despite that, there seemed no hope for change – Fianna Fail would always rule the roost - that was that!

Back then being majority party meant control of patronage – post office franchises, county council contracts - good decent honest graft.

That changed in the late-60’s. Even in his early days there was a deep suspicion of Charles Haughey and his mohaired ilk in Wexford. I remember a speech he gave in the Bull Ring where he was heckled unmercifully – the honor of his mother was even called into doubt. The bold Charlie merely smirked as if to say – shout all you want, Yellowbellies, I’m laughing all the way to the bank.

The jiggy grandfather turned purple at the mention of Haughey’s shenanigans; the thoughtful one sorrowfully shook his head; the party of the people had sold its soul to land developers and other gombeen men on steroids.

Money had replaced principle. And as happens in such cases, lesser men took charge and the talent pool shrunk; why recruit brilliant people when you have “the boys” who will vote the party line.

As property speculation ballooned over the last decade Fianna Fail had become so enmeshed with the bankers that when the bubble burst the government foolishly underwrote massive over-leveraged loans.

I’m no admirer of DeValera – I think he nurtured and made a virtue of the small-mindedness and inward thinking that hobbled us for so long; yet, he would never have allowed his party to squander the sovereignty and economic well-being of the Irish people.

This coming election will be both a landmark and an opportunity, for it will mark the final end of Civil War divisions. Irish politics will enter a new era of fluidity. The new government, unfortunately, will have an even bigger mess to clean up than Barack Obama after our own orgy of greed and over-leveraged insanity.

And Fianna Fail? Well, the “boys” are fast jumping from the sinking ship. But it’s the old dog for the hard road.

The party has already shed much of its inept and compromised leadership. Like any seasoned pugilist, it will rope-a-dope and take a considerable shellacking in the election.

But it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it rediscovers its core principles, and one day yet again reclaims its mantle as party of the people.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Sacrosanct Second

By the time you finish reading this column at least one person will have been killed by firearms in the US.

What makes you think I’m going to finish it, queries Your Man Up In Pearl River.

Because you notice every little error that my eagle eyed editor, Ray O’Hanlon, and I ever let slip by, says I!

Which reminds me that Ray recently saved my bacon when he noticed that I had bald-facedly declared that Patrick Kavanagh was born in County Cavan. Had that stood, I would never have received another buyback from the beautiful Dympna MacDonald of Castleblayney; not to mention that the ensuing war between Monaghan and Breffni boys could have finally sent Ireland off the deep end.

Since I just diverted your attention another person was probably offed, for roughly 30,000 people die every year in the US from gunfire.

That’s not even counting how many people have new holes in them since you began this column because around 200,000 are wounded by gunshots annually.

Are we nuts to allow this carry-on? I know - the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. And the Eighteenth prevented us from buying booze! So, the auld amendments are not totally infallible.

But let’s take a closer look at the sacrosanct Second!

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

This would appear to me that the maintenance of a militia, and not private gun ownership is the point. And if you delve a little deeper into the thoughts of the founding fathers you find that they desired a militia so that they would not have to deal with the danger and cost of maintaining a permanent standing army.

These poor bewigged and powdered patriots must surely be turning in their graves for not only do we have the mother of all armies but maintenance of it costs at least a buck of every four spent in this republic.

Many people would disagree with this tree-hugging, pinko interpretation of the founding fathers’ intentions but I think it safe to say that reasonable men such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison did not envision a time when any person of sound – or unsound – mind could effortlessly purchase a Glock that could dispense thirty-three bullets in ten seconds or less.

No one is arguing that a hunter should be able to buy and maintain a weapon, though the word up in the Catskills is that Bambi can strut around to his heart’s content after the first couple of weeks of hunting season.

Nor does one wish to limit those who feel that their lives are in danger from possessing the legal means to defend themselves; although as one who lived on Avenue B and 3rd Street – the center of heroin dealing – in New York for ten years, I always felt safer unarmed, there being less chance of me putting a big hole in myself while stumbling home, or having the weapon turned on me.

The sheer power of the NRA and its refusal to countenance virtually every rational form of gun control - including restrictions on owning assault weapons, background checks for gun owners, and registration of firearms – does take ones breath away.

And indeed, if I were President Obama’s political adviser I would tell him to steer well clear of the issue. He has an election to fight in 2012, and may well need to carry some Mid-Western and Mountain States. Far better he wait until his second term to address this national slaughter.

On the other hand, another 60,000 of our citizens will be dead by then, along with 400,000 injured.

The figures are staggering. Surely, there must be some way of calmly and logically debating the rights and wrongs of the matter? After all, men the like of Hamilton and Madison risked their lives to create a republic and provide us with a set of rules with which to govern it.

Surely, there must be some politicians who will risk their seats to question the actual intentions of these giants.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Kerner and Turwin of Where?

There are not many artists of whom you can say, “I know him better than any man!” But such is the case with Pierce Turner. We grew up in the same small town, wrote songs and joined our first band together, emigrated to the US, and adopted the most difficult-to-enunciate name in showbiz history - Turner & Kirwan of Wexford.

Well, brain surgeons, cops and district attorneys usually made a fair fist of it but most people landed somewhere in the vicinity of Kerner & Turwin of Where?

Though we could sing, write, play, produce and entertain with the best of them, we never gave a moment’s thought to commerciality. In fact, the very concept often drive us to drink – in our case, Southern Comfort, what was good enough for Janis Joplin was fine by us.

We had other failings but I won’t get into them in a god-fearing, family newspaper. They were all incidental anyway - music was everything to us, we lived and breathed it. “Making it” was way down the list, all that mattered was originality and that we didn’t sell out.

What an odd concept “selling out” seems now when practically every musician would give their eye teeth to have a song placed in a toilet paper ad.

Then again, we grew up in a time when rock music was transforming the world, not merely reflecting it. Amazingly, it never occurred to us that things would change.

Pierce himself has barely changed at all since the day he left Wexford to join the Arrows Showband. How would I describe him? Well, think of a cross between Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the Italian tenor, Mario Lanza, spiced with a pinch of The Beatles and a couple grains of the Holy Family Confraternity Brass Band.

And that description barely does him justice. That’s because he’s an original - such a rarity, nowadays. I can’t remember the last time I heard a song where I couldn’t immediately identify its influences.

That by no means makes current popular music bad – in fact, nothing sounds bad anymore – your Great-Aunt Statia could knock off a decent sounding track. Originality is a whole different ball of wax though.

And Turner’s got that in spades. Listen to his song, Wicklow Hills. I must have played guitar on it five hundred times and I still don’t totally understand its simple brilliance.

In fact, if I hadn’t grown up with the guy and knew the sheer diversity of his influences, I wouldn’t have a clue how to peg him.

But we both came from Wexford, a town where Grand Opera and Rock & Roll fit hand in glove. Where messenger boys whistled Verdi or Gilbert & Sullivan melodies as they pedaled down the Main Street then donned pink socks and drainpipe trousers and jived to Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent tunes at the Town Hall.

It was a time when the BBC and RTE segued effortlessly between Beethoven and the Beatles without either of them having to roll over. Taste was broad, everyone had it in bucketfuls and it all ricocheted around the brains of young musicians, awaiting only a spark.

That spark will sure as hell ignite at Percy’s Tavern, 210 Avenue A and 13th Street in the East Village this Friday evening Feb 4th when Pierce explodes on stage.

Word on the street is that Percy’s is something new in the Irish saloon/restaurant field. Whatever it is, I know it will be well managed because owner, Dubliner Larry Watson, ran the door at Paddy Reilly’s during the Black 47 go-go days.

Anyone who could keep that riotous scene from going through the roof should be organizing the exit from Afghanistan. Instead he’ll be down on Avenue A maintaining order when Pierce hits the boards.

Get there early and nab yourself a table but don’t leave your fancy Rolex next to your French fries for Pierce will likely be kicking up his brogues and dancing on your silverware.

But what’s a Rolex between friends, it will be worth the price of finally seeing something pure and original in an age of knock-offs and hand-me-downs!