Monday 31 May 2010

Jeffrey Ladd

Jeffrey Ladd passed away some days ago. He was a member of Black 47 back in the chaotic first year of the band. Officially, I suppose he sang back up vocals but oftentimes he would double my voice. I met him in 1979 through our drummer, Thomas Hamlin and our associate member, guitarist Mike Fazio. He was part of the Queens connection when the Major Thinkers were blasting through the CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City scene.

He became “roadie” for the Copernicus “orchestra” and I have a memory of him at a performance in the old Tier 3 in Tribeca getting his foot broken during a particularly fractious and rowdy gig. That was Jeffrey, always in the thick of things, ensuring that there be at least some infinitesimal control on the chaos. He later became a vocalist/keyboardist with Copernicus.

I have another memory of him with Black 47 in Sunnyside when a fight broke out in a very narrow and hostile bar. We had just finished a set, so I moved backwards to avoid the fray. Not Jeffrey – he stood before the equipment, impressively making sure the fisticuffs did not spill over to the stage. It was only later I found out that he was an ice-hockey goalkeeper.

He was lead vocalist in a number of bands including The Baby Flies and Life With The Lions. A fine singer in the Ian Curtis/Peter Murphy mould, he was one of those creative, sensitive people for whom the brutality of the business end of rock music often proves too much. They enter it with a sense of idealism that often turns to disillusion. Jeff Ladd, though, never lost his sense of humor.

A beautiful person – never less than kind and caring – he was particularly loved by women as he always took the time to listen and identify with individual pain. He certainly knew enough about the subject. He’d had some hard times of late but had pulled his world together; then life played its cruelest joke.

He was a comrade and a friend, someone you could always turn to. He will be deeply missed by the Black 47 family and by the many who loved him for himself and his undoubted talent.

Saturday 29 May 2010

Culchie Memories

Did you ever go to the County Clare when you were nearly twenty-one

With a crowd of swingin’ culchies in the back of a Volkswagen van

Quarts of lukewarm cider seepin’ out the door

And your flutered face flattened against the mucky German floor

And did you score a peroxide brasser all the way down from Dublin

And get your arse thrown out of the sweetest pub in Doolin

And did you take that gurrier princess to the edge of the Cliffs of Moher

And argue with her over nothin’ then try to talk things over

While you added copiously to the roarin’ black Atlantic

In a manner that was quite distinctly far from bein’ Christ-like

And did you kiss that vestal virgin from sweet Ballymun

‘Til her lips were bruised and she cried out, “oh, sweet divine Jesus, do it again”

Oh Clare, oh Clare, oh sweet Lisdoonvarna

Is this just another yarn or a

Memory set in aspic of the deepest blue

Or something that a culchie prince was always preordained to do?

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Drill, Baby, Drill!!

“Why do the weak men have all the poetry?” One of Thomas Keneally’s characters inquired during his play, Transport, at the Irish Arts Center recently.
William Butler Yeats might answer, “(because) the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Both writers could be referring to the fact that in modern politics sloganeering has replaced honest and substantive discussion.
Slogans are hardly new; it’s a rare social, religious or political movement that hasn’t employed a humdinger to rally the troops. But what might have merely echoed across a barricade in times past can now virally infect the culture within moments.
My first memory of an election turned on its ear by a catchphrase was “Where’s The Beef?” back in 1984 when Walter Mondale destroyed Gary Hart by posing this inanity. It mattered little that Hart had many good ideas and would have proved a better candidate against Ronald Reagan.
Come to think of it that’s when “No New Taxes” hit the jackpot. Mondale stated that if elected he’d be forced to raise taxes in order to balance the budget.
Honesty, as every modern politician knows, does not pay. Mondale was trounced that November while Reagan stuck by his slogan and continued to amass huge deficits.
And now we have a new catch-cry: “No More Bailouts.”
Of course, there will be bailouts – what are you going to do should credit freeze again and the economic system starts tumbling into the Hudson? The only question is – who’ll pay for the bloody things?
Instead of shaving profits from the major banks and creating a reserve of 50 billion dollars as proposed, our legislators chose to delete that safety net from the Financial-Regulation Bill. After all, who wants their opponent yelling, “you’re in favor of bailouts” come November’s election?
It’s not so much that we disagree on how the country should be run, it’s that we can’t sit down and hammer out a consensus. Take the presidency of George W. Bush.
Elected on a platform of compassionate conservatism, he inherited a solid surplus that would have continued to increase as things stood.
However, in his generosity, he gave each of us a tax rebate thereby effectively torpedoing the surplus. His goal, of course, was to “starve government,” but I don’t remember any kind of substantive debate on the matter, and given the current fiscal debacle, this was an appallingly shortsighted decision.
Sloganeering is eating away at our democracy. One might as well watch The Simpsons as a political debate – at least Homer occasionally voices some homespun wisdom. Meanwhile, most politician spout a series of clichés prepared by their handlers, designed only to prevent the loss of votes.
Take the issue of the role of government in a democratic society. Are you kidding me? What government? Everyone is running against Washington – even the Nationals’ shortstop. Yet we all look to the Feds in a crisis – it’s just that we refuse to define what we wish government to do and – more importantly - how to pay for it.
Why? Well, participatory democracy is often painful and difficult – far easier mouth a few slogans and blame someone else.
At least, “Drill, Baby, Drill” is out the window for the foreseeable future in light of the BP disaster down in Louisiana; but isn’t it really time we had a full-bore discussion on energy. With the world economy expanding again, does anyone seriously doubt that a gallon of gas won’t hit $5 in the coming years?
Things were just hunky-dory as long as we were the only gas-guzzlers but now China and India want in. I know it’s downright heresy – and a nightmare to many - but wouldn’t it be better to promote conservation now by slapping a tax on gas that would concurrently reduce the deficit?
Or should we just wait for the oil companies to up the price as soon as demand rises. Come to think of it, oil itself will run out in thirty or so years, shouldn’t we have shifted to Plan B yesterday?
We blew the chance of a lifetime on Sept. 11, 2001 when we were all ready to sacrifice for the common good. It won’t be as easy now. We’re fatigued from fighting two wars, betrayed by political, financial and religious leaders, drowning in an ocean of cultural banality while new and vacuous slogans divert us from substantive action.
It’s time we looked beyond the smoke and mirrors. It’s time we talked to each other again.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Phil Lynott

He was the most charismatic man I’ve ever met. Even before he “made it,” he cut a figure the length and breadth of Dublin. Phil Lynott was black, beautiful and sported a gurrier accent that could peel the skin off a turnip.
In the early days, Hendrix was his role model but I’m now reminded more of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Loping down O’Connell Street like some psychedelic Pied Piper, he was usually trailed by a bunch of kids. His white teeth gleamed in a perpetual smile and he winked or bade hello to anyone who caught his eye.
I knew him by repute before I ever laid eyes on him - his small triumphs on the Dublin beat scene were trumpeted in Spotlight Magazine. His humiliations were even more public: Skid Row broke up to get rid of him, then reformed without him.
But nothing could stop Philo – within months he’d mastered the bass and formed Thin Lizzy. Soon thereafter, I met him.
On good weeks Pierce Turner and I would treat ourselves to a curry in the Luna Restaurant on O’Connell Street, a popular hangout for showband heads and rockers. To our delight we were given a table right behind Phil and Eric Bell.
Eric who? Oh, you know him well enough – you listen to guitarists ape his lines on Whiskey in the Jar damn near every time you enter an Irish bar.
I can still recall Phil in the Luna declaiming, “we’re goin’ nowhere in Ireland, man!” He was trying to convince a skeptical Eric that they should decamp for England. They did and the rest is history.
Have you any idea of what it was like to first hear Whiskey in the Jar explode out of car radios and cloth covered transistors? Roll over Amhrán na bhFiann, we’d just found our own national anthem – Eric’s overdriven guitar and Phil’s cathartic voice took that old tune to places we’d never dreamed of.
Even now when I play it on SiriusXM I’m struck by its sheer originality. It always raises my spirits and shoots me back to a time when rock & roll was fresh and adventurous and unaware of itself.
A couple of years later Eric quit the band onstage in an orgy of smashed amps and overdriven dreams. I guess he really hadn’t wanted to go to England.
It took two guitarists to replace him but Lizzy stormed on. Phil used his presence, voice and songwriting chops to propel them far beyond his Crumlin roots. Their concerts were riotous mind-bending affairs, pulsing with life and dicing with controlled chaos. You could almost touch the adrenaline – and it wasn’t always natural.
Those were the days when rockers lived on the jittery edge, forever on the road with a costly album to promote, and another to write and record before they’d even unpacked – everything speeded up in a crashing, burning, collapsing cycle. The highs so high - a pity they couldn’t be bottled. And the lows, well, you don’t want to go there.
Phil was so intense onstage it almost hurt to watch him. He was living his dream and he demanded 120% of those around him – 150% from himself. He knew the difference between poise and posture, and dare any of his band-mates indulge themselves. You could catch his curses and exhortations from the side of the stage – never from the front. Every molecule had to be directed at the audience – they’d paid good money, they deserved a show! It was the Dub working class ethic colliding head on with the rock & roll dream.
The band was not at its best the last time I saw him in NYC. New Wave was all the rage, Graham Parker opened and, to the critics - if not the fans - Lizzy seemed a trifle overbaked. Yet, back in the dressing room Phil was as ever polite, welcoming and delighted to meet someone who “knew him back when.”
It was like being hit with a hammer that Christmas Day in 1985 when the news of his collapse spread, but I didn’t shed a tear. By then I’d learned the hard way that you can’t trade tomorrow’s energy for tonight’s performance.
Still, whenever I hear Whiskey in the Jar, I sit back, close my eyes and relive the sheer exhilaration and Paddy pride of those days when Philo’s Dub accent exploded through car radios and cloth-covered transistors like a tricolor siren.