Thursday 30 December 2010

New Year's Eve in Olde Tymes Square

Tickets on sale at until 6pm tonight and all day at Connolly’s, 121 W. 45th St., NYC 212-597-5126

What a long strange trip over the last decade or so. We began 2000 with Trouble in the Land – pretty prophetic when all is said and done, and this year we released Bankers and Gangsters - the title says it all.

For Mychal, Richie and the other cherished fans who departed back in 2001; for Strummer, Danno Laursen, Johnny Byrne, Big John Murphy and all those who worked with the band; for the many who have celebrated New Year’s Eve with us over the last 21 years; and, of course, for new friends who’ve come aboard in this decade, thanks to all of you for your support and friendship.

We only perform this song once a year and as far as I know it's only available on the Connolly’s Live in Times Square DVD. But tonight it’s just for you, so feel free to come along and video or audio tape it at midnight.

New Year’s Eve in Olde Tymes Square

It was always that way at the end of the year
We’d end up down in olde Tymes Square
Holdin’ each other while the pints flowed free
That was the way it always would be
But things fell apart one weird September
Before I knew it was the 31st of December
With my arms wrapped around your memory
That old crystal ball came crashin’ down on me

But you will never be forgot
Or ever left behind
And so I raise my glass to you
For the sake of Auld Lang Syne

And even though you’re far away
You’re always close to mind
Your memory still haunts me, dear
For the sake of Auld lang Syne

For Auld Lang Syne, my dear
For Auld Lang Syne
We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet
For the sake of Auld Lang Syne

Remember the night with the frost in your hair
And the sparks in your eyes when you told me you cared
And the cop on the horse laughed when he said
“Motel time, kids, why don’t yez save it for bed?”
But time and a river stopped dead in September
And I’m back in Connolly’s the 31st of December
Dancing with shadows and might have beens
With that old crystal ball crashin’ down on me

But you will never be forgot
Or ever left behind
And so I raise my glass to you
For the sake of Auld Lang Syne

And even though you’re far away
You’re always close to mind
Your memory still haunts me, dear
For the sake of Auld lang Syne

For Auld Lang Syne, my dear
For Auld Lang Syne
We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet
For the sake of Auld Lang Syne...

Friday 24 December 2010

Christmas and the Irish American Princess (IAP)

She was my first IAP (Irish-American Princess). Well the first that I lived with at any rate. Tara had somehow made her way down to the Lower East Side from the leafy, lace-curtain environs of Westchester, although she was anything but stuck up.

Back then I had a regular Sunday gig in the less than ritzy Archway up the Bronx and she fit in there like a fist in a glove. Of course, she was quite a looker so that didn’t hurt with the lovesick Paddies. She had beautiful grayish green eyes that would mist over in any kind of conflict or passion; there was much of both in our relationship. The boys said that she could twist me around her little finger. They were right, but oh that twisting could be so sweet.

Things came easy to Tara. She had succeeded at everything she’d turned her hand to. But she wished to become a successful singer, the rock that many have foundered upon. I must have seemed like a good step up the ladder; besides gigs in the Archway and John’s Flynn’s Village Pub, I regularly strutted my stuff at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. It was to be a match made in purgatory for both of us. Whatever, as they say, I was in need of some stability and moved into her apartment on First Avenue.

I always “just missed” her parents on their visits to the city. That should have set the bells ringing but I guess when you’re in love… Actually, our first major disagreement was over my parents - when I announced I’d be spending Christmas with them in Wexford.

“Our first Christmas together?” She shuddered.

“Well, you can come too.” Although I broke into a cold sweat at the thought of telling the Mammy that we’d be bunking together in the ancestral homestead.

“I couldn’t desert my parents,” she countered as though I was sentencing her whole white-picketed clan to twenty out on Rykers.

“But what about my parents?” And on it went as lovers’ quarrels do until her eyes were so misty and beautiful I feared that her heart might indeed break

Well, I wrote my Mother a particularly tear-stained letter full of half-truths (God rest her soul, I suppose she knows the full story now). I didn’t dare telephone; I wasn’t man enough to bear two loads of womanly angst. In truth though, the part that really hurt was that I would miss the traditional Wexford boys’ night out on Christmas Eve. And so I extracted a promise from Tara that we’d at least tie on a decent substitute.

“No problem,” she said and was good to her word. She was fairly abstemious for those times but when called upon could drink like a fish with little ill effect. We bought a tree, decorated it, and strung flashing lights all around the apartment. I almost felt like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. Almost! For around 7pm I slipped on my black leather jacket, she dressed up to the nines and off we strutted up First Avenue to get well and truly shellacked.

God knows how many bars we hit, I certainly don’t; but I was feeling no pain by the time we reached Max’s Kansas City. Why Max’s on Christmas Eve? Well Tara liked to make the scene, besides I knew the doorman and got in free. I was also familiar with the bartender who slid many the shot of watered-down whiskey towards us. And then, through the shroud of smoky darkness, I heard the London accent.

“Roight!” The spiky-haired ghost in black leather wearily exclaimed.

The platinum blonde next to him droned on as junkies do.

“Roight.” Sid Vicious reiterated whenever a response was expected.

I casually whispered his name to Tara.

“Oh my God!” She shrieked as though Jesus had just hopped down off the cross and offered to buy a round.

Sid looked up blearily, whereupon Tara flashed him a smile that would have done justice to Marilyn Monroe on steroids.

“The blonde looks like a piece of all right,” I countered and winked at Nancy Spungen.

“From a bottle!” Tara sniffed just as Sid laboriously hauled himself off his stool and stumbled towards the restrooms; whereupon Ms. Spungen laid her head down on the counter for a wee snooze. We were still awaiting Sid’s return when Tara looked at her watch and gasped. “It’s two minutes to twelve.”

“Expecting to turn into a pumpkin?”

“No,” she moaned, “we won’t get into St. Patrick’s!”

“What for?”

“Midnight mass, of course. What do you think?”

Was she kidding - from Max’s to matins?

When we arrived at the church off Avenue A, I could tell it wasn’t exactly what Ms. Westchester had in mind. For one thing, the priests all wore dark shades and spoke Polish. Still, the place was packed and we reverently stood in the transept beside an ornate candelabra, wax dripping from its many branches.

Perhaps, it was the heat, though it could have been Max’s watery whiskey; for one moment I was swaying, the next I was writhing on the marble floor painfully disengaging myself from a myriad of hot waxy candles. There was immediate uproar with many Eastern European ladies screaming at me, and Tara, no doubt, wishing she was safely home in leafy suburbia.

When I awoke on Christmas morning much of her extensive wardrobe was laying atop me. She was modeling a matronly gray jacket and skirt, the hem inches below her knees, damn near a foot down from its usual height. I leaped from the bed and grabbed my Doc Martens, pink shirt, and black leather tie and jacket. Unlike my dearest, I had long before settled on an outfit appropriate for my first appearance in Westchester.

“You don’t look well, baby,” she laid a cool hand on my brow and cooed, “You’re just burning up.”

I did feel as though one of those monsters from Alien was ready to hop out of my stomach but I had much experience of that condition. “No, it’s okay. I want to do this for you.”

She hemmed and hawed before blurting out the truth, “It’s my mother…she wouldn’t like you.”

“What’s there not to like?”

“Well, your clothes, for one thing. I mean, are you serious?”

And with that, the fight fled from me. I could just picture the whole clan dressed in Kelly green singing Danny Boy around a turf fire - her auld one, no doubt, peering out through her lace curtains.

Tara took me in her arms whispered that I should go back to sleep, and hinted that on her return Santa might provide some x-rated delights. But I wasn’t that easily mollified and delivered one last parting shot as the door closed behind her, “So what am I supposed to do, have Christmas dinner in an Indian restaurant?”

Well, I didn’t fall back asleep and the hangover was of the galloping nature, gaining ground all evening. But the hunger was no joke either and when I eventually sauntered up First Avenue the only places open were of the Indian persuasion. A dusting of snow was coming down as I stormed into The Taj Mahal. The lone customer didn’t even bother to look up from his book; I sat there glaring at him, cursing all cruel-hearted IAPs and wishing I was home with my Mammy in Wexford.

The snow was swirling around First Avenue and I could hear White Christmas playing as I headed back to the apartment. I turned on the blinking Christmas lights and took a couple of fierce slugs of Jameson’s whiskey, turned the Clash up to eleven and rehearsed ever more vicious and vengeful ways of breaking up with Ms. Westchester.

She must have forgotten her keys for, at first, I didn’t hear her knock above Strummer’s bawling. I strode over to the door, more fired up than any Old Testament prophet. She stood there, face flushed from the cold, snow in her hair; she was expecting my fury and accepted it with grace. She smiled gently, her grayish green eyes misting over, and I barely heard her murmur, “I missed you so much.”

She reached up and held a sprig of mistletoe over my head and kissed me as if for the first time. Then she whispered, “Merry Christmas, baby.”

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Dear President Obama

Dear President Obama,

Did you happen to get the gift I sent? I know it’s not very polite to ask and my mother, God rest her soul, is even now fuming up in heaven at my lack of manners.

It’s actually a double whammy – The Quiet American written by Graham Greene, along with a DVD of the movie inspired by the book.

I sent both because I think Michelle might like the movie; it contains “a bit of auld romance,” as they used to say in Ireland, coupled with an important message for you.

What with Wikileaks, though, I’m afraid you’ll discover that I sent the exact same present to President Bush some years back. However, some things never change.

I still think you’re doing a hell of a job on the home front - saving both the car industry and the financial system, along with making sure we can all get health insurance.

Now I don’t know whether you’ve ever read this column but I was very opposed to the war in Iraq. To tell you the truth, I’ve come to feel much the same way about the conflict in Afghanistan? I’d like to know if you honestly think that there’s a prayer of winning in this “graveyard of empire?”

What is “winning” anyway? Keeping in power a government that stole over a million votes in the last presidential elections - whose officials daily loot the treasury and are in cahoots with heroin dealers in the second most corrupt country in the world?

Many of us voted for you on strength of your commitment that troops would be drawn down in 2011 and although there are still murmurings on that score, we now find that for all intents and purposes this goalpost has been arbitrarily shifted to 2014.

Amazingly this ten-year war didn’t even raise a feather during the recent mid-term elections. Since Fox TV didn’t deem it worthy to be an issue politicians of both your party and the party of No followed suit. The tail continues to wag the dog!

And I’m more than aware that “it’s the economy, stupid!” But bad as things are, no one is getting killed over the economy. While in Afghanistan our young men and women are sacrificing their lives over meaningless piles of rubble. We are once again enmeshed in a hostile country fighting with few achievable goals.

I know you’re in a tricky situation and don’t want to be labeled “the man who lost Afghanistan.” Your upcoming presidential rivals would lambast you; but what’s a little shellacking when measured against the lives you could save?

Besides, we’ll be leaving Afghanistan as soon as it has drained us of our blood, money and idealism. Not to mention that instead of making the US safer, we’re actually doing the opposite by allowing our troops to become target practice in another civil war long after Qaeda has shifted its operations to more hospitable countries.

My final breaking point with this war came when Ahmed Zia Massoud, former Vice- President of Afghanistan and brother of Ahmed Shah Massoud, assassinated leader of the Northern Alliance, was discovered with $52 million in his possession while visiting the United Arab Emirates.

That says it all to me - there will be no Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban this time round, far better leave that unprofitable task to the innocent Yanks.

I wish you the best, Mr. President. I think you’re a decent man doing a credible job jump-starting a troubled US economy at a terrible time. But you’re dead wrong in pursuing this hopeless war in Afghanistan and those of us who railed against President Bush in Iraq make hypocrites of ourselves by turning a blind eye to your folly.

Graham Greene warned against this kind of involvement in The Quiet American. Take a read and, for God’s sake, leave a copy of the book or DVD for your successor so we can eventually break this unnecessary cycle of wars and return this country to its rightful position as the shining city on the hill.

Yours in protest, happy Christmas and all the best to you, the Missus and the girls!

Thursday 16 December 2010

Dominic & Brendan Behan

The two brothers left school at the age of thirteen to become house painters. Both ended up Irish republicans, socialists, playwrights, songwriters, memoirists, troublemakers, drinkers and many other things besides.

Brendan became a world-renowned playwright, though few today have seen his work; he is better known as an Irish boozer who lived life to the scandalous fullest.

Dominic, when recognized at all, is known best for his battle with Bob Dylan over the comparative merits of their songs, The Patriot Game and With God On Our Side.

Brendan’s star has always shone brighter but there is a case to be made that Dominic may now be the more influential.

I first became aware of this when I noticed how many versions of his songs I was playing on my SiriusXM radio show. I was long aware that he had written Patriot Game, arguably the greatest protest song. Take a listen to Liam Clancy’s mesmerizing version from Carnegie Hall in 1962.

Yet, in a testament to his tetchiness, Dominic found fault with the fact that Liam had pragmatically omitted the verse that spoke about killing policemen – small wonder when performing before an Irish-American audience.

Dominic had a reputation for being a mean drunk and could be his own worst enemy; yet one can sympathize with him over Bob Dylan lifting the tone and character of Patriot Game and recasting it as God On Our Side. We, of course, are the winners, for now we have two magnificent songs, where once there was one.

Try telling Dominic that! For years he publicly insulted Dylan with the hope of luring him into court.

But to get back to the brothers Behan, I had always assumed that The Auld Triangle from Brendan’s powerful play, The Quare Fellah, was his own song. But, lo and behold, Dominic wrote it.

The Auld Triangle continues to improve with age – take a listen to recent versions by Swell Season and Dropkick Murphys. Dominic, indeed, etched his songs in granite. His best stand up effortlessly to time and fashion, and are the equal of anything written by the great Ewan McColl, his friend and rival.

Now you may not be overly impressed with some of his other creations, The Merry Ploughboy, Come Out Ye Black & Tans, or Take it Down From the Mast, but I had always assumed these doughty standards predated him.

Still, there are few lyrics that sum up the hardship and casual heroism of the Irish emigrant experience better than McAlpine’s Fusiliers. I would go so far to say that without that song The Pogues, and Paddy Rock in general, would have been far less authentic.

And what of Brendan? Well, if you’ve never read Borstal Boy, you have a treat in store. As a very erudite gentleman once said to me, “after reading that memoir, I felt that I had missed out on an important part of my education.”

I haven’t seen his other great play, The Hostage, since Jim Sheridan directed it at the Irish Arts Center in the 80’s. Likewise, I haven’t heard of a recent production of The Quare Fellah, one of the most damning indictments of capital punishment. I wonder how both plays are standing up to the test of time.

Writers, however, wax and wane in public estimation and it often takes a director from a different generation to discover the play’s original impetus, shake it loose from the accrued calcification, and then reinterpret it in the cool light of modernity. Hopefully, that will happen to Brendan’s work soon.

Meanwhile Dominic’s star continues to ascend. Nightly, around the world, singers raise their voices in testament to his humanity, politics, biting humor, and sheer productivity. The guy wrote more than 450 songs including, it is rumored, the beautiful middle verse of Carrickfergus that begins with “They say of life and it has been written…”

Whatever their current ranking, those Behan boys didn’t do too bad for a couple of Dubs who quit school at thirteen. True, they shamed and offended many Irish people by their outlandish behavior, but in the end they affected the very way we perceive ourselves.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Connolly & the Irish Financial Crisis

Whenever I think of the current financial crisis in Ireland I’m reminded of James Connolly. The taciturn Irishman born in Scotland rarely came to mind in the giddy, gauche years of the Celtic Tiger except as a vaguely disapproving figure whose economic theories had been shown to be not only wrong but ridiculous.

And yet, the “Irish Rebell” - as the song calls him - is back with a bang.

Connolly has often been misinterpreted; then again, he was a man for many seasons. Though often characterized as a nationalist martyr who was shot in a chair, he was in fact a self-educated union leader and theorist. His overriding fear was that the bosses or cartels would unite internationally to the detriment of the workers of each country.

Though he believed in a fair shake for business owners, he mistrusted human nature when spurred on by the acquisition of profit.

He was quite prescient in foreseeing the current Irish crisis and would have been appalled at its outcome and proposed solution.

Connolly, like many trade unionists of the early 20th Century, had a great love for humanity but was wary of its grasping nature. He agreed with his comrade, Big Jim Larkin, “that the great are only great because we are on our knees.” What worried him was what would happen when we arose and began to look out for number one.

The hunger for profit, rampant consumerism and abandonment of community in modern Ireland would have been his worst nightmare, topped only by the arrival of the international bosses dictating the terms of the country’s survival and very sovereignty.

We can ill afford to tut-tut here in the US for we came within an ace of allowing our own economic system to be destroyed by a rapacious financial community.

The only difference between us is the sheer size and scale of the US economy and, unlike Ireland, our banking system is not so intricately enmeshed in all our economic dealings. Thus, though we still have the stealth bombs of failed real estate loans locked within our system, we’re buying time for our banks, and insurance and mortgage companies to make more money so that they can ultimately swallow their losses. At least, that’s the hype, and perhaps the hope.

The sheer scale of the Irish banking system’s collusion in the creation of a real estate bubble is astounding.

Property prices escalated at a ridiculous rate – shacks in Wexford were being sold for a half-million Euros – and big money flooded the country in the ceaseless drive for profit. As over here, many families only got into the hunt late in the game when prices were already inflated.

When the bubble did burst they were left stranded, along with many speculators; the wise money, of course, saw it coming, took the profit and is now betting on the Euro depreciating. Connolly’s fear has come to pass.

Sean Citizen is left holding the baby and change is on the way. Mighty Fianna Fail will be decimated. No great loss in the grand scheme of things - it had long ago cast off its green cloak of nationalism and populism for the navy pinstripes of speculators and gombeen men.

But, as my granny used to say, “things could be worse, no one got kilt!” Feathers, however, financial and otherwise, have been ruffled. Still, community is back – if only that of suffering. And a great questioning of values has begun.

The Irish will bring their banking system to heel, learn and go on from this. We, on the other hand, will do Wall Street’s bidding and further dilute our recently enacted anemic financial reform bill. The cycle of bubble and bust will continue.

The captains and the kings will call the tune, we the pawns shall dance, and Connolly will shake his baffled and disapproving head.