Monday 23 February 2015

Fine Girl You Are, Beyonce!

            Where does the time go these days? Have you noticed that you’re busier than you’ve ever been but never seem to get much done? And despite all that, you’re sleeping less, and always have a nagging feeling that there’s something you’re forgetting? Welcome to the modern world!

            What’s going on? No matter how hard I work I still go to bed at all hours with many the task still incomplete.

            It has to be computers, Internet, smart phones and all the other agents of benign digitalia. The fact is - I’m so hooked up and ahead of myself, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.

            You know where I’m writing this? Somewhere out over the Caribbean. I woke up in a sweat a few minutes ago on a plane to Barbados dreaming about Ray O’Hanlon, the editor of this newspaper.

            Now, not to worry Mrs. O’Hanlon, it was all quite chaste. But your husband was frowning at me – and, as you know, Ray is a very affable and understanding man. So, I thought to myself, “Jeez, I must have forgotten the column.”

            Instead of ordering another beer and ogling the latest Beyonce video like any self-respecting rock ‘n’ roller, I guiltily grabbed my laptop and began tapping out this missive from a mile high.

            Now, wouldn’t you know it, while grabbing the laptop I dropped my iPhone and iPad, and panicked that both might not be charged for this 4 hours plus jaunt with Jet Blue. Time, after all, is money nowadays.

            It was then I had my Eureka moment – too many gadgets, too many apps, too many calls on my time! 

And I don’t even text that much. Much to the chagrin of those around me, my text alert is switched off.

“What’s the point in getting texts if you don’t know they’re there?” This is a question often fired at me.

            Perhaps it’s self-preservation – since the vast majority of my texts demand accusingly, “Where are you?”

            Now be honest with yourself, when was the last time you got a bit of good news in a text?

Well, I have to admit there was a recent one I received that read, “Mary had a 7 lb baby boy!!!” However, that was followed by four others demanding in increasingly graphic terms, “Where the hell are you?”

            Where was I, indeed? I was indulging in my latest crusade – Phone Free Fridays. Yeah, just take your eyes off me for five seconds on the best day of the week, and I’m out that door, cruising up Broadway with the damned iPhone forced to fend for itself amidst the detritus of my cluttered desk.

Granted, I felt very guilty about these unaccompanied walks at first. But I did reason with myself that Mary was unlikely to have another seven pounder for at least fifteen months – and knowing Mary it will probably be longer since she’ll spend so much time in the gym getting slim again, she’ll be fast asleep every night before her geeky husband clambers in next to her, worrying about what he’s forgetting.

            And that’s the problem nowadays. We’re always turned on, plugged in, hooked up – and in all the wrong ways! Right now the plane is hopping around like a herring on the griddle-oh, and still I write on for fear this column is due.

Back in the late lamented 20th Century, before digitalia enslaved us, I’d be so looped on shots and beers I’d be either humming Buddy Holly songs or passed out and dreaming of something a lot more delectable than Ray O’Hanlon.

            What’s the solution? Retire to the Dingle Peninsula and put up a “Gone Fishing” sign on my Beehive hut? Nah, I’d never hack the wet winters.

How about only checking texts and emails three times a day. No way, think of all I might be missing!

Still, would the world be a much worse place if we didn’t know the latest Kardashian tidbit or Manchester United disappointment? And even Mary’s news wasn’t any less joyful for hearing it in the evening than the afternoon.

            So, here’s to Phone Free Fridays! Pass the rum and coke, fine girl you are, Beyonce! Barbados here I come!

Thursday 12 February 2015

Sandy Denny

A hush often falls on conversation when the name, Sandy Denny, arises, usually accompanied by sighs and a gentle shaking of the head.  The initial pain at her passing over thirty years ago has eased but many of her admirers still experience a deep sense of loss.

What is it about Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny?  And why does she touch us still?  I really don’t know, but even as I write this I’m filled with a sense of gentle melancholia.  It definitely had something to do with her voice.  Even as a very young woman, that instrument ached with experience.

How could she have written a masterpiece like “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” as a teenager?  And to compound matters, it was rumored to be her first composition.  During an interview with Richard Thompson for Celtic Crush, I asked him if this was true.  He replied that to the best of his knowledge it was and, at any rate, she’d had the song when he first met her.

Fairport Convention are merely a footnote now in rock history but there was a time in the late 6o’s/early 70’s when their influence was huge and their star shone brightly.  There wasn’t a woman singer at the time that didn’t look up to Ms. Denny.  Sandy, herself, was racked by insecurity.  She longed for mainstream success but was unsure about, among other things, her appearance.  Add to that a harsh shyness and an uncertainty about celebrity.

Despite these doubts she was an electric performer who devoured light.  When she was onstage it was hard to take your eyes off her, notwithstanding the fact that she was always accompanied by stellar and equally charismatic musicians the like of Richard Thompson and her husband, Trevor Lucas.  I guess it was her intensity.  The song was everything to her and she effortlessly channeled the times, along with the ghosts of the people she sang about.

Take a listen to Banks of the Nile with her band Fotheringay.  I still delight in the perfection of the song’s arrangement; and then that voice – laying bare the story of a girl who dresses as a soldier to find her lover in England’s army fighting Napoleon in Egypt.

Or lose yourself in the longing and regret of No End where she mourns for the idealism of an artist she loved and admired.  Now that he’s forsaken his craft – and her – what’s left?  Well, actually, a lot, in particular that ineffable feeling we’ve all experienced at being let down but were never quite able to put into words.

Sandy died from a brain hemorrhage after a fall down a stairs in 1978.  At the end of our interview, I asked Richard Thompson to describe Sandy.  After praising her originality, voice and craft, he halted for a moment then continued in his very understated English manner, “she was a woman of considerable appetites.”

Lucky for us, I suppose, for her songs, though delicate, throb with life, loss and pain.  She was the best and we’re lucky to have been touched by her considerable talents, spirit and soul. 

Monday 9 February 2015

1992 All Over Again?

            Ah, it’s a great old country. We might only have presidential elections every four years, but candidates may toss their hats in the next ring before the last winner has even waltzed into the Oval Office.

            However, in the interests of sanity, I never write about upcoming elections until 21 months beforehand, which makes me a Johnny-Come-Lately, for the fields on both sides are already teeming with candidates.

            Still, it looks like 1992 all over again with the Clinton-Bush dynasties squaring up.  
There’s a calming quality to these names, in that neither seems likely to drive the car off the cliff. Though, on closer inspection, both already did in a little matter concerning the invasion of Iraq that a Bush initiated and a Clinton okayed.

            Toss in the near collapse of capitalism in the financial crisis of 2008 and you get another strike against the Bush clan. But that’s all ancient history, since most of us can barely remember last week, let alone Autumn 2008 or Spring 2003.

            Besides what Democrat in their right mind would run against Mrs. Clinton? Oh I forgot - she isn’t even running yet. But she’ll need to decide soon, if only to give her party a viable chance of retaining the White House. So, let’s check out the Democratic field.

            Gov. Martin O’Malley could move into the White House right now – he only lives up the road in Maryland. Don’t underestimate this Celtic Rocker. He may not be showing well in polls, but he’s smart and tenacious, and knows all the words to The Fields of Athenry. Besides, he’s principled, pragmatic and a friend of 20 years. I’d vote for him.

            Senator Jim Webb is intriguing and may be a dark horse. He’s one of our Scots-Irish brethren and had no problem in standing up to President Bush over Iraq.

            Then there’s Vice-President Biden – a decent man, a big ego, and lots of chits to call in, but he doesn’t seem to be anyone’s flavor nowadays.

            Senator Elizabeth Warren is the other great lady in waiting! The stock markets would swoon, and she’d put manners on the financial industry; but she’s not running – for now.

            What’s not to love about Senator Bernie Sanders - the Vermont socialist from Flatbush? Raise the red flag, comrade! He’ll enliven any debate with his sharp tongue and intellectual heft.

            Given the Sheldon Silvers fiasco, it’s unlikely that Gov. Cuomo will even test the waters. 2020 seems a far safer option.

            Now I know Mr. Jeb Bush is the most formidable Republican: he’s a Catholic convert, speaks Spanish, will have loads of money, and doesn’t frighten old ladies. 

But take a look at Senator Rand Paul. Sure, he’s got loads of libertarian baggage, but heck I’m even drawn to him for his opposition to blowing the hell out of other countries. This ophthalmologist sees what the Bushes and Clintons don’t – a $100 Iraqi IED can destroy a $150,000 American armor-plated Humvee.  

            The guy can play all sides too: while singing Hallelujah with the God and Guns brigades, he’s not quite Attila The Hun on immigration; and I’ve yet to hear anyone question his integrity.

            The Rev. Huckabee will split the fundamentalist vote in Iowa with Mr. Santorum, and both will run out of God and cash in New Hampshire.

Gov. Christie still has the George Washington Bridge hanging over him – besides Mr. Bush will wipe the floor with him in the financial donors department – and having cash to burn on two projected Republican Super-Tuesdays, March 1 and 14th, 2016 will be essential.

            Senator Cruz will raise hopes and dreams with the Tea-Party faithful, but he’ll have to watch his back since he’s the most hated man in Congress. Senator Rubio will raise his profile for 2020, but he’s going nowhere with his state-mate Bush at the starting gate.

Governors Jindal, Pence and Kasich will be pawns on the board. However, Gov. Walker, the Wisconsin union destroyer, will be there at the finish. And perhaps, beyond!

            Still, it will likely come down to the old guard, Bush and Clinton, and the perception that neither will drive the family car off the cliff. How soon we forget!