Monday 29 June 2015

St. Patrick's Day Parade 2016 - all changed utterly

            The recent decision of the Irish people to legalize gay marriage closed a chapter of church-state integration and laid a foundation for a secular Irish society.

            Yet in all the immediate celebration and commentary there was little mention of the very obvious elephant in our room – the ongoing war over gay participation in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

            Yes, I know it’s barely three months since the last battle, but with the referendum everything has changed utterly. Talk about a terrible beauty being born!

            Let’s recap a little. When it seemed like the 2015 Parade would have to allow participation by Irish gay groups or suffer sponsorship boycott, the Parade Committee threw two brilliant counter punches. They chose the popular Cardinal Dolan as Grand Marshal and invited the NBC LGBT group, Out@Universal, to march.

            It was a short-term victory for there’s little doubt that unless an LGBT Irish group is invited to march Parade sponsors will come under popular pressure to withhold their support in 2016. Hopefully, this won’t be necessary.

            This is, after all, New York - one of the world’s most progressive cities. Besides with next year being the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Uprising, it’s a good time to settle this contentious matter once and for all.

            I firmly believe that there’s a desire on both sides to do so, despite Parade Chairman Dunleavy’s statement that LGBT groups “will have a problem” marching. The key is to get an early start and not leave it until early March when positions have already hardened.

            In any meaningful compromise both sides need to feel that their views are respected and that they do not have to totally surrender long-held principles. Senator George Mitchell was very cognizant of these points in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Belfast Agreement.

            Thus, it would behoove both sides to take into account the other’s respective hurts, goals and traditions. The back-story to the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization’s (ILGO) groundbreaking activism in the 1990’s often goes unmentioned. By then the New York Gay community had suffered through the scourge and heartbreak of AIDS for over a decade. This curried ILGO’s desire to be accepted as an organization that wished to march and celebrate its Irish heritage under its own banners.
            From the perspective of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, the members merely feel that they are upholding their right to continue the traditions of a Catholic gathering that observes Catholic Church teaching.

            But was the first NYC parade in 1762 exclusively Catholic? Probably not, since it was organized by Irish troops serving in the British Army. Perhaps it’s time the Parade focused on its Irish rather than its Catholic identity? That works in Dublin, so why not New York City – the home of inclusiveness?

            I have friends who argue that the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade honors those who fought Know-Nothing anti-Catholicism down the centuries. But such bigotry is a thing of the past, and traditions can become rusty chains if they’re not greased with relevance.

            The real crux of the issue is that many structured religions have problems dealing with the breadth of human sexuality and, like it or not, homosexuality is a part of the natural order. Likewise, it’s hardly a secret that down through the ages the Catholic Church has provided a safe haven within its clergy and religious orders for many with no inclination to marry whether for sexual or other reasons.

            But times have changed and nowadays there’s an accelerating acceptance of diversity. Pope Francis himself when questioned about gay people remarked, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”

            He’s right, of course, and what a breath of fresh air sweeping aside the cobwebs of dogma. People have always found ways of circumventing the strictest of Church rules – ask the overwhelming percentage of married Catholics who disregard church teaching on contraception.

            What’s needed is someone of stature who will bring both sides together in a spirit of good will. Once people start talking face-to-face anything is possible.

            The time for mediation is now otherwise next March the parade will become a major battleground, not to mention a financial basket case  – it’s time for a little sanity.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Bloomsday - James Joyce - June 16th

            I was a callow youth when I attended my first Bloomsday event in New York City. I remember little about the setting except that it was dark and much drink was taken. 

            From the stage Frank McCourt related that while serving in the US Army in Germany he was asked out by a lady officer much taken with his accent.

“Are you familiar with Joyce?” She inquired over their first drink.

            “No,” Frank replied, “what does she look like?”

McCourt who would later become the best-selling Irish writer of his generation had little notion of James Joyce, whereas nowadays every Paddy that ever lifted a pen could quote from Ulysses ‘til the cows came home.

            Take yours truly, for instance, with three upcoming Joycean engagements; you could posit that I’m a first class literary poseur or another poor soul afflicted with Joyceitis.

            James Joyce himself profited little from his writing. His wife, Nora Barnacle, complained that “them auld books caused nothing but trouble. You should have stuck to the singing.” She had a point for at one Feis Ceoil he came in third place to the great Count John McCormack.

            But Joyce never doubted his own brilliance. As a young man with nothing yet published he told the world renowned WB Yeats that the poet was beyond help.

            Joyce was also an accomplished mooch who borrowed like it was going out of style. When it came to creditors and landlords he was rarely more than one step ahead of the hounds.

            Hemingway (a man who knew whereof he spoke) said that Joyce was a rummy of the first order. And yet Sunny Jim was a drunk with discretion, for though he quaffed white wine by the gallon, he would not touch a drop of red – for it reminded him of blood.

            Joyce knew his women and wrote expertly - and intimately - about them. Every man contemplating matrimony should read the last 30 pages of Ulysses when Molly Bloom shares her thoughts. Some will go dashing back to the safe haven of bachelorhood; many more will roar out “tally-ho!”

            That’s the power of Joyce and you will have two opportunities to experience the wondrous Aedín Moloney inhabit the character of Molly in the coming weeks. First up will be on June 11th at Barnes & Noble in Tribeca where she will terrify the uptight in the company of Pete Hamill, Malachy McCourt and yours truly. 

This event will be sponsored by Irish American Writers and Artists; however don’t bring your Grand-Aunt Fanny unless she can handle unbridled womanhood in the raw, for Molly Bloom is a woman of considerable appetites.

Aedín will reprise the role outside Ulysses Folkhouse on Pearl Street on the afternoon of June 16th.

            I am often hailed as the world’s foremost male interpreter of the Ulysses character, Gerty McDowell – being the only one certainly helps. I’ll be unleashing Dirty Gerty, as she is commonly known, while leading a discussion on Ulysses in Bryant Park Reading Room at lunchtime on June 16th.

            All these Joycean events are free in honor of Sunny Jimmy Joyce who never cared to pay for anything himself. You should attend one or more for Ulysses is much better heard than read.

            Jot down some quotes that tickle your fancy – and there will be many for Joyce put the kitchen sink into “the world’s greatest novel.”

            Then on June 17th, in the solitude of your room, with a roaring hangover, you can commit your favorite lines to memory.

Upon recovery, dressed in your best seersucker suit and straw hat, head for your local saloon where you can mouth off these priceless nuggets to the assembled shocked and awed peasants. Have no qualms about accepting every free drink offered you, and demand copious buybacks from your barkeep.

            Ah yes, God bless Jimmy Joyce, genius and freeloader, the month of June would not be the same without him.

June 16  12:30-1:45pm, Bryant Park Reading Room, 42nd St./5th Ave., NYC
June 16  2pm  Ulysses Folk House, 95 Pearl St., NYC
June 16  11pm  Celtic Crush, SiriusXM Radio - The Spectrum, Ch. 28, Bloomsday Show

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Celtic Crush - 10 Years Later

I’ve always loved radio. I suppose that comes from spending so many solitary nights back in Wexford tuned into an ancient tube-powered wireless. What treasures seeped from its cloth-covered speakers! I could summons voices from Luxembourg, London, American Forces Network in Germany (AFN), not to forget Bulgaria.

            The comrade with the sexy voice from Radio Sofia was my favorite. It didn’t matter that she was preaching the destruction of capitalism and the demise of the Holy Father in Rome, I was hooked by her sultry Eastern European accent. I even wrote her a fan letter and was rewarded with a big package addressed to “Comrade Laurence Kirwan.”

            This caused no end of problems, as Jim Morris, our postman, was not only a Fianna Fail member of Wexford Corporation but a very devout Catholic. He complained to my grandfather about the godless, communist propaganda I was receiving. He needn’t have bothered - I was already disenchanted: instead of a picture of the sexy comrade, they had sent a long boring treatise on Marxism.
            Fast-forward many years to an interview with Meg Griffin at Sirius Satellite Radio about the latest Black 47 CD. Steve Blatter, Vice President of Music Programming, happened to hear my accent and inquired from Meg if I’d be capable of stringing a couple of coherent sentences together as they were in need of a host for a Celtic show.
Ms. Griffin assured him of my rapier-like loquaciousness and a week later I was behind the controls at Sirius delivering the first broadcast of Celtic Crush. 

            I’ve been doing it now for ten years and it has enriched my life enormously.  Once I’d figured out the studio technology I was encouraged to produce the show.

            This essentially means that I choose the songs, and I decided from the outset that I would reward songwriters and musicians who took chances in their search for excellence.  

There are many types of Celtic music - each with its own boisterous proponents; however, most agree that we feature a strong selection from their genre on Celtic Crush with little nod to commerciality. Finding great songs is always a task; on the other hand “modern” Celtic music has over fifty years of material to choose from.

            Because it’s satellite radio the show is broadcast throughout the US and Canada and can be accessed by computer anywhere in the world. With over 150 full-time channels broadcasting simultaneously you’ve got to be engaging and on your toes, but with 28 million subscribers there’s a potentially huge audience.

            I keep the show as loose as possible for there’s a thrill in being just one step away from disaster. I begin with a three to five minute soliloquy and this sets the tone for the show. I usually concoct this “opening statement” on my pre-dawn subway journey to the studio. If nothing else it keeps me awake!

            I use no notes or computer. It’s just one person with a microphone and a lot of great music. Having played 25 years with Black 47, I often personally know the artists I’m talking about. But I’m not concerned with their personal foibles – only their art and how they create it.

            During interviews I try to put the artists at ease so that they’ll open up to the listeners about their music and its inspiration.

            Ray Davies was my favorite interviewee. What an intelligent person and a gentleman to boot – he walked me through the recording of Waterloo Sunset, as though it had happened yesterday instead of 1967.

            Why is Ray Davies Celtic? Well, his people originated in Wales and he lives in Ireland part of the year. That’s Celt enough for me. Still, we feature everything from The Kilfenora Ceili Band to Dropkick Murphys with many a stop in-between.

            And so this coming Saturday I’ll celebrate ten years of Celtic Crush with a look backwards. It never ceases to amaze me how great songs hold up while great arrangements and fashionable choices so often don’t.

            Or as Stephen Foster is reputed to have said, “great music is forever, everything else fades away.” Celtic Crush continues to thrive ten years later.

Celtic Crush can be heard on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, The Spectrum, Ch. 28, Saturdays 7-10amET, Tuesdays 11pmET.  Two full shows always available by signing up for On Demand.