Wednesday 27 July 2016

Fifteen Minutes of Unholy Fame

    A sighting of Andy Warhol was always an occasion. It usually occurred in a West Village bookstore as he peered shortsightedly at a row of titles. I never saw him with a book in hand, nor heard him speak. He was invariably alone, a languid character, yet ever so distinctive in his bleached isolation.

   I wasn’t a fan of his paintings – while skillful they seemed derivative – of course I now see that was the point. Still, he had discovered Lou Reed and Velvet Underground, so Andy was all right by me.

   I was much more a fan of Picasso, Dylan, and Joyce – three cultural commandoes who delved deep into the human psyche and positively exuded originality. However, I’m forced to concede that in terms of sheer cultural influence Andy has left this illustrious trio in the ha’penny seats.

   Originality has lost much of its lustre of late. Hip-Hop, long the most popular and vital music genre, has turned sampling of previous works into a compelling art form – in much the same way that Andy transmuted photo images of Marilyn and Mao into multi-million dollar paintings.

   But it’s his prophecy - everyone will have his and her 15 minutes of fame – that sets Mr. Warhol apart. When he first made this outlandish statement it seemed dichotomous at best.  But just a casual sampling of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will show that Andy predicted a celebrity-mad world that Messrs. Picasso, Dylan, and Joyce couldn’t even imagine.

   Makes you wonder – did a young Donald Trump also run into Warhol in a West Village bookstore? Perhaps, the androgynous artist convinced the budding wall builder that in the new millennium celebrity would count for far more than talent, and image would trump substance by a Tweeted mile.

   But enough of Mr. Trump – whatever you think of him he does wear his celebrity effortlessly. Then again, with 10 billion dollars, a full head of hair, and Melania to go home to, we too might exude charisma.

   On the other hand, rock stardom, like originality, is not what it used to be – the glitter is still there but little of the gold. With the advent of Spotify, Pandora, and illegal downloading, none but mega stars can aspire to a penthouse in Trump Tower; and yet there is no shortage of poseurs vying for this faded apex of celebrity.

   Speaking of rock deities, I was once in deep conversation with Ric Ocasek of The Cars when a fan of huge girth, many tattoos, and much muscle bellowed in our direction, “You are God!”

   After a fretful glance to make sure a holy assassination wasn’t in the works, Ric mildly responded, “Thank you.”

   I figured I’d copy this response should I ever be hailed in such a manner, but my moment has yet to come. 

   Perhaps, just as well, for I have friends who swear by their publicists’ hype, rendering them so boring I now hide at their exalted approach. 

   Maybe Andy knew that celebrity is not all it’s made out to be. I’ve often thought it must be hard to be Bono. He seems like a decent enough skin but, from what I hear, half the world would love to snub him, while the rest want to beat the bejaysus out of him.

   Phil Lynott enjoyed his celebrity better than anyone I ever met, with Frank McCourt a wry half-step behind.

On the other hand, Norman Mailer, one of nature’s gentlemen on a one-to-one basis, seemed to feel honor bound to live up to his aggressive reputation at a gathering, particularly when the drink was flowing.

   So, what is this 15 minutes of fame that Andy speaks of and why do we desire it so badly? I suppose it’s a need to know that we matter.

   And yet celebrity is hardly the answer. Many of my acquaintances who thirsted for fame have ended up enmeshed in drugs and drink when their 15 minutes have evaporated. 

   So, later for Mr. Warhol and his prophesies! I’m going to invite Bono over for champagne, sit under my priceless Picasso, read him Molly Bloom’s final soliloquy, listen to Mr. Tambourine Man on repeat, and pray to God no one breaks through my velvet rope and beats the bejaysus out of the two of us.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

The Housekeepr and the Pig Man

   While throwing out a very stale half-loaf of bread recently I experienced a pang of guilt, closely followed by a dollop of nostalgia.

   I recognized the guilt instantly. Where I came from food was never discarded. On my grandfather’s farm the sheepdogs ate anything we didn’t. 

   Little else was thrown out either. In a corner of the barn lay all manner of broken pitchforks, scythes and shovels - some so old they might have been used in Wexford’s 1798 Insurrection. 

   “When things are slower in the cold weather we’ll fix them,” was the mantra; needless to say winter brought its own demands.

   My grandmother fiercely hoarded her stale bread; it would have been considered bad luck to throw it out for echoes of the Great Hunger still lingered in rural areas. And so every week she baked a bread pudding rich with raisins and sultanas. 

   This treat was tasty but nothing compared to her Queen of Hearts – a more refined bready concoction on whose top she added lashings of raspberry jam and a frothy soufflĂ© - the like of which I have never experienced since.

   Much as I loved the farm I was raised mostly by my maternal grandfather - a widower and monumental sculptor by trade. He and my uncle lived in a big barracks of a house in the heart of Wexford town. A succession of housekeepers came and stormily departed before Miss Codd, a formidable spinster, took charge.

   She had been a parish priest’s housekeeper for many years and considered it a huge tumble down the social ladder to be employed by “a mere stonecutter.” As you might imagine from such scathing language ours was a turbulent household.

   However, since my grandfather and his intrepid housekeeper shared rural roots they were agreed on one thing – nothing should be wasted. We had no sheepdogs, and Miss Codd was no great confectioner, so we utilized a “pig man” to remove our discarded scraps of food.

   This occupation may seem somewhat quaint now but it was common enough back in Wexford town. Jackie Redmond was a prosperous breeder of pigs and once a week he emptied our “bucket of slops” into a vat placed in the back of his van.

   Despite his occupation Jackie was considered to be a gentleman. He was from a well-regarded Home Rule family and revered the memory of John Redmond, leader of that party in the British House of Commons.

   Now my grandfather had “very advanced” Republican sympathies, but both men were civil to each other. I suppose pig slops weren’t worth resurrecting old feuds. 

   After about a year or so I noticed that Miss Codd always had a cup of tea and some choice biscuits ready when Jackie made his weekly call. I put little pass on this at first as Jackie, despite his breeding and gentility, smelled like a walking abattoir six days of the week, while our housekeeper was beyond fastidious in all things.

   However, one Sunday morning I encountered Jackie escorting Miss Codd home from 11 o’clock mass. Our pig man was resplendent in his best three-piece suit and even from across the street I could detect the waft of Old Spice and Brylcreem. 

   Miss Codd, who always shopped in the best ladies establishments, was dressed to the nines in a well-cut tweed jacket and skirt, with a fuchsia blouse and a matching lavender silk scarf.

   I watched stealthily from behind a Morris Minor as they exchanged some banter and words of farewell outside my grandfather’s door. Then Jackie raised his felt hat and departed, his face creased in what I considered a speculative smile.

   It would have been a great match. A 60 year-old bachelor of means and a stylish spinster “of a certain age.” Alas, it never happened. 

   Was Miss Codd’s delicately honed sensibility unable to stomach the ubiquitous smell of pig slops, or was Jackie too set in his bachelor’s way? I dared not inquire. But one day the tea and choice biscuits were not on offer, and from then on Jackie shuffled in and out of the house in a far more businesslike manner.

   Isn’t it strange how many sepia-toned memories can surface when throwing out an innocent, stale half-loaf of bread?