Saturday, 10 December 2016

Stardust and Shay (Healy)

When was the last time you heard a song that floored you? I’m not talking about a number that you instantly hum along with, or tap your foot to, but something that really touches you.

It’s a rare Van Morrison album that doesn’t provide one such song. Bob Marley had a way of melding rhythm, rhyme, and melody that could grip your soul; and back in the day Shane McGowan seemed to effortlessly stir the heart.

Because I produce and host Celtic Crush on SiriusXM I’m always on the lookout for great songs. You’d be surprised how rarely I find them. Don’t get me wrong: there are many good songs out there, but play them next to a great one and you instantly notice the difference. Because Howard Stern is down the corridor only dying to snare my listeners, I don’t have much use for the merely “good”.

So, I guess you could say I’m in the business of creating future classics. I also know when I’ve succeeded – or failed - because listeners all over North America aren’t shy in letting me know.

About a year ago I received an email containing an mp3 from an old friend. As I was reading his message I automatically clicked on the link. At first I barely noticed the song. But within 20 seconds I knew I had stumbled upon something wonderful. 

The voice was familiar although I hadn’t spoken to my friend in over 20 years. There was a physical weariness to it, however, that stopped me in my tracks, and yet the old ebullience and optimism was still there at the core. 

“When my life is over I’ll become a bit of stardust
Out there in the heavens out beyond the blue
And if you want to see me just look into the night sky
You will see me shining winking down at you…”

The arrangement was sparse, somewhat like a Billie Holliday torch song, it left acres of room for the singer to get his point across. The words grabbed me with their aching humanity; there was a message here that went beyond your normal pop song. It was about the fragility of life, and the singer’s awareness that he has learned something he’d love to pass on to the rest of us. 

“Stars were made for wishing so make your wish upon me
And I’ll do what I can to make your dreams come true
Dry away your tears now our souls go on forever
And maybe we will meet again when you become stardust too.”

There was a certain humility that you sometimes hear in a Sinatra song – particularly those the man from Hoboken recorded when reeling from the heartbreak of losing Ava Gardner. In Sinatra’s case, though, it’s the young stud realizing that he’ll never find a love like this again.

I can’t say for definite that the Parkinson’s that has afflicted Shay Healy has something to do with the wistfulness of When You Become Stardust Too, but I have no hesitation in saying that my old friend has written and performed a classic that will long outlast his very full and fulfilling life.

As the gripping trumpet solo brought the song near to an end I thought of many things: how African-American Jazz music has spread so effortlessly that an Irish muso can nail its essence as readily as any New Orleans aficionado.

I also remembered a Wexford adolescent buying New Spotlight Magazine to read about the Folk Scene in Dublin catalogued in such detail by Shay Healy, and later on meeting the man himself and getting his encouragement to begin my own musical journey.

That’s what a great song does to you. It provides wings and wheels to your own memories and imagination.

I played Stardust the following Sunday morning on Celtic Crush and the response was immediate. Listeners loved it and I’ve been playing it ever since. People write and tell me they listen to Shay’s song for inspiration, how it gets them through tough moments, and how they love to share it with others.

Thanks, Shay, you created a classic and we’re all the richer for it. Long may your stardust sparkle, old son!

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