Wednesday 22 February 2017

Alternative Facts

Like many I’m saddened by the finger-wagging and brow-beating the media is taking nowadays.

For I wholeheartedly subscribe to the Thomas Jefferson dictum, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

But with newspapers under attack from all angles in these digital days, we are now all part of the media. One only has to crack one’s Facebook page to be exposed to a host of views – temperate and otherwise.

It was a much more efficient world when you bought your Times, News, or Post, and read the considered words of giants like Breslin, Hamill, Kempton et al.

They didn’t just keep their opinions for their columns - I once overheard Pete Hamill discussing the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. 

“We’re Americans, we don’t do torture.” He said quietly, and no one dissented. 

I wonder what Pete is saying about President Trump right now? For after a month of almost constant mistruths, one has to question the president’s judgment, at the very least.

These erroneous statements range from crowd size at his inauguration, to the rising murder rate, onto the number of people affected by his immigration executive order. And I’m only skimming the most obvious.  

Almost equally questionable are the president’s diversionary attacks on the media in phrases such as “dishonest press,” and “lying media;” neither does he stint on reporters and columnists labeling them “lying disgusting people.”

Now I’m not, as you might gather, a Trump supporter, but I’m far from a nihilistic hater. He did win the Electoral College vote, so unless he abdicates or Tubbercurry’s Mike Pence locks him up in the Oval Office and throws away the key, we’ve got four more years to get through with this man. 

And not to beat around the bush, if he were to bring millions of manufacturing jobs back to the Rust Belt and Coal Country, I might even vote for him in 2020. But that’s highly unlikely given the tides of history and technology.

Donald Trump is not the first president to lie. In fact when faced with the choice of a lunatic or a liar with his finger on the nuclear button, I’d go with the latter any old day of the week. After all we survived Nixon and Clinton.

But we’re faced with something different here. What will four years of constant “alternative facts” do to us?

Every journalist and columnist I know double checks their facts – the most embarrassing thing is to be called out on some “misstatement.” Opinions are one thing – we’re hired to offer those – but playing loose with the truth is quite another.

Now like the president I come from the world of entertainment where massaging facts is rarely frowned upon. It’s not life or death, after all. And reality television is about tied with professional wrestling at the bottom of the entertainment totem pole.

But c’mon, Mr. President, that was then; you’re now leader of the free world. People take what you’re saying seriously. They’re working hard paying off mortgages or bookies, they don’t have time or energy to come up with an answer to, “why is the president lying, Mom?”

There are boundaries to taste, discretion, and above all truth, and 99% of politicians pay lip service to them. Most of these pillars of probity are familiar with the name, George Orwell, even if they’ve never opened their high school copy of 1984. 

Take a read of it, sir, the next time your cable goes on the blink. It’s actually somewhat calming compared to your first month in office. It’s also becoming a best seller again, thanks to you. 

The message in this classic book is clear. A constant diet of “alternate facts” is anathema for a healthy and sane society. A journalist’s job is to point this out.

Besides those of us with half a brain can already predict your endgame – “the dishonest media has sabotaged my agenda.”

Well, so be it, you’re the one calling the shots. Did it never occur to you that running a country was always going to be harder than strutting around reality TV?

Tuesday 14 February 2017


I remember a town by the mouth of a river
Its mossy-backed gloom can still cause shivers
The moon peering down through a foggy midnight
While redundant sailors pine for Pacific starlight.

I remember a love that was just about over
Red sails in her sunset past the silting harbor
Storm clouds in the North but down South we were cautious
When you’re all of nineteen you can be so oblivious.

The old man on a sofa in tie and starched collar
His back poker stiff, he’s wearing the scapular
Of our dear St. Francis and his divine Third Order
He can’t understand why I don’t head for the border.

It’s five in the morning the old man is up reading
One last glance at your loveliness as you lie sleeping
The ghosts in the Abbey snap to attention
The mossy-backed streets thrum with apprehension
A young man has slipped past the sentries in Selskar
And abandoned the past to escape his own future.

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Bainbridge and Kingsbridge Forever

Though Bainbridge Avenue seems far away now, it was once the dead center of Irish America. 

Not that it got much love from Manhattan’s Irish elite. I might never have discovered the place myself if Phil Delaney hadn’t stumbled upon Turner & Kirwan of Wexford ripping up East Durham and booked us for Durty Nelly’s.

Yeah, I know, Nelly’s was on Kingsbridge Road – hardly crawling distance from Braindamage (as Bainbridge was often called) - but the two areas are forever linked for me, living as I was in the wilds of the East Village. 

My life would have been much poorer if I hadn’t ventured north frequently. It wasn’t that you couldn’t have fun in Manhattan’s Irish bars, Fleming’s on 86th St. was a riot, Eamonn Doran’s rarely closed, and The Pig & Whistle gave me my first New York gig; but there was a raw majesty to the Bainbridge/Kingsbridge joints that will never be replicated.

Part of their appeal was that there was no concession to America. It was as if Cultimagh, Cahirciveen and Carrickmacross had been uprooted and beamed down upon The Bronx. Within a couple of pints I’d have shed my Alphabet City veneer, be jiving to the showbands, and wondering how many goals Tony Doran had netted against near-invincible Kilkenny.

Although some of the pubs could be on the rough side and a bartender might have occasional need of a camán or baseball bat, yet there was a rare magic astir in those sheet-rocked saloons.

I experienced much warmth and acceptance too from the many excellent musicians who played the scene. I can still see the smiling faces of Dermie Mac, Gerry Finlay, Tommy Mulvihill, Paddy Higgins, John Morrison, Gabriel Donohoe, Joe Nellany and a host of others. The laughs we had as we tried to outdo each other with the “the most disastrous gig I ever played” stories.

The owners and managers were a breed apart also. Phil Delaney was a smiling rogue from central casting, Sean Lynch used to hire us just to annoy his more conservative customers, and John Flynn - with a well-timed gig and bonus - paid many of my overdue rent bills.

I also met one of the best friends a man could have in Brian Mór, aka Bernie O’Boyle. He was the doorman (among other duties) at the fabled Bunratty. If you read my novel Rockin’ The Bronx he’s easily recognizable as the implacable Benny, keeper of the faith on Kingsbridge. A wonderful artist, Brian lived by a set of hard-won principles; but oh what a twinkle he had in his eye. 
It was in the Bunratty that I first heard real traditional music – unhinged and unfettered - as played by Johnny Cronin, Andy McGann, Accordion Joe Burke, and Banjo Joe Burke. I’ve never heard the beatings of it since. Of course eight hours of straight drinking could, and did work wonders. The Bronx in those days, as you might imagine, was not a place for the sober or fastidious.

It did throw all types together, however, in that many young Irish from the Republic were introduced to their counterparts from British occupied Ireland. That rarely happened at home. Few of my Wexford contemporaries had ever been to Belfast or Derry, and why would they? It was a different country and in many ways we in the south had turned our backs on our people in the north.

For the first time many of us got to experience the effect of state-backed religious and political discrimination on our Irish brothers and sisters, and it changed our lives.

I had no idea when I returned in the early 90’s with Black 47 that the minutes were counting down for Bainbridge. Nelly’s, The Archway, and The Bunratty were already shuttered. There would be no more old time waltzes or Kerry slides heard on Kingsbridge.

But Bainbridge seemed solid – after all it was as much of a way of life as a geographical area by then. But immigration was tightening, the nascent Celtic Tiger beckoning, and one night the lights went dark on the avenue.

That’s New York for you – a city of change – but the warmth and memories of Braindamage and Kingsbridge will never fade.