Monday 30 October 2017

Irish American Writers & Artists

Irish American Writers and Artists was formed back in 2008 when it was suggested that Irish Americans would not vote for an African-American candidate.

Well, we not only voted for Barack Obama, we helped elect him, thus laying to rest another demographic shibboleth.

IAW&A is a proudly progressive organization, but non-political in that we accept members from across the political spectrum; although those of us of a conservative ilk tend to be more in the Edmund Burke tradition rather than that of our current president.

Broadly speaking, our brief is to highlight, energize and support Irish Americans working in the arts, and to provide a safe platform for others who might wish to read, perform, or show their work.

To that end we sponsor two salons monthly in New York City but our aspirations were always national; in the last month we have held salons in Santa Fe, NM, Hartford, CT, and at the Electric Picnic Festival in Ireland.

So, if you have a poem, song, novel, play, dance, film, painting, and wish to show it off, then you should abandon your lonely garret for an evening, and mingle among your peers. 

Annual membership costs less than a buck a week, or five pints and a decent tip should you measure life in more liquid metrics.

Of a reticent or retiring nature, then you may slip into the back row of a salon, lurk in the shadows, and audit the goings on – admission is free. 

You might end up discussing politics or the price of turnips with Malachy McCourt or one of the other notables who frequent such occasions. 

Whatever, you’ll get a feel for what’s going on, and perhaps toss your hat in the artistic ring on your next venture into the mystic. 

Irish American Writers & Artists is a non-profit outfit – board members and officials do not get paid. I can attest to that. I’ve been president for some years and have yet to make a cent – red or otherwise.

Any monies raised go to promoting salons, funding various artistic endeavors, and supporting good causes here and overseas.

Speaking of money! We host one major fundraiser a year when the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award is given to an artist who has created a distinguished body of work.

Past awardees have included William Kennedy, Brian Dennehy, Charlotte Moore and CiarĂ¡n O’Reilly of the Irish Rep, Judy Collins, John Patrick Shanley, Pete Hamill, Patrician Harty, and the aforementioned scourge of recalcitrant reactionaries, Mr. McCourt.

Phil Donahue will receive the 2017 award at a festive evening on Monday, October 16, 2017 at the Manhattan Club, upstairs at Rosie O’Grady’s.

Born in Cleveland, Phil graduated from Notre Dame University and worked his way up through local radio and television, interviewing the like of John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X before creating the innovative The Phil Donahue Show.

Instead of the usual wasteland fare, Donahue focused on topics dividing American liberals and conservatives in his record-breaking show’s run of 29 years.

One could herald his achievements until the cows come home; but perhaps his greatest moment was his dismissal in Feb. 2003 as host of Donahue on MSNBC for his opposition to the imminent invasion of Iraq.

It was a courageous move at a time when patriotism was measured in jingoistic support for one of the greatest disasters in US foreign policy. Unfortunately, Phil Donahue was proved right. How different would US history have been if more people of influence had taken this Irishman’s courageous stand!

Join us on Oct. 16th.  The O’Neill event is one of the highlights of the social season when everyone can rub shoulders with the mighty or the low – and there’ll be plenty of both in attendance.

Remember - the goal of Irish American Writers and Artists is to give the carpenter in Queens a shot at becoming the next O’Casey, or the homemaker from Brooklyn an opportunity to emulate Sinead, or Frank, O’Connor.

And for those of you who just want a good night on the town, the O’Neill is your man! And what else would you be doing on a Monday night in October anyway?

Afterhours Delight

Recently I wrote a column bemoaning the loss of the mighty Blarney Stone chain of bars in New York City.

Ah, but if the Blarney Stone was the legal main course of an evening, what about that other disappearing New York institution, the illegal afterhours?

I’m not talking about saloons the like of the late lamented Durty Nelly’s up on Kingsbridge where the door would be “locked” at 4am, but shenanigans would continue until long after the first fighting cock had crowed.

No, I have more in mind an establishment that opened for business around 2am and hit its stride from 4am to noon or thereabouts. These “holes in the wall” tended to be located below Manhattan’s 14th Street, although “Rose’s” - up around 145th and Lennox Avenue - was a particular favorite of mine. 

Rose herself, a rail-thin African-American lady of indeterminate age, was one of the most gracious hostesses in America, but a formidable woman if crossed. Enough said!

The Anglo-Irish in New York knew a thing or two about such places. Dave Heenan, once lead singer with Dublin’s The Arrows Showband, ran the UK Club on 13th Street with great flair; while his friend, Blackpool Jimmy, ran a similar institution nearby.

My favorite was the Kiwi on 9th Street off Avenue A – though somewhat on the sketchy side it boasted a clique of extremely vivid characters. The only time I saw it empty was during the blackout of 1977 when the patrons were otherwise occupied in the fine art of looting. 

I gained membership of the Kiwi through my landlord who sponsored me when I complained about the lack of heat in our building. The temperature did not improve that bitter winter but my social life was immeasurably enhanced.

‘Twas in the Kiwi I fell in love with a beautiful Latina dancer who never gave me the time of day – or night. But she was the inspiration for a good Black 47 song – Blood Wedding – that’s popular to this day. 

I had to change my heroine’s name as two of my fellow carousers were also smitten, one of whom did not suffer rivals easily – much to the other’s misfortune.

The bartender was a stunning six feet tall cross-dresser by name of Carlita who towered above all in her heels. She lit up every social occasion and turned heads, literally and figuratively, wherever she went. 

One rambunctious evening a heavyset biker offered a churlish remark about her gender, whereupon in one fell swoop she removed her stiletto and struck him between the eyes with the business end of her heel.

The blood spurted forth and Mr. Harley-Davidson let out a scream akin to a stuck pig. He then began to sob and demanded of all and sundry what he was supposed to tell his mother when he got home.

Lest these early morning oases seem too much like the Wild West, I have to say that I had some of the most scintillating conversation therein – although for the life of me I can recall few of them. 

Occasionally, however, a sentence or two will spring to mind and I’ll feel momentarily uplifted.

A rare democracy and code of manners reigned. Should you be allowed inside one of these hallowed places, it was de rigueur that you speak to - but not bore – your neighbors. On one occasion, I merrily clinked glasses with Debby Harry in a 2nd floor joint on University Avenue as a crimson dawn broke over The Village.

I also had an amazing conversation with Lou Reed at a mob-controlled hideaway on Mercer St. This poet of the city said something startling to me then that, alas, I can never repeat. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Lou was often to be seen in these shadowy establishments in his drinking days. I guess looking back, afterhours were places for people who just did not want the night to end.

There was camaraderie to be had; you entered alone and effortlessly melted into a crowd of people who like yourself had no desire to go home.

And when you eventually departed the day was well underway, and there was always the next night to look forward to.