Thursday 24 October 2019

Peter Quinn - Eugene O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award

Irish American Writers & Artists was formed back in 2008 when it was suggested that Irish-Americans were unlikely to vote for an African-American presidential candidate.

Although a gripping question at the time it pales in comparison with some of the issues that have arisen in the three years of Mr. Trump’s unorthodox presidency.

Be that as it may, IAW&A has thrived in its eleven years of existence. 

We’ve raised money for various causes, granted scholarships, and each month we provide two salons where members can perform their work before large audiences. There is no admission charge – all are welcome.

The level of creativity and performance has continued to improve as word has spread about a unique opportunity to present original material to a discerning and attentive audience.

And yet for me the real thrill is watching someone take the first daring step that transforms him or her from audience member to performing artist.

All of this comes at a price however, and to keep IAW&A functioning we hold one annual fundraiser where we present the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award to a deserving artist.

How fitting that it should go this year to our first president, Peter Quinn. Irish Echo readers need little introduction to this handsome, erudite figure. He is a best selling novelist for his marvelous Banished Children of Eve among other works, and was a political and corporate speechwriter – ever wonder who put a touch of the poet into the oratory of Governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo?

I was privileged to catch a particularly close look at Peter while serving on the board of the IAW&A during his presidency. 

Though we operated close to the edge financially, and otherwise, in the early years of the organization Peter radiated a sense of graciousness and quiet confidence that got us over many the hump. 

Of course, he’s from The Bronx, and like many who hail from the only borough on the mainland he’d already overcome much before ascending to the presidency of a non-profit arts outfit.

What is it about those who emerge from those storied concrete fields above Manhattan? In small ways I’ve benefitted too from spending so many nights playing in Bronx saloons and dancehalls.

You gain a wry acceptance of the slings and arrows that attend life but also a feeling that if you keep a weather eye open you just might upset the odds and beat the spread.

Peter has done that time and again and has provided a quiet inspiration to others who have observed his many victories, hard won and otherwise.

When someone is needed who can wring poetry from the reeling march of New York’s immigrant Irish out of the Five Points slums – Quinn is your man.

It’s never easy for an Irish person to become a successful artist – we’re constantly haunted by the shanty whisper: “What makes you think you’re so special?”

Eugene O’Neill did it – beat the drink and forsook the hobo West Village life to become the dominant playwright, and artist, so many of us look up to.

Peter Quinn did it too. He once told me how he used to rise every day at an ungodly hour and arrive at his desk early enough to put in at least a couple of hours of writing before his corporate toiling began.

Becoming one of the best is never easy – the hours are long, the sacrifices many, but that’s the gig.  

At IAW&A salons we provide a springboard for entry into that life. Somewhere along the line Eugene O’Neill and Peter Quinn grasped their opportunity and ran with it.

If you want your shot find out more about Irish American Writers and Artists at

We have new leadership, Mary Pat Kelly, an author from Chicago’s South Side is President, and New York’s Maria Deasy, actor and producer, is Vice President.

Join us on Monday, Oct. 21st for one of Irish-America’s premier social evenings when we bestow the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award on Peter O’Neill, artist and gentleman.  See you there.

Mon, October 21, 2019  6:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Manhattan Manor, Upstairs at Rosie O'Grady's
800 7th Avenue, NYC
For tickets and information visit

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Farewell Ric Ocasek

It was the summer of 1992 and I was walking downtown from an MTV interview accompanied by Black 47’s manager, Elliot Roberts.  

We were passing by Gramercy Park when Elliot pointed at a house straight out of an Edith Wharton novel.  “Ric lives over there.”

“Ric who?” I replied trying desperately to mask my lack of coolness.

“Ocasek! Who do you think? You wanta meet him?”

We were admitted to an amazing reception room with a ceiling somewhere up in the stars. I was commenting on this when I became aware of a presence behind us. I spun around and a very tall, gaunt figure in black, including shades, loomed over us.

Elliot, used to such spectral appearances, laconically remarked, “By the way, Ric would like to produce your new album.”

That’s managers for you! Elliot managed Ric, Neil Young, and a legion of others, and did well by all of us.

A couple of nights later while onstage at a jammed Paddy Reilly’s I noticed the crowd separating like the Red Sea before Moses, as Ric arrived with a blonde goddess so lovely even Steve Duggan’s worldly Cavan mouth dropped a yard.

Not only that, this apparition in chic designer gear floated throughout the beer-splashed room signing autographs and bestowing smiles on all and sundry.

I sat next to an abandoned Ric who smiled bemusedly at the scenes of abject Paddy adoration.

I refrained from inquiring “Who’s yer wan?” I was obviously the only one who didn’t recognize Paulina Porizkova, supermodel and delight of paparazzi.

 “I can make this independent album of Black 47’s great.” Ric casually noted and fired off a couple of suggestions that made eminent sense.

“That’s fine but there are things I want to do with it too.”

He looked at me for a long moment then nodded. “So it will be a co-production?”

“Your name first, of course,” I allowed, and he chuckled at the thought that it might not.

“We’ll have to finish within 3 weeks as Paulina and I are off to St. Bart’s. So, start tomorrow?”

And we did in the basement recording studio of his amazing house with a ceiling up in the stars.

“You had some ideas?” He said.

“Yeah, I want to lay down some other guitars on Fanatic Heart.”

He pointed over to a rack of axes almost as impressive looking as Paulina. And that’s how we worked. I would add to the independent album. Ric would sketch, listen, and whenever I was stuck – which was often – make a succinct suggestion that was always what the song needed.

Around 4am I would crawl home and he would continue. He never made an appearance before dusk, so in the early afternoon I’d check out what he had added or mixed the night before.

It was always magic. Listen to the intro for Fanatic Heart from Black 47’s Fire of Freedom CD. I still shiver when I hear the gorgeous layer of digital guitar from which the Uilleann Pipes emerge.

And when I suggested that the song Black ‘47 should reflect the pain of the Irish who had endured The Great Hunger, he bade me channel a legion of their anguished voices until I was near catatonic.

He adored Mary Courtney’s voice and one day I discovered two vignettes that he had casually chiseled from Livin’ in America. I named them Fordham Road 8:00AM and Bainbridge Avenue 2:00AM. They became the bookends of the album. 

As the deadline loomed we worked separately and together around the clock. He only once lost his patience – when I was taking too long to mix Maria’s Wedding. 

He swept into the studio, adjusted a couple of faders and knobs that instantly transformed the recording. Then left without a word.

When Paulina would look in all work stopped. Their “love of the century” was so intense I would excuse myself and stroll around Gramercy Park for an hour - be the weather fair or foul.

Ric’s creative mantra seemed to be – trust your instincts but never hesitate to question them! 

He passed away recently. I learned so much from him in those magical three weeks spent in the house with the supermodel under a ceiling somewhere up in the stars.