Sunday 28 June 2020

An Irish Elvis and so much more!

I once remarked to Brendan Bowyer that he was responsible for the sexual revolution in Ireland.

He gazed back with that slightly worried look that creased his face whenever he feared he was being criticized.

I hastily reassured him that it had all to do with the packed floors of dancers who had no choice but to cling to each other whenever his Royal Showband appeared in the 1960’s.

And with that we both dissolved into laughter at the memory of jammed sweaty nights in Wexford’s Parish Hall.

Back then, The Royal were synonymous with excitement and glamour. The Miami, The Capitol and The Freshmen were as accomplished but the men from Waterford had Brendan Bowyer.

With that big voice and personality he- seemed to explode from the stage. He could rock like Elvis and yet could bring his classical instincts to bear on show-stopping versions of Love Thee Dearest and Jerusalem.

He had a special charisma that I recognized later in the young Springsteen – the ability to make you feel that he was singing just to you. All you had to do was gaze around at other audience members and you could tell they were under the same spell.

When I left Wexford for ultra-cool Dublin I stopped seeing showbands, and their long social and musical reign was coming to a close when I departed for New York.

Brendan and his new outfit The Big Eight missed this demise for they moved to Las Vegas around the same time and went on to even greater fame on the strip.

I never forgot Brendan nor the effect he had on me as a star-struck boy.

Fast forward to the 1990’s, I became friends with his two daughters, Clodagh, a New York based actress, and Aisling who sang with her father’s bands. And so I wrote him a fan letter.

He couldn’t have been more gracious and was fascinated that someone from left-of-center Black 47 would have an interest in him.

One night in Salt Lake City he showed up at a punk club to see Black 47. It was one of those rowdy mosh-pit affairs and Brendan was thrilled with the rawness of the scene and the band’s “performance.”

I don’t think he ever fully understood what it meant for me to have The Royal Showband’s renowned vocalist in the audience. It was a squaring of the circle, as it were.

We had something in common. I knew what it took for him to come from a small city like Waterford and make it in Vegas. Such things don’t come easy. You often lose as much as you gain on the way.

Brendan wasn’t one to blow his own horn so late one night I wrote his story. I called it Break Like Crystal - in reference to his Waterford roots. 

I wanted a fast-forgetting world to know what he had gone through – and accomplished. He loved the song and soon after he showed up in New York and we recorded it with members of Black 47. 

He fit in instantly with this motley crew for Brendan was a bandsman and came alive around other musicians.

He asked me as producer how I wanted him to treat the song. 

I just said, “Be yourself, Brendan. It’s your story, sing it from the heart like you always did in Wexford’s Parish Hall.”

He smiled, took control, and nailed the song on the first take. He also knocked off a heartfelt version of Black 47’s emigrant anthem, American Wake, both of which are available on YouTube.

And then he was gone, off to some gig in The Bronx or wherever. I sat there at the controls and mixed that great soulful voice - full of wonder and life - that I’d first heard as a chiseler back in Wexford.

Here’s to you, Brendan, you’ll always be a legend. Thanks for the memories, man, and for blazing a path that so many of us followed.

Then I heard Elvis and it changed everything
And I set off on at the age of 19
To follow a rock ‘n’ roll dream
I don’t break like crystal

Monday 22 June 2020

Our Most Important Election

There are lots of things we don’t know yet about November’s presidential election.

Still, I have little doubt this will be the most brutal confrontation since the 1828 battle between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

In that sordid rematch accusations of murder, adultery, bribery, and prostitution were tossed around like confetti.

Like many New Yorkers I’ve often found it hard to take President Trump seriously. 

How bad could his reign of chaos be - he inherited a dynamic economy, unemployment was down, the stock market up, and despite his bellicosity, veiled racism and xenophobia he had no plans to invade Canada, or marry Madonna. 

There was always the niggling fear that eventually he would face a major crisis. Unfortunately, that’s what has happened. His luck - and ours - ran out.

His reliance on his own “instincts” and refusal to takeCovid-19 seriously has cost a multitude of lives and our economic health. Time and history will show that he was just not up to the job. Whose fault is it?  Ours – we elected him!

However, with a burgeoning deficit and trillions more needed to salvage the economy, the time for amateurs is over. President Trump has neither the skills nor the temperament to lead us in 2021.

By then we’ll be in debt up to our eyebrows. Any kind of meaningful jump in interest rates could wreck our economic system once and for all.

The one thing we can be certain of when we do emerge from this crisis – income inequality will have increased - the rich will be much richer and the poor infinitely poorer.

How did we get into this situation? Well, who could have foretold that Hillary Clinton would make such a spectacularly bad candidate?

Not I! And yet I voted for her even after I swore I’d never vote for anyone who voted for the War in Iraq.

And now I’m about to vote for another candidate who made a similar deal with the devil, Vice President Joseph Biden. But I’ll do it gladly because I don’t want to give President Trump the opportunity to use his considerable expertise in bankruptcy laws on behalf of our great nation.

Joe Biden is a decent man but I tremble at the thought of him going mano a mano with Donald Trump in a presidential debate.  Not that the president is such a good debater but he is deft communicator and reality star who knows that elections often swing on a glib phrase. 

Remember, “Where’s the beef.” Walter Mondale never forgot it. Let’s not even talk about, “Lock her up!”

Mr. Biden needs your vote if you want this country to in any way still resemble that shining city upon a hill that the Pilgrims rhapsodized and so many of us admired.

He also needs an African-American running mate who can really turn out her people – the backbone of the Democratic Party - to vote despite their ongoing oppression and the disproportionate pain they have suffered from Covid-19.

Mr. Biden also needs to fully employ his Democratic primary opponents in the coming brutal campaign.  
Bernie, Buttigieg, Warren, Klobuchar, et al are all people of talent and drive – each with their own particular constituencies.

There’s not one of them who couldn’t excel in a cabinet position in the manner of President Lincoln‘s “team of rivals.”

But most of all he needs a platform that will strengthen our economic system so that we’re not subject to economic upheaval every decade. At the very least access to a Medicare-like Public Option, and an end to corporate stock buybacks allied with some form of worker representation on corporate boards.

President Trump will not go gently into that good night. He will not be above contesting November’s results in the courts, while on the streets he has those “very fine” people who paraded through Charlottesville to raise hell.

This cannot be a close election. Mr. Trump needs a substantial electoral defeat that will send him home to Mar-a-Lago where he can write his memoirs in pithy Twitter installments.

Vice President Biden is far from a dream candidate but we need his steady hand to guide us through the greatest challenge the country has faced since the Civil War.