Saturday 19 June 2021

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!! Or What's Normal Anymore?

 So, it looks like widespread vaccination has stopped the pandemic in its tracks and our time of pause may be coming to an end.


Are you ready to go back to normal or, like Bob Dylan are you unsure what normal is anymore?


Like many you may be rejecting the old order and refusing to return to work for dead end wages.


While economists scratch their heads about this state of affairs, why rush back when wages will rise - if raw capitalism is allowed to have its way? 


Employers have held the whip hand since union membership and middle class income began shrinking over 50 years ago. Meanwhile the Great Recession of 2008 only reinforced that great corporate adage – don’t ask for a raise, be grateful you have a job!


And still employers wonder why so many people have opted out of the workforce? 


It’s simple. Some can’t afford to return because of low pay and the lack of affordable childcare. To add fuel to this fire, many seniors of working age now look after grandchildren, thereby allowing their daughters to work.


And then there are those who are rethinking their priorities and considering a change in their lives. There’s no better time than when things are really in a state of flux.


Take the music business.  It changed irrevocably in the years following 9/11 but such was the competition for gigs very few musicians even noticed.


However, two far-seeing Irish-Americans, Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, had just founded Napster, whose credo was that all music should be free and available.


This revolutionary concept was perfected by Spotify and other streaming platforms on a two-tier basis.


For a small monthly fee you may now lease all the music in the world, and even get it free if you don’t mind being interrupted by advertisements.


This has resulted in the .01% of the world’s top recording artists taking the lion’s share of streaming income, leaving an infinity of lesser-known artists to share the remaining income between them.


Of course, this roughly mirrors what has happened in broader society where the top .01% controls much of the world’s wealth.


The end result for musicians has been the shrinking sales of CDs – the one really profitable item of merchandise that helped subsidize their performance fees. 


The lesson is – worlds change after cataclysms. You’ll never figure it all out, but if you’re thinking of making a change, now is the hour.


And yet, I can think of only one instance when I made the correct choice during a life crisis. Back in the 1980s, Pierce Turner and I founded a New Wave band called Major Thinkers (not a great name to dangle in front of hard-bitten music critics).


Nonetheless, we scored a big record deal with Epic Records and toured the country with Cyndi Lauper and UB40 – glory days, indeed.


We had a radio/dance hit with Avenue B is the Place to Be and recorded Terrible Beauty, an album still to see the light of day. To make a long story short, we were summarily dropped by Epic, who knows why, who cares anymore? 


Hardly a cataclysm, though it seemed like one at the time. We returned to Ireland for Christmas and one night in my parents’ house I had what Graham Greene might call a “dark night of the soul.”


No matter how I looked at it, I could see no future in the music business.


As a grey, rainy dawn broke over the grim spires of Wexford town I resolved to chuck it all in and become a playwright. 


Out of the frying pan, into the fire, you might think, but I wrote, directed, and produced every day thereafter, and eventually cleared my head of the music business. Four years later, Chris Byrne and I formed Black 47 and that kept me busy for the next 25 years.


Still, I continued to hone my playwriting craft and last week I got word that Paradise Square, a musical I conceived and co-wrote, will open on Broadway next year.


I guess you could say that dark night back in Wexford finally paid off. 


Whatever, in these post-pandemic times, the world is changing faster than you can imagine.  If you’re thinking of making a change – do it now, there’ll be no better time.

Friday 4 June 2021

Dreams of Dolores

 I was recently listening to Dreams by The Cranberries when it occurred to me that Dolores O’Riordan was one of the great vocalists of her generation.


“What took you so long?” You might wonder.


Well, I did miss the ascent of The Cranberries to stardom in the early 90’s when I was much on the road myself with Black 47.


One night, however, somewhere in Missouri, our road manager asked if we’d be interested in partying with the Limerick born band who were playing in the vicinity.


It sounded like a good idea – there’s nothing like kicking back with some fellow road warriors, particularly if they’re Irish.


It didn’t happen, our record company insisted we move on to our next destination to play some “important shock-jock, early morning radio show.” Talk about much ado about nothing!


It would be another 15 years before I’d meet Dolores. She walked into the SiriusXM studios already exhausted from a full day of interviews. I could tell there were many other places she’d rather be. 


An intense, spiky presence she had large luminous eyes. She was quite beautiful, small in stature, but did she dominate that room!  


When confronted with any threat from Limerick, I always mention Malachy McCourt. She smiled, and confessed she’d never had the pleasure of meeting this back-lanes icon, and from that moment our interview took off.


I reminded her of the broken party engagement in Missouri.  


“You’re Irish?”  She said, as though it was more likely I was from the outer rings of Saturn. 


She added that her shoes were killing her, and did I mind if she kicked them off.


Like many stars she was wary of interviews, mostly because in these days a successful one demands that some piece of intimate information be teased out and then plastered online.


I was more interested in how a young woman from Ballybricken, County Limerick had written such wonderful songs as Zombie and Linger?


With that she relaxed and told me some of the story of Dolores, as opposed to the buffed biography constructed by her publicist.


I could tell almost instantly that there was a private darkness at her core, a pain that would always curdle despite her mega-success. 


I knew better than to go there – such heartaches are revealed in their own time, and for now, she had come to terms with hers. 


All that aside, I was reminded of some lines from her song, Dreams:

“And oh, my dreams

It’s never quite as it seems…”


It was obvious that the 12 year old who stood up in her new school and declared, “My Name is Dolores O’Riordan and I’m going to be a rock star” had achieved her ambition - but it had left her wanting.


In the course of the interview she veered from fierce to tender, often harkening back to the ever-present pressure of her popularity. 


In the end we agreed that in one’s musical career the songs are all that count. The gigs, the glamour, the admiration of the crowds, just fade away, but the songs are your legacy.


And with that, two culchies from Limerick and Wexford found common ground on the snazzy 36th Floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. 


Then in 2017 she showed up with an entourage who sat in on the interview. 


The publicist whispered that Dolores was in pain from a back ailment, and that Noel Hogan, her band mate, would answer my questions.


Noel is a gentleman, songwriter, and a fine guitarist, but there was little intimacy and the interview dissolved into your standard rock grilling. 


And then they were gone. Our personal interaction was so curtailed, I actually wondered if she remembered me.


Then the muffled studio door opened suddenly, there she was beaming, and giving me a big sisterly Irish wink.


I smiled back, the door closed silently, and I never saw her again.  She died in a London hotel room some months later.


What a journey for a wonderful young countrywoman – from Ballybricken to the stars.  Despite her tragic end, her starkly revealing songs continue to enhance her brilliant legacy.