Friday 27 August 2021

A "What If" Presidency?

I’ve always been interested in political history, particularly when an interesting or controversial character is involved.


Michael Collins and Dr. Noel Browne jump to mind from an Irish perspective, Franklin Roosevelt and Robert Kennedy from an American one.


Browne and Roosevelt left indelible marks on their countries – one banished TB, the other gave hope and sustenance to millions during the Great Depression. 


Meanwhile, Collins and Kennedy still shine like beacons from the past, particularly because of the “what if” aspect to both their careers.


For better or for worse, Donald J. Trump has dominated our era of political affairs.


I never liked the man; still, back in the 70’s and 80’s he had a certain buffoonish cachet, courtesy of his self-promoting high jinks lovingly detailed by Page 6 of The Post.


But his true colors surfaced in 1989 during the brouhaha regarding capital punishment for the Central Park Five. These unjustly sentenced young African-American men were later released from prison, but Mr. Trump’s inflammatory newspaper advertisements showed the depths to which he would sink to promote himself.


His march to the presidency in 2016 was both uproarious and Napoleonic. He demolished the competing Republicans, and then defeated the accomplished Hillary Clinton – though not by popular vote. 


After four years of his “presidency by tweet” I was relieved when Joseph Biden beat him in both Electoral College and popular votes.


I had been prepared for Mr. Trump’s sore loser shtick; after all he had declared early on, “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election has been rigged.”  But I figured he would eventually fade away into the manicured golf links of Mar-a-Lago.


I reckoned that gigantic egos such as Cruz, Cotton, Rubio and DeSantis would chip away at his Republican Party hegemony.


Alas, the principled party of Lincoln and Eisenhower had long before been swept into the trashcan of history.


Even though Trump’s own election officials declared the 2020 presidential election the most secure in history, and every meaningful court challenge has been dismissed, the new Republican Party continues to hide behind such lame catch cries as “Stop the Steal.”


In short, Mr. Trump sought to interfere with the country’s electoral process.


His plea to Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” and his partisan interference with the Department of Justice were more becoming to some South American tin-pot dictator than the president of these United States.


Still, if his shenanigans had only ended there, then we might rest easy. 


Instead, after weeks of riling up his base with false charges of fraud, in a speech on the “Glorious 6th of January,” he exhorted his “great patriots” to march on the Capitol with these stirring words: “You’ll never take back this country with weakness; you have to show strength and you have to be strong.”


The pictures and videos of the ensuing carnage do not lie. We’ve all seen the sickening violence perpetrated by Mr. Trump’s patriotic legions in the Capitol grounds and buildings. 


Two instances stand out for me – the patriot roaming the halls of the Capitol with his Confederate flag, and the police officer crushed between doors while patriots tear at his facemask.


At least 4 police officers have died of suicide in connection with the Jan. 6th assault, while 140 officers were injured in this glorious uprising.


The insurrectionists were not tourists or members of the ghostly ANTIFA. They came to DC at the invitation of the president to subvert a lawful election and to prevent a legal transfer of power.


Our lives pass in a blur of 24/7 reportage, but we should not forget this assault on our democratic traditions. No doubt, Mr. Trump will continue to shrug off his attempted putsch, while his new Republican Party gazes on adoringly.


It’s easy to dismiss what happened on January 6th as a manifestation of white rage, but once opened those sluice gates of “patriotic dissent” are not easily closed. 


The sad part is – think of what Mr. Trump might have achieved if he had set his mind to the betterment of his country rather than the stoking of his insatiable ego. 


It’s unlikely he would have achieved the stature of a Collins or a Kennedy, but he could have become an interesting “what if.”

Saturday 14 August 2021

A gig again

I did a gig last week. 18 months ago such a statement wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. But it’s been a long pandemic so this performance was indeed a cause for celebration.


It was held at the Salt Gastro Pub in Stanhope, NJ and was scheduled to be outdoors, but due to the threat of inclement weather the show was moved inside.


This change would have raised hackles only months ago and would have been unthinkable last year. The difference – vaccination!


So there we were, a full house and barely a mask in sight, though discreet social distancing was observed.


The owner, Bradley Boyle, runs a tight ship and kept a watchful eye on us all. The food was as good as ever, the booze even better, but to be part of a live music event again was nothing short of life affirming.


A bracing air of expectation rippled through the premises. The audience was so hyped up they cheered through the sound check.


I was a bit apprehensive. I had stayed musically busy during our “time of pause” writing songs for various theatre projects but I hadn’t actually performed a song since 2019.


Would my stamina hold up, would I remember words, chords, would my timing be at least somewhere “in the pocket?” 


I was playing with Deni Bonet, a superb violinist and performer. We had walked through the songs a few days previously. It was hardly a rehearsal, more like a marking of the way, and yet I’d been exhausted afterwards.


But the audience was a force unto itself. You could almost touch their need for music, for the songs, the stories, and the distinct community that’s only found at a live gig.


It took me back to the days I began playing at pubs and dancehalls in Wexford. The sheer joy as people forgot their cares and long workweeks, that first magic moment of union when band and punters came together as one.


People have missed music and performance this past 18 months, they’ve missed the spontaneity, and the spirit of improvisation that ricochets back and forth between performer and audience.


They cheered for old songs, new songs, the reading I did from Rockaway Blue, and it struck me that there’s now a great opportunity for musicians to go beyond themselves, because there’s no going back to normal – who knows what normal is anymore? 


This damned Covid has stripped us of experience; we’ve been living in a form of limbo for 18 months. It’s time for a new normal.


The experience reminded me of the days after 9/11. There was such a desire to come together and do something for our country. But nothing was asked of us. And so we regressed, became a fearful, divisive people; we even started a war of choice in Iraq under false pretences.


Now we have another chance to come together and really make this country “great again.” I was reminded of that as I signed books and CDs, hugged people and took selfies with them.


It was only then I wondered who had been vaccinated? There was no way of knowing and I experienced that flash of paranoia we’ve become so familiar with.


But by then my die had already been cast, it was too late to be cautious, so I had another drink and returned to the signing and general merriment.


I’ve had no symptoms and will get tested, but it’s not for myself I’m worried. I’ve been vaccinated and the worst I might expect is akin to some form of mild flu.


But what of those who won’t take the jab? The enemy is at the gates again in the form of the Delta variant. The unvaccinated continue to end up in hospital and death rates are rising.


It’s a race against time now, new and worse variants are likely on the way and may negate all our sacrifices.


I know my life changed when I took the double shot of Moderna. I had zero side effects. I merely went back to enjoying life, including dining and drinking in bars and restaurants, along with entertaining friends last Sunday in “sweet New Jersey.”


Join me, get the vaccine of your choice and allow those around you to go back to enjoying their lives again too.

Monday 2 August 2021

Have You Ever Been Down Argentina Way?

 Have you ever been down Argentina way? Talk about the 8 Celtic nations - I’ve often felt that Argentina could claim number 9 with its strong Irish, Welsh & Galician populations.


I went down with Black 47 in 2000, but I already had deep connections through my father, a merchant marine, who had been sailing there since his teenage years.


In fact, he almost moved our family to the mysterious land of the Pampas when I was a boy. I could now be writing for the Southern Cross rather than the Irish Echo.


My father was a bit of a mystery himself: he had gone to sea as a cadet and celebrated his 15th birthday in Russia.


That much I knew from my grandmother, but like many of his generation, he spoke little about his past. We only found out close to his death that he had been torpedoed twice during World War II.


When questioned on this he said, “Sure, the first time wasn’t worth speaking about, we were only in the water minutes before being hauled out.”


The second instance we knew about for he and his crewmates were lost for a considerable time before being rescued off the coast of Sierra Leone.


However we were very familiar with his side-hustle of smuggling goods both into and out of Buenos Aires – we were well fitted out for Wexford winters in leather, suede and sheepskin coats.


Perhaps, his most noted feat was bringing 20 hurleys from Wexford for the Buenos Aires GAA team. During the height of the Troubles British authorities threatened to charge him with transporting lethal weapons.


“Microfilm is much less hassle and far more profitable,” I once heard him murmur to another sailor in a Brooklyn bar. He was, indeed, a man of few words but many connections.


It was a dream come true when Black 47 was asked to tour Argentina. Not only could we expand our musical horizons but I might learn more about this mysterious father of mine who was by then spending his waning years in Wexford courtesy of Parkinson’s.


We arrived into the teeth of an economic and political crisis – not that we had much notion of what was happening given our limited knowledge of Spanish. 


Still jet lagged we topped the bill at the prestigious Buenos Aires Opera House. The black-tied gentlemen applauded politely while their beautiful be-gowned ladies rattled their jewelry to anthems like James Connolly and Bobby Sands MP. The Black 47 faithful danced in the far off balconies.


Talk about surreal! But there was a jittery feeling around town with people lined up outside banks attempting to withdraw their savings.


We did a couple of promo gigs in recently opened Irish pubs. The bartenders and waiters all spoke flawless English. Most had advanced college degrees. With unemployment skyrocketing these were prestigious jobs.


And everywhere the older Irish smiled and remembered my father fondly - the “contrabandista Irelandis” who had smuggled in the hurls.


We drove up the country to the city of Rosario, birthplace of Che Guevara Lynch, for a performance at their Opera House. Was I being confused with John McCormack?


Before the show I was a guest of honor at an Irish convention where I got into an argument with a drunken cleric from Limerick over the McCourts, and was then misidentified as a member of Riverdance. I’ll spare you the humiliation of my turn on the dance floor.


The gig at the opera house was tense – rumors abounded about the army taking control of the country so I never got to see the birthplace of Che.


On our last day in Buenos Aires the peso collapsed, but our farewell party was rip-roaring and continued at the airport.


I had made many friends and intended staying an extra week. Buenos Aires was unlike any other city and I was beginning to make sense of my father, but discretion proved the better part of valor.


My father smiled coyly when I told him about my trip and accelerated departure. He’d take his secrets with him. 


Twenty years later I wish I’d stayed that extra week. Hopefully I’ll get back someday to the 9th Celtic nation. Maybe I’ll bring some hurleys with me.