Saturday 29 January 2022

Insurrection or a jolly old bunch of tourists?

What do you think of this whole DC Jan. 6th affair? Was it an insurrection or just a bunch of feisty tourists dropping by the Peoples House to pass the time of day?

Whatever your opinion, these “tourists” descended upon Washington DC at the summons of Donald Trump, and eventually stormed the Capitol building to prevent the lawful election of Joseph Biden.

The fact that some of them urinated in public areas, terrorized representatives of both parties, and chanted death threats against Vice-President Pence is not the reason I’m writing this column; no, it’s that they attempted to pervert the will of the American people who had elected Joseph Biden over Donald Trump by 306-232 in electoral votes and by 81,283, 361 - 74,222, 960 in the popular vote.

There have been bitter elections and contested victories before, featuring such iconic stalwarts as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt  - and who can forget the “hanging chads” controversy in 2000 when a close Supreme Court decision led to the presidency of George W. Bush.

There were Democrats who refused to accept that result, but Vice-President Al Gore, in his wisdom, felt that such dissent on his part would do interminable damage to the United States, and so he conceded.

We ended up with the invasion of Iraq, perhaps the worst American foreign policy mistake but the country in general stayed united and moved on.

So what is Mr. Trump’s problem? Well, as New Yorkers, many of us have had ringside seats to his antics over the years. That’s why we gave him a lower percentage of votes in his hometown than practically any other elected president.

We know all about his ego and his belief in that wise old authoritarian adage, “If you say it often enough people will believe you.”

Though Mr. Trump bullied and cajoled election officials and governors in various states, most were both righteous and patriotic enough to stand up for the truth, and the integrity of the electoral system.

But even after the courts threw out the vast majority of Trump backed challenges, and Attorney-General William Barr declared that the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, President Trump still summoned his tourists to DC on January 6th2021.

But then Mr. Trump often tends to favor “alternative facts” when reality doesn’t match his expectations.

What is stunning is that the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan has swallowed his Kool-Aid and meekly steps into line. Talk about hope and history rhyming.

It’s a long way to the midterms in November and even longer to 2024, many things will change. Given their age and the vicissitudes of public life, it’s unlikely that either President Biden or Mr. Trump will run again.

But Donald Trump will not go gentle into that good night. He will remain in control of the Republican Party and play kingmaker, forever parroting his false claim that he “wuz robbed.”

The question is – will we citizens allow his great lie to undermine a system of government that, despite faults, has acted as a beacon of light for much of the world.

I know we’re fatigued by a seemingly never-ending pandemic that has frayed our nerves and way of life.

Like many I’m appalled by the constant bickering of both major political parties and the abandon with which they gerrymander constituencies for their own advantage. Neither can I bear to watch the partisan rote sermonizing of MSNBC or Fox News, but elections are about ideas as much as people or parties.


Then I catch a glimpse of the hate-filled faces of those entitled tourists waving their Confederate flags while attacking the outnumbered Capitol police.

And I remember that President Trump sat on his hands and gleefully watched this travesty on television when he could have summoned help.

It’s at such moments I know that I have no choice but do my part to prevent these bullyboys, and their self-seeking political accomplices, from interfering with the democratic will of the American people.

History has shown the cost of sitting back and expecting others to shoulder our democratic responsibilities. Roll on mid-term November and 2024!

Saturday 15 January 2022

CBGB - the Irish connection

 They called it “the club that changed the world.” It perched on The Bowery, just above Houston Street, and went by the name CBGB.

It was an odd place – beginning with its name – the letters stood for Country, BlueGrass and Blues.

Practitioners of those musical disciplines rarely played the club unless they harbored suicidal tendencies.

Historians usually opine that either Patti Smith or Tom Verlaine of Television first graced CB’s stage; but I remember it differently, Turner & Kirwan of Wexford beat them by some months.

All these years later I still can’t describe our duo except to say we were loud, opinionated, and not for the faint-hearted. We also had a bawdy sense of humor little appreciated by various establishments – including the Irish Echo who printed our own graphic description of the group in an ad for The Bells of Hell.

This caused subscriptions to be cancelled but the Echo ruled that we were entitled to our own dubious opinion and besides, “a bit of controversy rarely went astray.” We were eventually banned from CBGB but that’s a whole other story.

How did we become the first band to play the storied club? That too came about through our association with The Bells.

You see CBGB originated on W. 13thStreet, right opposite Malachy McCourt’s watering hole, then managed by Peter Myers, from Keswick who collaborated with us on the controversial Irish Echo ad. 


Turner & Kirwan of Wexford were house band at The Bells and as fate would have it, the original CBGB was not attracting much of an audience - Country, Bluegrass or Blues.

Turner & Kirwan, however, were packing the Bells with what the Sunday News described as “Irish Acid Rock.”

Hilly Kristal and his wife, Karen, used to close early and slouch disconsolately across the street to catch our “rowdy psychedelic” set which stretched into the late wee hours. 


Hilly eventually moved GBGB to another premises below a men’s shelter on The Bowery which he had been assured was on the brink of gentrification. I believe he bought a bridge to Brooklyn in the same transaction.

It wasn’t that Hilly tried to poach us from the Bells, more that he offered us a Monday night residency at his new club.

Truth be told though, we were doing roaring business around the city on Mondays with our “bartenders night out;” this idea came to us courtesy of Sir Charles Comer, Bob Marley’s PR maestro who also put out the word that we were attracting “hordes of wild women.”

But Hilly was a friend so we played a Grand Opening Monday night for him in his new club. The “wild women” never materialized but bartenders, defrocked Christian Brothers, all sorts of thirsty communists, and others from our Bells clientele lined up on the Bowery for admittance, when lo and behold, one of the residents of the men’s shelter above tossed a blunt dinner knife down into the parched queue.

No one was injured and the Grand Opening continued unabated, but the word spread about this incident and the following Monday night the only audience that showed was Hilly, his prize Egyptian dogs, a couple of hungover Bronx bartenders, and no sign of women, “wild” or otherwise.

This continued for a dispiriting month of Mondays until finally Turner and I informed Hilly that we were going home to Ireland, and that in our less than humble opinion his Country, Bluegrass, and Blues emporium on the Bowery would never take off.

Alas, the rest is history. In our absence Patti Smith discovered CB’s and by the time we returned the Ramones, Blondie, and every other manner of punk had created a sensational new scene, and not for the last time had Turner & Kirwan made a woeful career decision.

However, we were eventually invited back into the fold, and even banned which is more than I can say for any of goody-two-shoes punks that became famous.

But never let it be said that an Irish band was not the first to play at the fountain of Punkdom! 

Here’s to the memory of CBGB, Turner & Kirwan of Wexford, and to the late lamented godfather of Punk, Mr. Kristal.

Long may you promote in heaven, Hilly, we’ll never see your like again!