Wednesday 23 February 2022

Neil Young V Joe Rogan

 Neil Young had the biggest head of any musician I’d ever met. I’m talking literally, of course, not figuratively.

He came to see Black 47 in Paddy Reilly’s back in the early 90’s. During a break we sat together, but every time I glanced around to check out the size of the crowd, Neil’s head blocked my view.

We shared the same manager, the legendary Elliot Roberts. Elliot could talk the hind-legs off Delaney’s donkey but Neil drank his beer in relative silence.

Oddly enough I still remember the two morsels of information he shared with me that night.

In between deep slugs of Steve Duggan’s best-poured pint of Guinness, Neil casually mentioned that his father, a Canadian sportswriter had retired to Howth in Co. Dublin.

When I inquired what guitar effects he used to get such an array of sounds, he was quite adamant that he employed none. He must have caught the look of disbelief on my face for he added, “Turn the guitar up loud enough and you’ll get any sound you want.”

After that piece of sonic wisdom we returned to studying the creamy bubbles of Guinness settle at the bottom of our glasses.

I mention this to iterate that Neil Young is a man of few, but consequential, words.

Now I don’t follow pop culture so I don’t know Joe Rogan from a hole in the wall. But I know his type – having been interviewed at hundreds of radio stations across these vast United States.

Joe is descended from the shock jocks of the last 50 years, most of whom were pretty harmless. If you didn’t like them, you just flipped the dial, and they faded off into the ether.

Mr. Rogan, however, has a huge national audience for his podcast; rumor has it the lucky man has received $100 million from Spotify for his services.

Good for you, Joe! At least someone is making money from Spotify. The vast majority of musicians make pennies from this all-powerful lease-a-song outfit.

Neil Young’s recent beef with Joe Rogan and Spotify is that both podcaster and platform are allowing false information to be spread about the efficacy of vaccines that are saving thousands of lives every day.

Well over 900,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 in the last two years and more than 2000 continue to die daily from this curse.

Mr. Rogan has the most popular podcast in the universe right now. You’d think in these trying times he’d use it to save lives? With Omicron infection declining by the day, we may soon have an opportunity to get back on our feet and prepare for what comes next. 

Vaccines and booster shots may not be our only saviors from any future variants, but for now they are undoubtedly the best options.

Which brings me back to Neil. Some months after our quiet interaction at Reilly’s, Black 47 played Farm Aid at his request, along with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and a host of legends.

It was a very democratic concert at the Iowa State football stadium. Each act was allotted time enough for three songs.

As you might imagine Black 47 performed in the afternoon; it was night before Neil Young closed the show.

John Mellencamp was the penultimate act and he almost blew that packed stadium apart with his kinetic brand of hinterland rock. Standing amidst Elliot’s entourage at the side of the stage I wondered how Neil could top that.

He strolled on with just an acoustic guitar and stood before the microphone, before walking offstage again to where his young son, Ben, who suffered from cerebral palsy, sat in his wheelchair.

He took some seconds to establish eye contact with Ben. Then Neil ambled back onstage and sang After The Gold Rush, a lament about our heedless destruction of the environment.

The sheer artistry of the song and the depth of its message caused a powerful hush to descend on the multitude in that vast football stadium.

It was a major lesson in both music and life - volume is not important in getting your message across, but the truth most definitely is.

Think about it, Joe, ratings and vapid notoriety only count for so much. There are lives to be saved out there.

Saturday 12 February 2022

The Priest's Housekeeper and Me

 Once a person of consequence, the priest’s housekeeper appears to have slipped quietly into the past. She was mostly a rural Irish phenomenon, for in urban areas priests usually lived communally tended to by anonymous sacristans.

But in villages the priest’s housekeeper was a force to be reckoned with.

And why not - the canon, monsignor, parish priest or curate was the most important local authority and the housekeeper was his eyes and ears.

More often than not she was an outsider, and had either arrived with her reverend, or was hired from some other part of the county.

She might make friends locally and visit them, but the big house was like a magnet always drawing her back.

Though there was never a suggestion of any hanky-panky, there was an ineffable bond between them that often led to gossip.

The housekeeper’s power lay in her proximity to unquestioned power and in her ability to subtly let the community know which way the wind was blowing.

I had much opportunity to study these formidable ladies because my grandfather’s headstone business necessitated contact with every parish priest and curate in County Wexford.

Then when I was nearing my teenage years, Miss Kitty Codd arrived to keep house for us. Her employer of 30 years, Fr. Quigley, a parish priest of some renown, had passed away recently.

My grandfather informed me that clerical housekeepers tended to move from one priest to the next, but that Miss Codd had been so attached to the late Fr. Quigley she desired a change.

Though he realized she would come with certain baggage, he was of the opinion that she might bring some order to our big barracks of a house.  We had lost two housekeepers in quick succession because my Uncle Paddy “had put the run on them” for failing to iron his shirts to his precise specifications.

I might add that my grandfather and uncle had not spoken in many years, though they worked together in the headstone business and shared the same abode.

This was the household that Miss Codd became a part of – often silent but rarely peaceful.

To say she had no time for nonsense would be an understatement, and she immediately set about “putting some manners” on me. This gained her Paddy’s approval for he and I had been feuding since my arrival some years previously to keep my grandfather company.

Miss Codd must have been a dab hand at ironing for Paddy raised no complaints about singed shirt collars or other such sartorial travesties.

This truce, alas, did not last long. One morning Miss Codd delivered a bombshell. “Should I find another article of clothing on the floor I will donate it to the St. Vincent De Paul Society For The Poor.

Paddy looked up from his porridge and muttered, “You will in your…”

But Miss Codd silenced him with a steely glare and he never finished his uncouth sentence.

A sense of order descended upon our house of silent turmoil. We got used to her “clerical” ways and she for the most part tolerated our ingrained “street habits.”

She taught me a lot – a million songs, how to play cards, dance the Walls of Limerick, along with the proper way to treat young ladies once I began casting my eyes in that direction.

She was riddled with superstition and, after a cup of tea, full of chat. I waited in vain for her to shed some light on her life with Fr. Quigley, for I had a teenage notion that she had been secretly in love with him.

But the rare time his name arose she would quietly state that he had “the makings of a saint within him” and look off into the distance.

She informed me that I wasn’t responsible for my many sins, because living in a household where father and son did not speak was against both God and nature.

Both my grandfather and Miss Codd passed away in the visa challenged years I spent exclusively in the US.

I miss both of them and their quiet certitude. I even think fondly of Uncle Paddy who lived on alone in our big barracks of a house and every fortnight sent out his shirts by the sack full to be dry-cleaned.