Thursday, November 4, 2010

“An Ocean and a Rock” (Lisa Hannigan)

What is the name of the crest of a wave where it comes to a point and seems to turn white, just before rolling over on itself? That is Lisa Hannigan’s voice. It’s not too heavy, but it isn’t ethereal, either. It’s powerful; it comes from the earth. It’s something you want to sit with for a while, just experiencing it over and over again.

I’ve missed a couple weeks in posting since I got back from China, mainly because I was sleeping all kinds of odd hours and generally getting readjusted to the States. I wasn’t even gone very long, but for some reason, it took a while to get back on track. All that time, though, I was playing Lisa’s album Sea Sew on my computer or my MP3 player, turning it way up, and singing along. On the 13-hour flight back from China, I listened to the album three times in a row. I even did a little chair dancing. I probably looked ridiculous, but after sitting in the same seat for eight hours, I really didn’t care.

At the moment, “An Ocean and a Rock” is my favorite. The title reminds me of one of my most-loved spots on the entire island: a little stretch of rocky coastline behind my friend’s house in Barna, just west of Galway. There weren’t any massive waves that built to a point and rolled over on themselves, but there was the constant pull of ocean and earth. There was salt in the crisp air, and when the sky brightened, it was as though you could reach up and touch heaven. While I was in Ireland, it was home.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unabashed Swell Season lovefest

Glen Hansard, I wish I knew how to quit you.

The Swell Season are back on tour for a few dates around Europe. For me, that means a lot of afternoons lost to YouTube for the next couple weeks.

Here is an especially delicious one. First, there’s something about it that is visually lush — maybe the combination of the lighting and the rich blue of the background. Of course, even more addictive is the song itself and the delivery that is, as always, impassioned, lovely, powerful, and resonant with my own heart.

Since first hearing the Once soundtrack three years ago, I’ve listened to The Swell Season almost daily. While I was in China for two weeks and the band were taking a short break, I told myself I could walk away at last. I had the albums on my MP3 player, but I wasn’t able to rely on old clips or the band’s tweets to get through the hiatus, since YouTube and Twitter aren’t available in China. So, I resolved to go cold turkey, keep it old school, and simply listen while I waited patiently for the next album.

But it’s useless — I can’t walk away. And why should I, after all?


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Master of the Nets Garden

So, I haven’t posted anything in a month. I’m sure all eight of my readers have been worried, but fear not — I was spending a couple weeks in Suzhou, China, just west of Shanghai.

I had a grand plan for this blog on the trip. Although Suzhou is a “small” Chinese city, with a mere 6 million people in the greater metropolitan area, I figured that the Irish had most likely broken into the social scene and established a local drinking establishment there. And before I left, I used the trusty Internet to discover that I was right. There was reportedly one lone Irish pub in the city, called the Shamrock, on Shiquan Street. I resolved to go there, have a pint, and capture on video the live Irish music that I assumed could be found in Irish pubs the world over.

Well, not only was there no Irish music — there was also no Irish pub. Although we were armed with only an address and a vague idea of the pub’s location, my husband and a friend and I set out from our hotel one evening with great confidence. We could practically taste the Guinness and smell the fish and chips. But as we made our way down one long, crowded boulevard after another, we came to realize that it was not to be. An hour and a half after our journey had begun, we found an English-language bookstore, where a table of expatriates informed us of the Shamrock’s demise just a month before.

Luckily, the following week, I discovered the nighttime tour of the Master of the Nets Garden, just down the street from the Shamrock’s former home. The garden was first constructed in 1140 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here’s just one of the performances I saw there. No, it’s not Irish — but still extremely cool.


Friday, September 10, 2010

“Becoming a Jackal” (Villagers)

I was recently driving along and listening to the World Cafe on NPR when I heard an amazing track that the show’s host, David Dye, later said was by an Irish band called Villagers. I made a quick note but sort of forgot about it when I got home.

A few days ago, I was at Starbucks and noticed a card for a free iTunes download for a track by a band called Villagers. “Hmm,” I thought, as I poured half and half into a cup of Earl Grey. “Villagers. That sounds familiar.” I dropped the card into my bag and headed home, but then I sort of forgot about it.

Yesterday, I was watching an interview with Glen Hansard on YouTube, shot during the Electric Picnic festival that was held last week in County Laois. During the interview, RTÉ Radio 1 host Philip King talks about what he calls a “golden age” of Irish music happening at the moment. And one of the names he threw out was Villagers.

And then, WHAM! It all came together like one of those movie montages where the main character’s life flashes before his eyes. Fate had been trying to get my attention, and I finally stopped for a second and noticed.

Conor O’Brien — who is Villagers, or fronts Villagers; I can’t quite figure it out — has a crazy-mesmerizing, haunting, addictive voice. He does remind me vaguely of someone ... but who is it? David Gray? Morrissey? Simon & Garfunkel? It’s sort of all of those, and none of them, at the same time. I know he’s unique and incomparable, and but there is something rich and atmospheric about his music that puts me in mind of those once and current greats. Either way, I am seriously loving it.

My favorites so far are the home sessions that are posted on YouTube. When someone sounds like that when he’s just hanging out in his kitchen, you know it’s quality.


Friday, September 3, 2010

“Sadhbh Ní Bhruinneallaigh” (Liam Ó Maonlaí)

Pam Stucky over at P as in Pterodactyl posted some shots of her trip to Inishmore, and I couldn’t help but follow suit. My trip was in June 2001 with my friends Cian and Pio. Our seaside B&B came with its own cattle, and the bean an tí (woman of the house) informed us when we checked in that there was no need to give us keys, as the house was never locked.

We spent a lovely overcast afternoon walking the length of the island to Dún Aengus. I had been to the Cliffs of Moher in the past and watched in a mixture of terror and envy as people would lie down and peer over the edge. Since the three of us were the only people at Dún Aengus that day, I decided to finally try it. I lay down and peered further and further over the edge, watching waves crash against the rock below. Probably about a minute passed until fear took over and I scrambled back toward a wider patch of solid ground. I still get chills today just thinking about it.

Later that night, we went to a quiet pub on the island where Cian and Pio had a great chat as Gaeilge with one of the island’s elders and I tried to catch a word here and there. And even though Liam Ó Maonlaí wasn't singing sean nós in the pub, this clip might give you a feel for the kind of evening we had.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Don’t Judge!

This morning, while I was eating a bowl a cereal, I flipped on the Today show just as Katy Perry was taking the stage. And while I was rolling my eyes at her outfit, the stage props (was that supposed to be a cloud? Or gigantic cotton candy?), and surreal dancing bears, I suddenly had a flashback to the mid-90s and realized I couldn’t judge.

As I’ve said before, I went to Ireland inspired by earthy traditional music played on accordions and fiddles, tin whistles and bodhrán drums. I found all that, and it was marvelous. And then, there was this:

I’m cheating a bit this week, because the Spice Girls aren’t Irish — but in Galway during the fall of 1996, it seemed nearly impossible to escape them. One of my earliest memories after arriving in town is turning on the television in my apartment, seeing the official video for “Say You’ll Be There” (the one set in the Mojave Desert), and thinking, “what the...?” But it wasn’t long (probably that weekend) before I was dancing to — and singing along with — their songs like everyone else. Sure, you could go down to The Crane or the Club Áras na nGael for an amazing trad session, but just as often, it was pop music that spilled out of clubs and pubs as you walked down the street at midnight.

It was the constantly shifting combinations of traditional and contemporary culture that I found most exciting and confusing about living in Galway. On a Tuesday night, I might go to an Irish language class and then set dancing at Monroe’s. Then on Saturday, it might be a night out at the GPO and dancing to more pop music than I’d heard since the 8th grade. Back in the States, my friends were mortified that I knew all the words to Spice Girl songs. But I was so surprised by the idea of a Europop, gin-soaked, neon-tinged Galway that there was nothing to do but embrace it with enthusiasm.

Katy Perry’s Today show stage featured larger-than-life candy — a fitting metaphor for the pop music that can become our guilty pleasure. When it’s done well, it’s music that makes us dance even as we check to make sure no one catches us in Top 40 indulgence. It may not have much substance, but it’s a sweet treat and the sugar buzz can make you feel invincible for up to four minutes.

It’s the last week of summer, people. What the heck? Here’s another one.

Have fun.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

“Cúirt Bhaile Nua” (Colm Mac Con Iomaire)

Before I went to Ireland, I would listen to traditional music and imagine myself standing on a green, windswept hillside, with the sound of pipes in the distance and smoke rising out of the chimney of a charming cottage nearby. I thought of high kings at the Hill of Tara and great legendary and mythical figures: Brian Ború, Cúchulainn, Queen Medb. And I dreamed of standing at a cliff’s edge, gazing resolutely into the distance, while waves crashed into the rocks below.

Imagine my satisfaction when I went to Ireland and was able to live out all of these visions — with a few alterations, of course. There was plenty of standing on green, windswept hillsides, though it lacks a certain something without the pipes and the cozy cottage setting. It doesn’t take long before you start to feel like an idiot for being cold and windswept (and most likely rained on) when any sane person is in the pub having a pint.

I also spent one glorious summer afternoon at the Hill of Tara, seat of the ancient high kings, which turned out to be a set of otherwise unremarkable undulating hills situated next to a busy visitor’s center. And none of my fantasies had involved the swarming masses of tourists always present at the Cliffs of Moher — except for the time I went in January and the wind blew so hard, you had to be especially careful not to get too close to the edge. There’s no resolute gazing when you’re gripping a rock wall in terror. (My friend might look happy in this photo, but I’m sure he was terrified on the inside.)

All of this is the long way around to saying that having a crush on a country is a bit like having a crush on a person. The better you get to know it, the more it will disappoint and delight you in unexpected ways. The end result may be even better than what you originally dreamed of, but it is still different, and something to get used to.

Listening to Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s version of “Cúirt Bhaile Nua (The Court of New Town)” brings back all those old dreams and visions. Which I don’t think is such a bad thing after all. They represent a longing to connect with a place, or a period of time, or a people that might not really exist anymore, except in a spirit that you can still sense in intangible ways — or in tangible cultural elements that remain with us thanks to artists like Colm.

Gaeilge (Irish) is also one of those things that, to put it plainly, I love about Ireland. Colm, who is also the violinist for The Frames and The Swell Season, tells a lovely story as Gaeilge (in Irish) about the title of his solo album, The Hare’s Corner, in this video from TG4.

Finally, in the clip below, you’ll notice that Colm says that this song is typically sung unaccompanied in the sean nós (old style) tradition. So please also be sure to check out the second video as well — an amazing clip of Nora McDonagh singing “Cúirt Bhaile Nua” as Gaeilge. The two songs actually sound nothing alike, but I’m taking it on faith that they’re two versions of the same beautiful thing.


Colm Mac Con Iomaire

Nora McDonagh

Friday, August 13, 2010

"Seven Day Mile" (The Frames)

The Frames are an Irish indie rock band that have been kicking around for the past twenty years. Since 2007-ish, when Marketa Irglova is added, voila! They become The Swell Season. The two bands sound similar, and different. The Frames is The Swell Season, and The Swell Season is The Frames, except when they are not. As I recently read on another blog, they are two sides of the same coin.

I haven’t seen The Frames live, but they’re touring this fall. It will be interesting to see what kind of sound they have without Marketa. As the old saying goes, you can’t go home again. It seems to me that it would be impossible to go back to being the same band they were before — before Glen and Marketa made the movie Once, before their Oscar win, before they moved from a harder edge to a more mellow folk sound. Surely they have been affected personally and professionally by all the changes brought about by the past few years, and those changes are sure to come through in the music.

As I’ve said before, part of my inspiration for falling in love with Ireland was my infatuation with all types of Irish music, beginning in my early teens. The irony of that is, when I lived in Galway in the ‘90s, my relationship with music essentially ended. Or, I should say that my musical experience at home and my musical experience in Ireland were dramatically different. All the intricacies of those differences is a story for another day, but the short version is that I never heard of The Frames until Once came out. How did I miss this band? In 1996, the year I arrived in Galway, Fitzcarraldo was released by ZTT Records and went to #26 on the Irish charts. I always tell people that if a band wasn’t playing the university’s reading room, then I missed them. But that hardly seems like an excuse. (It’s also a little disingenuous, but that, too, is a story for another day.)

In any case, I am now doing my best to catch up. I was familiar with “Seven Day Mile” before The Swell Season played it at the Nelsonville Music Festival last May, but only after filming this clip did I sit down and study the lyrics. What a beautiful song. In another clip, Glen Hansard introduces this song by saying that it’s about checking in with someone to say, “I’m thinking about you. Are you alright? I hope you get better. I’d help you in a more practical way if I could, but all I can do is send you a song.”

Sometimes, though, sending a song is really the only thing you can do. With that in mind, these lines in particular resonate with me:

Well this might take a while to figure out
So don’t you rush it
And hold your head up high right through the doubt
‘Cause it’s just a matter of time
You’ve been running so fast
It’s the seven day mile
Has you torn in between here and running away

I think we all face times when we feel torn between here and running away. And when my mother died, I often found myself thinking, “It’s been two weeks/two months/a year ... I should be over this.” But sometimes things take a while to figure out. Some things are harder to get through than others. And some people need more time than others. That’s all. I don’t think there are any answers here, which is what I love about this song. It’s like my husband — when something comes up, sometimes he’ll say, “Well, I’ll be here.” That didn’t make any sense to me for a long time. “What does that even mean?” I would say. Then, over a chunk of years, a whole bunch of tough stuff went down, and he was there all along. And then I got it. He didn’t have any answers, but he was there. That’s all. That’s everything.


Friday, August 6, 2010

“Listen Girl” and “Heyday” (Mic Christopher)

The first time I heard “Listen Girl” was while watching the video on YouTube. So for me, the song will forever be associated with a group of friends kicking around New York, exploring and discovering and just being young and happy.

The video reminds me of a similar day in the summer of 1995. But instead of Irish friends in New York, this was a group of American friends in Ireland. I’d met Fionnuala, Nate, Rob, and Mike a week or two before I took this photo in Galway. But for those two weeks, and the rest of the summer, we were inseparable. We traveled all over the country, exploring and discovering and just being young and happy.

It’s easy to think of those days in Ireland as our heyday. But when Mic introduces “Heyday” in the clip below, he says he wondered why there has to be “a time when you’re great, and the rest of the time you’re not.” So “this is basically about every day being your best day.”

Why can’t every day be our heyday? I try to remember that now. These days, much of my time may be spent folding laundry or making dinner, but I’m surrounded by the deep love of family and friends that makes life so rich. The spirits of those who have gone before us carry us through each day, and in the evenings, the summer sun dips into the fields, casting the world around us in glorious blue and gold. Back in Galway in ’95, that was our heyday then. And this is our heyday now.


“Listen Girl”


Friday, July 30, 2010

"No Mermaid" (Sinéad Lohan)

The song “No Mermaid” seems to have more to do with living an authentic life than it does with actual mermaids. Nonetheless, the mermaid is a powerful figure in Irish myth that, once conjured, is difficult to escape. In contemporary Irish literature, the image of the mermaid is perhaps best captured in the work of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, a versatile writer and scholar known primarily for her Irish-language poetry.

I once had the great privilege of going drinking with Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. (The phrase “going drinking” might inaccurately make it sound like we went out in Temple Bar and then scarfed down garlic chips from Supermac’s at 2 a.m., but it sounds cool.) If I remember correctly, the actual incident was set in a quiet bar in southern Illinois with a group of folks from an Irish Studies conference. And what I remember most of all is that Ní Dhomhnaill had just started to tell us about the years she spent in Turkey when the guy sitting next to me put his arm on the back of my chair.

If it’s appropriate to say you had a crush on someone when you were in your mid-20s, then that word applies here. I had admired this person from afar for some time, and now I could actually feel his arm resting against my back. Suddenly, the only sound I could hear was my heart beating in my ears, and everything Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill said was lost to me.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) my tragic schoolgirl foolishness, I’ve tried to go back and better cultivate my interest in Ní Dhomhnaill’s work. To start, you can read three of her poems, along with translations by Paul Muldoon, in the electronic literary journal Inertia. Also, if you have 45 minutes to spare, you can listen to this documentary from RTÉ Radio 1 about Ní Dhomhnaill’s use of mermaid imagery.

Finally, if you only have three minutes to spare, I recommend watching this video produced for TG4, the Irish-language television station (even though there aren’t any mermaids). In this video, Ní Dhomhnaill reads her poem “Athair.” Listening to her read is a special treat. Not only is her poetry rich in symbolic imagery, but, to me, the Irish language (Gaeilge) sounds like waves hitting rock. It puts me in mind of this particular March day in Connemara, when the cold wind whipped our hair and the water broke like glass at our feet.

All of this brings me back around to Sinéad Lohan, whose song “No Mermaid” is also rife with watery imagery. Lohan is apparently something like the J. D. Salinger of Irish music. That may be overstating her influence a bit, but nonetheless, she burst onto the scene in the mid-90s, made two albums, and disappeared. Rumors exist that she’s still making music, but nothing has surfaced since the album No Mermaid in 1998. If you check out the handful of Sinéad Lohan videos on YouTube, many of the comments say “Where are you, Sinéad?” and “Please come back.” Until then, we’ll have to content ourselves with the music that she’s left us.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"It'll Be Easier in the Morning" (Hothouse Flowers)

I was very blessed to live in Galway for two years. And if I ever got a bit down and called a friend to complain, I usually got this advice: “I don’t want to hear it.” Which was fair enough, because it really was a charmed life. I spent most of my time studying, but I also went to the Galway Market on Saturdays, stopped for coffee in Café du Journal, danced at the GPO on Sunday nights, and spent many happy evenings in The Front Door (or Club Áras na nGael, Neachtain’s, Monroe’s, Murphy’s, Taylor’s, or the College Bar).

It was relatively easy to adjust to life in Ireland. For example, English is the primary language, and all the food is identifiable. Such luxuries shouldn’t be taken for granted when one is venturing far from home. Even so, there were things that could be frustrating.

For example, you might go to the bursar’s office to pay your tuition bill, only to be told that the woman who handles those particular bills is out for lunch. “Well, can I leave it for her?” you might ask. This request might be ignored, and the woman behind the counter might instead suggest that you simply stop by later. However, when you stop by later, the office might be closed for the weekend (even though it’s noon on a Thursday). Then, when you return the following week, you might be informed that the (increasingly elusive) woman in question is on vacation for the next two weeks. “But my tuition is due tomorrow,” you might respond. “What should I do?” To which the woman behind the counter might sigh dramatically and tell you that she’ll take it after all. You’ll watch her drop your check on a stack of papers, and then you’ll spend the next month or so fretting that it will be “lost” and you’ll have to pay the bill again, even though the money has mysteriously disappeared from your account.

On days like those, I could seek out my friend Michael (dubbed “Vegas” by his Galway friends, in honor of his hometown). We would drink black coffee, watch The Simpsons, and pepper our conversation with all the Americanisms we could think of. As in, “Dude, that Simpsons episode was awesome.” — “Totally, dude.”

If The Simpsons wasn’t on, or if there was no one to commiserate with, the other thing I would often do is to go for a walk. My first year in Galway, I would leave my apartment, walk about two minutes to the bank of the River Corrib, and then head upriver toward Menlo Castle. The crisp air would do wonders for clearing my head, and looking over at the castle helped me remember what a truly amazing experience it was to be living in Ireland.

During my second year in Galway, my apartment was just around the corner from Bridge Street, where I often stood and let the rushing river take any anger or loneliness or melancholy out to sea.

Now that I’m back in the States, I don’t have one particular place where I can sort things out in my mind. But all these years — whether I’m looking out over the water or sitting at my kitchen table at home — one thing has remained constant. When life starts to feel overwhelming, the song “It’ll Be Easier in the Morning” often seems to magically pop into my head.

Of course, not all problems and worries go away overnight. But I’ve found that, most of the time, things really are easier in the morning. This gorgeous song gives me such a lovely way to remember that.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Swell Season

In my first post, I said I would write about the music that first inspired my love for Ireland, and I will. But for today, I decided to write about one of my more recent favorites, The Swell Season.

A few years ago, my radio alarm went off around six o’clock one morning, and as I gradually became conscious, a few words caught my attention. “New film ... Ireland ... music....” For a day or two, I thought I was dreaming. Until finally, I looked it up online and found out about Once.

The story of this independent musical’s humble beginnings and eventual rise to Oscar glory is well documented. If you’re not familiar, just Google it. And for heaven’s sake, watch the movie. I myself had to wait to see it, because it wasn’t released in my neck of the woods for a while. But, God bless Fox Searchlight, you could stream the entire soundtrack from the film’s website. And that was it. I was captivated.

The Swell Season have made me remember what it was I loved about music. For starters, there’s luscious harmonies and honest, heartbreaking lyrics. Glen Hansard’s charisma, and Marketa Irglova’s golden, radiant smile. The palpable chemistry between the entire group of musicians (six in all). It’s as if, when they’re playing, they dip down into the music together. They become part of it, and it becomes part of them. And then, if you’re seeing them live, Glen Hansard invites you, as part of the crowd, to join them. And what might have been simply an evening of hearing some live music becomes this moment of connection in which you feel as though you can hold the music in your hands.

My husband and I saw them last May at the Nelsonville Music Festival, on a bright Sunday afternoon where it seemed everyone, including the band, was smiling and just generally happy to be alive. There was a wonderful laid-back atmosphere. Marketa said the festival reminded her of one in her hometown in the Czech Republic and that they had gone for a walk in the woods surrounding the festival site earlier in the day. And when my husband and I were hanging out watching the She Bears earlier that afternoon, who came around the corner and sat down just in front of us but Glen Hansard himself.

I didn’t go up to him because I was playing it cool (in other words, I was too shy). But he seemed really nice, chatting with everyone who did stop and talk. But actually, what I loved was that most people ignored him. Maybe they just didn’t realize his band were the headliners that day, or maybe they were also playing it cool. But seeing Glen Hansard walk around mostly undisturbed had the effect of casting a sense of camaraderie over the entire afternoon. A sense of mutual appreciation, between band and audience, for kicking back with a cup of coffee and a bunch of great music.

They opened with a cover of “Ohio River Boat Song” by Palace Music (Bonnie “Prince” Billy). I apologize that the audio and video aren’t the greatest quality. It was my first time using that camera for video. I’m also including someone else’s video of their Oscar-winning song, “Falling Slowly,” which begins with a sweet introduction by one of their younger fans.


Friday, July 9, 2010

“Monsieur L’Matou” (Vishtèn)

Last weekend, even though it was hot as blazes where we are, my husband and I ventured away from our air conditioning to check out a music festival downtown. Turns out it was well worth the trip, as we discovered Vishtèn, a Canadian band.

I might’ve said simply that Vishtèn plays traditional Irish music, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands are the places that the members of Vishtèn call home. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what this meant in terms of their influences. But as their website explains, “the sound is essentially Celtic but with a difference.” I love the fact that they don’t even try to explain what the difference is. As if they’re saying, “Just listen. You’ll see.”

All the elements of traditional Irish music are there — fiddle, guitar, accordion, penny-whistle, piano, and bodhrán — and the women in the group did some step dancing during songs. But I did notice some differences, too, though I’ve struggled to pinpoint exactly what they are. They sing in French; that’s an obvious one. But there is something else. The music seemed lighter, brighter than traditional Irish music somehow. A bit less intense than, say, the Chieftains. A bit less mournful, maybe. It made me think of sunny blues and greens, and clear, cold mornings — though this may be because I go to Canada every summer, at a crystal lake where we fish alongside herons and the air is always fresh.

Even so, Vishtèn’s music still evokes all the things that I associate with traditional Celtic music: sitting with friends in a pub in Galway on bitterly cold nights. Clutching a pint of Guinness, clouds of cigarette smoke hanging over our heads. It makes me think of wool sweaters. Rain lashing against the windows.

Come to think of it, that’s not so far from the atmosphere we found in Nova Scotia. Normal people go to the Bahamas on their honeymoon, but not my husband and me. Instead, we huddled into each other at a table in an Irish pub in Halifax, eating fish and chips and looking out at the gray, rainy October afternoon. So maybe I should let that guide my associations with Acadian music. After all, I suspect you can find more elements of Acadian culture in Nova Scotia than my lakeside village in Ontario.

In any case, it’s been interesting to learn more about the Irish/Celtic diaspora and all the people and places that have been influenced by this amazing culture. Even more important, it’s always fun to have a good set to stomp your feet to.


Friday, July 2, 2010

"We Will not be Lovers" (The Waterboys)

It was very difficult to choose the song for my first post. Even so, I knew which album it had to come from: Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys. What a classic! Released in 1988 — I was 15. What I loved about this album was that it had elements of traditional Irish music — mandolin, fiddle, accordion, and lively, aching lyrics — but it also had a contemporary edge. I imagine this kind of combination already existed in Irish music, but it was the first time I had ever encountered it. I was mesmerized.

Fisherman’s Blues came into my life because I was working on a cable access show called South Side Video. Remember MTV back in the days when they played music videos? In between songs, the VJ would talk about the band, or whatever came into her head. That was me. Except, instead of MTV, this was cable access, and most all the VJs and crew were suburban high school students. The show was broadcast live on Saturday afternoons. We got all kinds of promo CDs from the record companies, and when this one came in, I grabbed it because I read in the press packet that it was recorded in Spiddal, on the west coast of Ireland.

Back then, when I got a new CD, I always read along with the lyrics, maybe the first hundred times I listened to it (give or take). Since this one didn’t have any lyrics in the CD booklet, I just stared at the cover art: 10 ragged-looking guys in front of a ivy-covered stone building. I imagined that the air was always heavy with the smell of saltwater and that the village of Spiddal might be situated along a rocky coastline, where the sea seemed to meet the sky. When I finally went to Spiddal several years later, that’s pretty much what I found.

In selecting a specific song from the album, I’d say that “The Stolen Child” was the most emotive for me, as it’s based on the poem by Yeats, and the song just feels sweeping and epic. But that song doesn’t really represent the tone of the album as I always think of it, which is, at its core, a bit more lively.

So instead, I give you “We Will Not Be Lovers.” I love this song. I can’t help but move when I hear it. And the lyrics are sublime — longing and passionate and brutal and heartbreaking. All the things that, when I think about it, Ireland itself came to be for me.


Welcome! Fáilte!

There are many, many fine Irish music blogs out there. It seems most of them focus on indie and emerging artists, album reviews, and promoting live shows, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.

Mine is perhaps a well-worn story: the American’s pining for the mystical land of her ancestors. But I pined so fiercely that back in the early 1990s, I made my way by train and ferry boat from Austria to Ireland for three days of dancing in pubs and walking through my cousins’ marshy fields. I went back for the summer of 1995 to study at Trinity, and then lived in Galway for two years, from 1996 to 1998. After that, it was several weeks in Dublin, and then home to the U.S. for good.

Since I left Ireland in 1999, I have missed the country so deeply that, until very recently, I didn’t really have much to do with Ireland at all — I had get my head wrapped around being back in the States. But a couple years ago, I rediscovered Irish music. Not the “Danny Boy” my mother loved (though it has its own longing loveliness) — but the the music that helped to inspire my interest in Ireland in the first place. In the process, I've also stumbled upon some music — old and new — that's rekindling the passion I had for Irish music so many years ago.

So, because I'm not in Ireland and can't promote live shows — whether they're in Doolin, Dublin, or Meath — I would simply like to share some of the Irish music I grew up with. Music I first heard on dusty cassette tapes and CDs discovered on the bottom shelf of my local library. Music that, for me, evoked not only the mystical land of my ancestors, but also the promise of a contemporary Ireland that I had yet to encounter. Music that I continue to discover, thanks to the wonders of the internet (especially YouTube).

To all of these artists, Go raibh mile maith agaibh.

And now: Let us listen.