Music For The Jilted Generation (part 2)

Henderson was a writer, or so he told me. He’d cry at the drop of a hat. Usually about what those English pricks did to our ancestors.

I’m talking proper wailing – like an awl’ wan keening at a country wake. Apparently all due to the actions of men who died several generations before he ever clapped eyes on a flag.

Always moaning about those fucking flags. There was a Union Jack draped from a lamp-post outside his living-room window, the first thing he saw every morning. That – and the endless drink – was enough to drive him half-mad.

I met him one morning before nine on the Ormeau Road. He told me he was on his way to get a grip. I didn’t know what he meant. I just wanted him to hold it together, and not start crying about the spud-famine again, or Lourdes or something else completely fucking mental.

But then he joked and said he was on his way to get a grip – on a can of beer. I thought that was quite funny – if you set aside the fact it was uttered by a man on the brink of an alcoholic death.

He had that puffed-up Chinese-looking face that late-stage street-drinkers get, even though he was from a long line of Cavan drunks – and not a bit of China in him whatsoever.

Then he tapped me for the price of ten fags. I knew it was coming eventually. Once he’d finished ranting about the Brits or the spud famine or Lourdes, he’d always tap you for fags. Or a few cans.

But I liked the fact he was honest about it.  Nobody begs for money on the street because of a desperate need for a cup of tea, despite what they’d try have you believe.

But there was a definite intellect there in Henderson the Writer. Severely damaged though it was, by a late-stage dose of the wet-brain.  If you could steer him away from those touchy subjects like the fucking spud famine or Padre Pio, and avoid the endless stream of tears, you could have really engaging conversations with him.

He was a walking Wikipedia with knowledge on a wide range of random topics and ideas. He could talk for hours about anything from African Marxism to Middle-Eastern politics, just as long as you avoided certain subjects such as Michael Flatley, gout, or any of our other national misfortunes.

But no matter what manner of conversation you’d be having, he’d always eventually somehow bring it round to the Brits and those fucking flags.  And then I’d have to leave. That’d make him cry again cause I was leaving and he was lonely.

And I’d always feel like a total cunt for leaving him on his own.  Yet every fibre in my being wanted to escape the grim realities of his daily existence. I was only a tourist in that world, by his standards.

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Music For The Jilted Generation (part 1)

Ron the Rocker never worried about fame not happening. He’d always felt it was inevitable. Until last Wednesday.

Ron always tried to look like a rock-star. A charity-shop Bono – faded leather pants, purple sunglasses, and Galway hippy-beads.

But now at forty-five and-a-half, Ron’s slicked-back hair was starting to go thin and grey. The deep smoker’s lines on his face told their own stories. And most of them didn’t have happy endings.

Unlike Bono, Ron hadn’t a cent to his name. So while he waited for that inevitable A&R man to whisk him away to a life of whiskey and fluffers, Ron the Rocker made his few euros by busking on Shop Street every day. While trying to avoid that fucking wench from the dole office.

But last Wednesday something made Ron the Rocker question the inevitability of his rise to stardom. A pivotal realisation he’d had while pissing. In the jacks in Supermacs. After collecting the dole.

After thirty years waiting to be a world famous rock-star, Ron realised there was a fair chance it might not happen. This realisation dawned upon him quite quickly – cock in his hand – and this realisation took about the same time it took to piss.

It struck Ron that that particular piss had been the single-most seminal piss of his whole life. Don’t get me wrong; Ron’d had had a few seminal pisses in his time. But this was the piss that changed everything.

He’d started that piss a rock-star, bound for a life of roadies and fluffers, and he ended that piss a broken fucking loser. His whole life’s ambition flushed down the toilet, along with the rest of that dream-crushing straw-coloured frothy piss. And then the zip on his leather pants broke.

The gravity of the situation made Ron physically weak. All the colour drained from his well-lined face. He closed the toilet lid and sat down to compose himself, breathing quickly. He took his purple glasses off, and wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead.

Once the initial staggering shock subsided slightly, all sorts of grim questions you’d rather never consider began to occur to Ron. Questions you definitely never have to consider when you’re going to be a world-famous rock-star. With whiskey and fluffers…

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Smoking at My Granny’s Funeral

I first smoked at my granny’s funeral. I don’t think she would have approved.

Not that she was a Holy-Joe; my granny. Not at all. The woman liked the odd 60 fags-a-day herself. She used to pass around fags to her kids after dinner on Sundays back in the day. The weekly treat – but only if they’d had been good at mass.

I’m talking proper kids. Not teenagers. A load of children sitting ’round the kitchen table, smoking fags on Sunday afternoons. And then my granny had the nerve to get scaldy – ’cause her grandsons were smoking out in the garage. At her funeral. A bit hypocritical, if you ask me, considering her fag-peddling antics to children, fifty years previously!

Except I don’t think my granny was overly concerned about her grandson’s smoking out in the garage at her funeral. For a start she was dead, plus she was pragmatic. Laid out in the sitting room she was, under a big stitched picture of Jesus getting thick with some fellas at a temple.

It could’ve been Jesus, or maybe Moses. I never enquired, it was none of my business either way – Jesus or Moses. Both grand fellas by all accounts, either of them deserved to be stitched on a rug hanging on walls in ‘aul wan’s houses.

I’ve no problems there. But whoever it was – Jesus or Moses – he had a fierce scorpy temper on him. Judging by that big stitched picture hanging over my dead granny.

A load of beardy lads in red and beige dresses, getting thick with each other outside a fancy building. Losing the heads altogether they were. All stitched onto that big rug. Hanging on the wall of my dead granny’s house.

She wasn’t the last – my granny – there was one more straggler a year or two after, one more funeral, and then that was it. That whole generation of us dead.

No grandparents left. It’s a strange feeling. I can only imagine the day your last parent dies, and its just you, that whole generation of you is now also gone – and your generation are suddenly the oldest ones left.

But the problem with funerals I find, is there’s no ticketing system – no invites. It’s a fucking free for all, especially in country towns.

Also, it’s a well established fact that there’ll definitely be endless hard-liquor and ham-sandwiches available at all times throughout the wake at a country funeral. It’s like Turkish Airlines – free liquor all the way, but a woeful safety record so you can never be sure exactly what way things will turn out.

But the thing about Turkish airlines is their main clientèle are usually Muslim, so they don’t end up getting shafted by a bunch of booze-hungry Spud-Heads.

No such luck at my granny’s wake, we didn’t know any Muslims. Just half the town in your granny’s front room, all shaking hands with you and saying how sorry they are for your troubles – as if they’d something to do with the death themselves – the big guilty half-jarred heads on them.

Even the nuns looked guilty. Frantically doing their holy mumbles. Muttering away, feeling beads. My granny wouldn’t have been into that craic at all. She wasn’t mental.

But she had no say in the matter. Once again, ticketing issues and a lack of invites can’t be ignored as a significant problem here. I feel this needs to be addressed at committee level, the next time rural funeral logistics are on the agenda.

Because once those pious-fucking nuns get the whiff of a funeral, the mumbling hordes come banging down doors, out on the hunt for misery and sandwiches.

They never said anything of significance at funerals, those nuns. Just muttered prayers and thousand yard stares. They wouldn’t even have enough craic in them to have a cup of tea.

Anyway, you wouldn’t be able to say the rosary properly if you were holding tea, you’d be fucked. Spilling it all over your frock with all that frantic blessing yourself like a Holy epileptic.

Eventually the muttering nuns get to a point where you’re all supposed to join in with the muttering. Everybody somehow knows the lyrics; it’s like a fucking Garth Brooks song.

You don’t really have a choice in the matter, you just somehow know those fucking lyrics, they’re implanted somewhere in the darker corners of your brain, waiting to jump out when needed. Bored (or beaten) into you by those Presentation Brothers, ready to recite at funerals.  And on New Years’s Eve in Donegal.

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The Cultural Gulf War

This week I met a well known actor in Tesco. He was poking through the reduced section, wearing worn-out shoes and trousers that’d seen better days. A famous face, he’s appeared in countless film, TV and theatre roles over the years. You’d definitely know him if you saw him.

Later that night I watched this actor play one of the lead parts in Martin McDonagh’s new play. Pretending to be students, we blagged our way into the theatre for half-price. We sat down like a pair of tramps, sandwiched between an army of middle-aged Maureen’s with their golden perms, white wine, and scarf-wearing husbands.

As we slyly produced the sweets we’d smuggled in under the cover of the pre-show darkness, the lights went up and the actor I’d talked to in Tesco appeared on stage. The play was everything you’d expect from Martin McDonagh – warped, wicked, funny….and downright brilliant.

At the end of the performance, the battalion of chardonnay-swilling culture-vultures rose to their well-heeled feet to give the actors the standing ovation they most definitely deserved.

But this theatrical display of appreciation upset me. Not because the actors didn’t merit it – they did. But it seemed like an empty gesture. It was too easy, too futile.  Too far removed from the bleak realities the life of an artist, no matter how successful that artist may appear to be.

It annoyed me – people dripping Pinot Grigio all over their thousand pound tops while resenting having to actually stand up to do the one-handed clap routine, whole world’s apart from the starving artists on the stage they were applauding. Artists forced to wade through the reduced section in Tesco, being applauded by the hordes with housekeepers.

The price of the theatre tickets upset me too – as an artist myself I’d to pretend to be a student to get the cheap seats. Would the actor involved be able to afford to pay the full whack to see his performance in that packed theatre?

It’s the pinnacle of poncy hypocrisy. We are a nation that always prided ourselves on our artistic prowess.  Even when we had nothing else, we still had our abundance of world-class artists and writers and poets and painters to boast about.  Yet nowadays we treat our artists like second-class citizens. We name ridiculous-looking Celtic-Tiger wank bridges after Beckett, while our contemporary actors have to steal to feed their families.

Famously, ‘Game of Thrones’ actor Joe Purcell was sentenced to 100 hours community service for stealing bread-rolls to feed his starving family, having admitted to not having a penny in the house that day.

Purcell described being driven around in limousines and staying in The Europa Hotel one week while filming ‘Game of Thrones’, then forced to steal food to feed his family the week after. The phrase ‘Chewed up and spat out’ springs to mind.

And every year a fresh dose of wide-eyed students are shat from the bowels of art colleges and drama schools, completely unprepared for the grim realities they are about to face.

Grim realities that involve standing for hours in the dole queue in Parnell Street, surrounded by smack-heads peddling valium to each other, only to be then told with sadistic pleasure by some ashen-faced wench that you’ve been queuing at the wrong counter for the past four-and-a-half hours, and must restart queuing all over again at desk 29.

I’m not making this shit up – been there, and burnt the fucking tee-shirt.  They don’t mention any of that shit in critical theory lectures in art college, the same way I doubt it’s broached upon much in those drama schools.

So if we want to retain our misty-eyed appreciation for our established track record of punching well above our weight in the arts department, we need to start treating the people who make it happen with a lot more respect.  Real respect, not futile gestures like pissed-up standing ovations, while the actors involved root through the reduced section in supermarkets.

Because the and the Brendan Gleesons and the Bonos can be counted on one hand. The rest of us are standing in dole queues and rooting through the reduced section, thinking of that flight to Canada or Australia.

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Proper Gossip Syndrome

While indulging my wikipedia addiction, I came across an interesting syndrome. ‘Mean World Syndrome’ is a phenomena where violence on TV makes viewers believe the world is more dangerous than it actually is. But in the past few weeks we don’t need CSI to convince us it’s a mean world out there.

We’ve had a pilot fly a plane full of children into a mountain. We’ve had a college student acquitted of murder in Perugia. But scariest of all, we’ve had a harmless-looking architect found guilty of one of the grimmest crimes in recent Irish history.

Yet bad news is nothing new to us. Some would say we thrive on it. So why does our recent ration of despair seem darker than our usual dose?

We don’t bat an eyelid when a building blows up in Somalia, and we don’t seem overly worried about the slaughter in Syria. All those kidnapped children in Nigeria didn’t cause us much panic. But give us a south-side architect with a polo-neck and a blood-lust, and we’ll give him more column inches than 9-11.

The obvious answer is it’s a question of proximity, that we only care about things that happen in our own part of the world.  As scary as they are, Isis will never arrive in Athlone. But I don’t think geographical closeness to a crime has much to do with our reactions. We don’t seem too concerned about gangland hits in Drumcondra. So it must be another factor…

I think it’s more about the potential for gossip. So like Mean World Syndrome, there is an infinitely more Irish syndrome currently doing the rounds. It’s giving us The Fear, convincing us it’s a very mean world indeed. But this particular affliction has nothing to do with watching endless streams of CSI…

I’m going to call it Proper Gossip Syndrome.

Proper Gossip Syndrome is why we don’t worry about gangland hits in Drumcondra, despite their geographical proximity. Yes gangland murder makes for good reading, but like Isis and Love/Hate it’s not relevant to our own lives, unless we’re unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire. And therefore while it grabs our attention – and dare I say entertains us – for a few minutes, it’s not something we fear will ever happen to us.

Because to properly gossip about something – the key component in acquiring The Fear – we have to have a little bit of understanding of the event we’re gossiping about.  We have to be able to relate, in some small way.  This is why the doomed flight, the student in Perugia, and the pudgy polo-necked architect provide us with Proper Gossip material, while gangland hits and fundamental Islamists don’t cause us much lasting concern.

Luckily that particular pilot’s name was Andreas and not Adhmed, so nobody has mentioned the dreaded word jihad in connection to his kamikaze antics. Because here in Ireland as soon as jihad is mentioned, we lose all potential for Proper Gossip. We don’t understand jihad, we can’t relate, it’s beyond our Spud-Head reach. But we all know people who ‘suffer with the nerves’. Maybe we suffer with the nerves ourselves.

Also, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that any of us could end up on a doomed flight someday. So we have all the angles covered on that particular dose of misery. Therefore it makes for some Proper Gossip, even though it didn’t happen in our jurisdiction.

Likewise, the Amanda Knox trial and subsequent acquittal on appeal captured our imaginations because we all know college students who’ve gone abroad. Perhaps we are college students who’ve gone abroad ourselves, or our kids are college students abroad. Knox’s own father didn’t want her going to Italy as he felt she was too naïve!

As for the pudgy little architect in his polo-neck? In terms of Proper Gossip, we’ll be a long time waiting to top that one. We’ve come to expect pre-meditated murder from our drug-lords and jihadists, but not from well-heeled architects in Foxrock.  And to see those smiling pictures of him posing with his model airplanes you’d think he wasn’t capable of a cross word… 

But the poster boy for the Celtic Tiger has pissed on our paninis, and now we don’t know who we can trust.  

The solution to Proper Gossip Syndrome?  Turn off the news, close the papers, and immerse yourself in an endless stream of CSI, in an attempt to contract a dose of Mean World Syndrome.  One of the main symptoms of Mean World Syndrome is sufferers take unnecessary precautions because of the illogical fears they’ve built up, due to all the gruesome fiction they’ve been watching.

And if you never leave the house, you’ve much less chance of being involved in a plane crash or meeting a blood-thirsty architect in a polo-neck…

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My Lost Generation of Gaeilgeoirs

According to the internet, Irish is my first official language. It’s also an official language of the EU. Yet apart from asking permission to go to the toilet and rattling off the Our Father, I can’t speak a word of it.

Recently I’ve noticed how cool Irish has become, and I’m jealous. It wasn’t cool in the 90’s when I was saying prayers in the toilet. Back then it was the preserve of medicated nuns, and that one reclusive family in every Midlands town. You know the type – always giving out about Protestants, no TV in the house, and a wonk-eyed father who insisted on his court cases being conducted ‘as Gaeilge.’

Naturally I wanted no part of it. The only remaining option for budding Gaeilgeoirs was to be exiled to Irish college for three weeks every summer. I wanted no part of that either. Even as a child I could see that was a strange arrangement – despite all the barely teenaged heroes returning to Offaly with tales of disco shifts.

But as a result, I can’t speak my native language. And unfortunately I’m not alone. Not many of my lost generation of Gaeilgeoirs can speak Irish with anything approaching fluency. Not that we’d ever admit it – particularly now with that centenary looming large on the horizon.

Our misplaced patriotism seems all the more hypocritical since that Enda Kenny/Mick Wallace showdown was seen all over the globe.  Because of that disaster we haven’t a leg left to stand on when ticking boxes on census forms. Confusingly, they look a lot more like Mick Wallace out in the wilds of Connemara than they do Enda Kenny.

Yet even more mortifying than that showdown, we are the only nation in the whole EU where citizens get paid to speak their first official language. You can get 260 of those EU euros a year if your kids can demonstrate fluency.

How do I know that? Again, I asked the internet. That’s what my lost generation of Gaeilgeoirs does. While I was asking said web, an ad popped up advertising Irish lessons. In the sales pitch they told me the Irish language is not dead. The ad said it’s alive in everyday usage – we just don’t realise.

Two examples the ad gave me were the words ‘craic’ and ‘smithereens.’

Fair enough. However in reality – as opposed to on the internet – only 3% of us use Irish as our main household language. That’s not great considering it’s ‘official EU language’ status.

And then to make things more tangled, we have all these different flavours of Irish. They don’t speak the same Irish in Donegal as they do on Inis Oirr. And the Irish on Inis Oirr doesn’t bare much resemblance to that list of Modh Coinniollach the deranged nun scared into us, back when we were 13.

Another thing that happened when I was 13 was the launch of TG4 – or as we called it – Tina Jee. Back then Tina Jee could only claim a 1.5% stake of the national television market. Not great either, for an official EU language we all claim to understand.

But since the sexy name change, TG4 has managed to double that figure to 3% of our TV market. Those reclusive families clearly got televisions on the sly while their father was ‘away’ for his stretch. Plus the Protestants have started learning Irish too.

But despite these miserable figures all is not lost.  The Irish language has re-emerged with it’s own urban patois, complete with brand new words for hip-hop and blogging. And nobody had to be exiled to the Gaeltacht for that to happen, despite the chances of disco-shifts.

I really like the fact that Irish has been snatched back from the hairy-knuckled clutches of frothing nuns and twisted dissidents. That was a seriously wrong turn in the history of our native tongue. All it did was render a whole generation apathetic towards a language we should be fluent in.

One thing niggles on my mind though. Am I less Irish, because I can’t speak Irish? I can’t do Irish dancing either, but that doesn’t bother me. And I’m not much of a hurler, despite the best efforts of the Presentation Brothers.

In my defence, I have seen U2 live four times. I remember when Packie was a goalkeeper and not a racist slur. And with my ginger hair and pasty spud-head skin I’m like a walking Bord Failte ad. So language or no language, my credentials are unquestionable.

But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about getting paid for speaking my first language. Oh that’ll be the day alright, because as far as scams go – that’s about as Irish as they come.

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Having ‘The Irish’

I don’t like trad music. To me it all sounds the same. They say Hell is full of accordion players – I know exactly what they mean.

So therefore it was a strange move for me to go to a trad school for a week. In Donegal, right beside Mount Errigal – the complete middle of nowhere.

I was only ever in Donegal once before. It has that endless desolate landscape – the sort of place that could be a Taliban stronghold, if only it the winters weren’t so rough.

As we drove through this bleak mountainous landscape, I could imagine seeing Ross Kemp jumping out of a jeep with a camera crew, out looking for insurgents in the hills. This certainly wasn’t my Midlands-style landscape with it’s reassuring flatness. The Taliban wouldn’t last five minutes in Offaly – we’d see them coming from miles away, and we’d be out with the hurls.

So why a week in Taliban trad territory? I wanted to see if I could be indoctrinated. Not by the Taliban – lurking around the back of Mount Errigal in their shawls, but by the trad music itself. Total immersion – like the way the Nazi’s used to make their prisoners learn German.

Because I believe you can indoctrinate yourself into liking any kind of music, if you give it enough time. It’s happened to me before, by mistake…

I once shot a load of hip-hop videos for a group of rappers in London. I never liked hip-hop before that. I’d never been exposed to it. But then in the hundreds of hours I spent absorbing those beats while editing those videos, I fell in love with the music. Now it’s all guns, drugs and bitches for me.

So could I also fall in love with that incessant fiddling, those brain-piercing high notes on the squeezebox, and that bloody banjo too….?

My main concern was that a week wouldn’t be enough time do a proper indoctrination. You need a significant amount of time to be properly brainwashed – any cult leader worth his Cool-Aid will tell you that.

But I needn’t have worried. I soon realised a lack of trad was not going to be a problem in this particular hostel.

Because trad players don’t get tired. They play all day, in sessions until five in the morning, and then they’ll be up fiddling away again around the breakfast table – three hours later.

At any stage of the day or night they’d be fluting and fiddling in the hallways, playing banjos in the lobby – basically knocking out the trad anywhere there were chairs available. The hostel kitchen proved particularly popular for all this fiddling and fluting – there were plenty of chairs in there. Not even the cutlery was safe – a pair of spoons was swiped by a young fella with the look in his eye of a man who’s going to show you how it’s done – whether you like it or not.

The next morning I walked into the kitchen to witness a Chinese woman speaking fluent Irish to her local Donegal husband. While waiting for the toast to pop, I enquired – in English – how she became so proficient in Irish. A language that’s unfortunately become both obscure and irrelevant – not just to Chinese people – but to fair few of us too.

She told me she’d moved to Donegal five years previously, and decided to learn the local lingo. She said she felt it was important, particularly as she was living in a Gaeltacht area.
I felt ashamed – I learned that same Irish for fourteen long years, and I can barely string a sentence together. That, coupled with the far more pressing and relevant fact that I am actually Irish – and not Chinese – further depressed me with my comparative lack of language.

I also felt like an eejit in the local shop, without a clue how to ask for the simplest of things in my supposed native tongue. I could ask your permission to go to the toilet, or I could rattle off the ‘Our Father’ fairly quickly for you. You can thank the Presentation Brothers for those two endlessly practical skills. But that’s about the extent of my Irish-language abilities today.

But a lot of the trad players could speak the Irish. I was interested in the correlation between being able to play the trad and speak the Irish. They should probably be the two qualifications for the passport, or if a Noah’s Ark situation ever arises again and we have to pick the best few Irish people to send on the boat. Trad players and Gaeilgeoirs, they’ll get the lifeboats first when the ship starts to sink – not the likes of me, a tradless fucker frantically reciting the ‘Our Father’ in the toilet.

In conversation with a woman from southside Dublin, I enquired as to whether she could speak the Irish too. She announced that she ‘had’ the Irish – as if she was some sort of chosen one – like Jesus or Stalin or the manager of Chelsea – but that she didn’t like to ‘use’ her Irish. She declared this with a dismissive wave of the hand that really wound me up. I’d just heard a woman from fucking Guangdong speak fluent Irish, and this D4 ‘Oirish’ eejit couldn’t be arsed?

I came away from the week in Donegal with a few questions for my parents. Despite the ginger hair, the foul mouth, and the fact I’ve seen U2 play live in Croke Park four times, I mustn’t actually be Irish at all. The place was full of trad-mad Italians, Swiss, Germans….and a Gaeilgeoir from Guangdong…..but I just couldn’t get into it.

I even learned a trad tune on the mandolin – my thinking being that if I actually became an active participant rather than a mere witness, I might get into it more. But that didn’t work either…

So I guess I’ll have to stick to the guns, drugs and bitches of hip-hop – rather than the flutes and the fiddling of the trad-scallions…

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