Tag Archives: Cormac Looney

Spies, sex, and snow – a new ‘Fairytale’

'Fairytale of New York'

‘Fairytale of New York’

It’s December 13 and I’ve yet to hear ‘Fairytale of New York‘. Is that a record? (Sorry.)

After 30 years of the song every Christmas, this is probably not a bad thing. Over the years I’ve heard it often enough – at Pogues’ concerts, in convenience stores, badly sung in crowded bars, blared out in taxis, whistled by a guy at a bus-stop, and so on.

The fact that I now live in a city where the song is rarely played on radio (in my experience, at least) or in a bar, and is unknown to most people I encounter, has been something of a relief. There was a time when it wasn’t Christmas until I heard those first piano notes but, away from Ireland, they’ve become less, not more, resonant.

Of course, as an Irish immigrant in the U.S., this surely amounts to a form of treason. After all, there are few songs of the last 30 years that speak so specifically to one particular aspect of the Irish-American experience. (A gritty, mid-century, Irishman in New York experience that seems a million miles from what’s sold nowadays to planefuls of shoppers by Aer Lingus, it must be said.)

Much as I still admire its craft though, Shane Macgowan and Jem Finer’s song doesn’t speak to my experience. But that also doesn’t mean that I haven’t been seeking out voices from home, and so, in recent weeks, I’ve been listening at length to another emigrant Irish songwriter.

Seamus Fogarty

Seamus Fogarty

Seamus Fogarty is a Mayo man based in London, who writes songs about bodysnatchers, Vincent Van Gogh’s ears, working on building sites in England, missing a bus and sleeping in a church in Carlow town, the health of Irish traditional music, and burial at sea, among other topics.

Luckily enough his new album, ‘The Curious Hand’, also contains a Christmas song, and – joy to the world – it’s not a million miles removed from the beer-stained, exhausted mood of ‘Fairytale’.

‘Christmas Time On Jupiter’ begins with the singer waking on Christmas Day in a Chicago hotel room, to find a Mexican spy he’s spent the night with rifling through his wallet.

From there – with a touch Shane Macgowan would be proud of – things go downhill.

I struggled out her door, into the winter snow,
I was alone with my thoughts, my feet were crunching away,
I was sitting by a fire on Christmas Day.
‘Mented from the drink, a shadow from the night before,
When I got into my house I was offered more.
And we sat around, a momentary family, raising a brief glass to our asylum…

As family Christmases go, it’s hardly traditional, but – as much as ‘Fairytale’ three decades ago – Fogarty evokes one type of immigrant life at Christmas, where casual friends and booze might be just enough to keep the loneliness or the homesickness at bay.

It may not prove as enduring as the Pogues’ song but it updates it, and so it’s taken the ‘Fairytale’ spot on my Christmas playlist. Not that – thankfully – I’m likely to hear either in the store tomorrow.

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Here comes your band (25 years later)

Pixies, Roseland Theater, Portland, Nov. 2018

Pixies, Roseland Theater, Portland, Nov. 2018

It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when the Pixies (always with the definite article) were about the most mysterious band I’d ever encountered.

Back in the early Nineties the internet didn’t really exist (at least not for me), and music magazines were expensive. My teenage knowledge of the band and it’s music was therefore mainlined from their albums.

Throughout those years Black Francis seemed like some caterwauling, demented monk, hellbent on screaming his visions of violence, Catholicism, and sadomasochism over an explosive quiet-loud-quiet sonic tapestry.

Needless to say I couldn’t get enough. Even the last album of the classic Pixies era, the patchily-reviewed ‘Trompe Le Monde’, seemed daring and exotic to my 15-year-old ears – and even more mysterious than the other records, now that the band were singing zeitgesty tunes about the Roswell Incident.

Then, of course, the Pixies split up. In the years that followed neither Black’s solo material or Kim Deal’s outfit The Breeders – great as the latter were – could fill the gap. By the time the original band reunited in 2004 I was far too deep into a British folk music obsession to bother spending a three figure sum to see them in a big, windy park.

Slicing up eardrums.

Slicing up eardrums

And that was where I thought I’d leave it. Once every six months I’d blast ‘Surfer Rosa’, maybe read the odd interview, but I never really believed I’d see the Pixies live.

Until last month, when I did. Well, technically speaking at least. It might have been by way of seeing two bands on two different nights in two separate venues, but, either way, I finally ticked another one off my musical bucket list.

First up was Kim Deal at the Wonder Ballroom a few weeks back – a show I wrote about previously. This week it was the turn of her three former bandmates, Black, Joey Santiago, and David Lovering, touring as the Pixies with Paz Lenchantin replacing Deal, at the Roseland Theater.

It was a big night for 39-year-old me, and an even bigger one for the 15-year-old that’s still some inside my head. Where was my mind? Somewhere between being knocked out by the rapid-fire dispatch of indie classics, and being a little down about the fact that I never caught the original band in their prime.

Nowadays it seems that the Pixies constantly tour – and it shows. This was a tight set, with barely a missed note (if you discount Lenchantin’s wobbly vocal on the encore ‘Into The White’). At times it was a little too tight – no sooner had one all-time classic ended than Black was off again, lashing into the next tune.

If it felt a little overpolished at times, well, so be it. Mind you, their thunderous takes on newer songs ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ and ‘Head Carrier’ left little to complain about. And did I ever think I’d hear their version of Neil Young’s ‘Winterlong’?

Throw in ‘Something Against You’, ‘Nimrod’s Son’, and the Nineties Irish indie disco staple ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’, and you had the makings of a good, and seriously loud, night. My only complaint was that it wasn’t 25 years ago.

But, as Black Francis would have screamed back then, ‘Cookie, I think your…tame!’

_____

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Reaching the dizzy heights of Hollywood

The view south from summit of Mount Hollywood

The view south from summit of Mount Hollywood

It isn’t the biggest mountain I’ve climbed, but it’s probably the most glitzy.

The clue’s in the name. Mount Hollywood sits among the hills in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, overlooking the famous ‘Hollywood’ sign and within squinting distance of film stars’ luxury pads.

It has to-the-horizon views of the metropolis of L.A., including its downtown and, to the southwest, the waters of the Pacific and Catalina Island. Just beneath the summit lies Griffith Observatory, a stunning 1930s landmark, itself perched high above the city.

The trailhead.

The trailhead.

Even the trailhead itself has a little showbiz sparkle – hikers take their first steps past the George Harrison tree. (The second of its type, after the first died following an onslaught by beetles in 2014 – I kid you not).

It’s not all glamour though. The four mile (with diversions) round trip up and down the Mount Hollywood Summit trail is a dusty outing and, on many days, the views are obscured by the city’s notorious smog. Beware the heat too – hiking it last weekend meant temperatures in the low 80s, even near the summit saddle, and a searing sun, with zero foliage cover.

That said, for someone who’s spent most of his hiking hours in rainy Ireland or soggy Oregon, the hot, blue sky was a welcome relief.  The heat was also worth enduring for the scenic payback that followed a 45-minute workout, and 262m ascent, up the trail.

In recent years I’ve hiked a number of the popular routes in L.A. – traversing trails in the San Gabriel Mountains, Debs Park, and Topanga State Park. Each has its own charms, but Mount Hollywood is the best all-rounder for taking in the view and vibe of the city.

It won’t tax a hardened outdoors person, and fitness freaks will prefer to jog rather than walk, but it’s worth braving the  hordes who start from the Charlie Turner trailhead, near Griffith Observatory, each Saturday morning. Just bring some water – and a camera for that photo.

 

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Free jazz has killed my CD collection

Will I play these again?

Will I play these again?

I own hundreds of CDs. More actually, well into the four figures. I know this because, before moving to the U.S., I had to pack and carry four cratefuls of them to be shipped.

As I did so, I wondered: what’s the point? Do I need these things? Will I ever play most of them again?

And then I reassured myself that of course I would, that they were a vital part of who I was, that they were intrinsic to my well-being. Many of them had been a part of my life for years, so how could I live without them? Seriously?

It’s now November 2017 and I’ve not listened to a CD properly in 16 months. As I type this, the same crates are lying in my basement, alongside my CD player (which, damaged in transit, hasn’t worked since I arrived in Portland). With the exception of taking the occasional disc to the car to ease the commute, I haven’t unboxed any of them.

And – though I never thought I’d write this – it hasn’t mattered. Like most amateur music listeners, I now listen to music via a streaming service, aware that the sound quality is not as good, that the speakers are not as hi-tech as those with my old CD player, and that my booklet-perusing days are all but over. The audiophile I want to be is horrified.

Jan Garbarek. Pic: Yancho Sabev

Jan Garbarek. Pic: Yancho Sabev

Sometimes I feel a pang of regret – like, for instance, when I gaze upon my beautiful copy of Harry Smith’s Anthology. But rarely.

Rarely that is, unless I want to listen to music issued on ECM. The German jazz-classical label opted to keep its output off all streaming services in recent years. Not being able to listen on Spotify was bad enough – knowing that I had dozens of ECM albums sitting in boxes close by was a tease.

As time passed, the only reason I had to buy a CD player was to listen to Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, and others who’d recorded for the label. Now that last reason’s fallen.

Last week ECM, making somewhat sniffy noises about piracy, relented, and placed its back catalog on a number of streaming services.

It’s great for me. I can now listen to Art Ensemble of Chicago while driving, or Tomasz Stanko while working out, or Dave Holland’s free jazz while writing blog posts (the latter’s probably not wholly advisable).

But, now that the initial excitement has faded, I’m left with an existential music listener’s question. Will I ever listen to my once-beloved CDs again?

_____

 

 

 

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Kim Deal’s back – and she’s got business

The Breeders, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

The Breeders, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

A rainy night in Portland this week brought me back to drizzly 1990s afternoons on Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge.

The link was a band from Dayton, Ohio. Before last night, the closest I got to seeing The Breeders perform was buying a bootleg cassette of a Dublin show of theirs, from a guy with a suitcase on a bridge over the Liffey.

Those who lived in Dublin in those days will remember this guy, or one of a dozen of his competitors, who flogged their wares from mobile displays (the more mobile the better, if the cops were around) on the bridge, or on Henry Street, or outside the Bank of Ireland at College Green.

Their market was – I’m guessing – the hardcore fan, those who couldn’t sleep unless they had a permanent, low quality, record of AC/DC’s 1991 show at the Point Theatre.

Not that I was a super-fan, or anything like it. I went to the bridge for a simpler reason. As a poor student at the time, the IR5 I spent on the Afga C 60 – with black and white photocopied insert, color being extra – was less than the IR30 it would have cost to buy The Breeders’ two CDs back then.

Kim Deal. Pic: Available light

Kim Deal. Pic: Available light

Of course, the quality of the bootleg (recorded from a microphone in the crowd, not the sound desk) was a pale shadow of what the band sounded like on the night they played the Temple Bar Music Centre in 1994, or ’93.

I bet neither could compare to the on-point performance I witnessed at the Wonder Ballroom last night – one which brought me right back: beyond Portland, or Dublin, to the first time I heard ‘Last Splash’ as a teenager, led to it by multiple viewings of the ‘Cannonball’ video on 120 Minutes.

Minutes before Kim Deal and her band mates took to the stage last night a pal remarked that being turned on to Pixies – Deal’s other band – was a seminal moment for many music fans of our generation. It was equally so with The Breeders.

All the stuff that blew me away back then did it all over again: that one huge bassline, Kelley Deal’s Hawaiian guitar effects, the 1 minute and 45 seconds of perfect pop that was ‘Fortunately Gone’, ‘Divine Hammer’s’ crescendo, which closed out an encore.

But enough nostalgia. Forget Dublin bootlegs, and ‘No Aloha, and “want you, cuckoo, cannonball” – the highlight of the night was ‘Wait In The Car’, a new track released just before the tour.

Above trashing drums, a distorted, chopping guitar, and a drilling lead line, Kim Deal’s refrain sounded like Your Mom the Nasty Woman. “Wait in the car – I’ve got business,” she snapped.

The Breeders are back.

_____

 

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Out of season – and with good reason

Rain in Portland, winter 2016

Rain in Portland, winter 2016

As an Irishman, winter’s here.

It began on November 1, not December 21 – the incomprehensibly late date observed in the United States.

The timing of the seasons is something the Celts got right. The drenching skies, low clouds, and fading daylight of November mean winter, not autumn/fall.

Leaping into the hardest season on the morning after Halloween means that, by the time Christmas arrives, you’re halfway through. And the days are getting longer by then, too. How could winter just be starting at that time?

I picked up the ‘winter in November’ belief at school in Ireland, and I’m fairly sure that it’s a commonly-held belief there to this day.

So, it’s hard – as someone who now lives in Oregon – to accept that the forthcoming 48 hours of chilly rain is just another fall weekend. And don’t get me started on the other cultural divide that pops up at this time of year – the pumpkin spice latte.

Whether I’m living in the right season or not, I’m guaranteed to be doing one thing this weekend – spending too much time sheltering indoors. Which for me, means a lot of time listening to music.

And what better music to listen to in Portland, in November, than an album called ‘Winter Light’, by an acoustic jazz combo called ‘Oregon’.

Who says I’m not in tune with the seasons?

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Fall sees me tripping over my words

<p>2018 Benefits Open Enrollment (OE) runs from Oct. 30 to Nov. 13, 2017. Refer to the <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/17356" target="_blank">Benefits Open Enrollment page</a> on the NIKE HR Website for complete details and enrollment guides.</p> <p>The <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nike.ent.box.com/s/w8dhd296uxv7axlrb551s7jeft1rt5g5" target="_blank">Benefits OE Training Deck</a> (presented on Oct. 11, 2017) covers:</p> <ul> <li>What’s New?</li> <li>Roth 401(k)</li> <li>Open Enrollment Timeline</li> <li>Healthcare</li> <li>Prescription Drug Coverage</li> <li>Dental/Vision</li> <li>Security Benefits</li> <li>Dependent Care/CERA</li> </ul> <center> <h2>DATES</h2> </center> <br /> <ul> <li><strong>Oct. 16</strong>: OE guide mailed to eligible Employees.<br /> <strong>Note</strong>: DC & Retail will have posters displayed as well as an option to opt-in for text reminders.</li> <li><strong>Oct. 24</strong>: HDHP Flip Book mailed.</li> <li><strong>Oct. 26</strong>: Soft OE begins (early OE start for HR)</li> <li><strong>Oct. 30</strong>: OE begins - email sent to eligible Employees. Separate customized email sent to expats.</li> <li><strong>Nov. 3</strong>: Reminder email sent to Employees (this will be sent after 5 pm PT).</li> <li><strong>Nov. 10</strong>: Final reminder email sent to Employees.</li> <li><strong>Nov. 13</strong>: OE ends (soft date)- email sent to non-enrolled.</li> <li><strong>Nov. 17</strong>: OE ends (hard date). <strong>Note</strong>: This should not be communicated to Employees.</li> </ul> <h2 align="center">WHAT’S NEW?</h2> <br /> <ul> <li><strong>Healthcare premiums</strong>: Employees will pay one rate for adults they cover and another rate for children. Premium costs will be based on plan type and number/type of dependents covered.</li> <li><strong>Prescription drug coverage</strong>: Nike is changing coverage from a 2-tier to a 3-tiered design. <ul> <li>The cost Employees pay will depend on which tier their prescription falls under for the Basic and PPO plans.</li> <li>A new mail order program called Mail Service Member Select (MSMS) is being added – an easy way to fill prescriptions and save money.</li> </ul> </li> <li><strong>Dental plan enhancements</strong>: <ul> <li>Preventive care will not count towards the annual maximum.</li> <li>Dental Plus Plan will include a new PPO Network – to provide bigger savings.</li> </ul> </li> <li><strong>Roth 401(k)</strong>: OE communications mentions the new Roth 401(k) feature that allows Employees to contribute to retirement savings on an after-tax basis. NIKE matches up to a combined 5% for Employees retirement. (<strong>ex</strong>: Employee contributes 1% to Roth 401(k) and 5% to regular 401(k), NIKE will only match 1% to Roth and 4% to the regular 401(k) account.)<br /> On Jan. 2, 2018, Employees will be able to login to Fidelity to make an election. Refer Employees to <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nb.fidelity.com/public/nb/nike/home" target="_blank">netbenefits.com/nike</a> for more information.</li> <li>The <strong>Recommendation Path</strong> scenarios-based tool in the Benefits portal will not be available this year. The results weren't found to be a very accurate guide during OE last year. Advisors should not be advising Employees on what they should select, it's the individual's financial decision.</li> </ul> <h2 align="center">AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (ACA)</h2> <br /> <ul> <li>No changes for 2018. ACA queries are handled by Benefits Team.</li> <li>NIKE must collect and report accurate SSNs for all enrolled Employees and dependents.</li> <li>Nike must offer “Full Time Equivalent” benefits to Employees working an average of 30 hours a week.<br /> Eligibility is based on a 12 month lookback period (Oct - Oct), this year it's Oct. 17, 2016 - Oct. 17, 2017.</li> <li>Notices are mailed to all eligible Employees. Benefits are only applicable for 1 year, and re-evaluated every year. When coverage ends, they would be eligible for COBRA.</li> <li><strong>Mid-year Employment Status Changes</strong>: Benefits will look back from termination effective date and look back to October of the previous year to determine eligibility. Route questions to Benefit Ops.</li> <li>At the end of the year NIKE provides a 'W-2 Like' form, called the <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/17470" target="_blank">1095-C</a> (sent by Towers Watson) to Employees, with confirmation of their medical enrollment and covered dependents.</li> </ul> <center> <h2>FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS</h2> </center> <br /> <p><strong>Why has my premium increased?</strong><br /> Any increase arises from the normal cost of doing business. Premiums change every year, and last year's premium changes were minimal.</p> <p><strong>Who can termed Employees contact regarding their retirement planning questions?</strong><br /> Employees termed under the Organizational Transformation should be routed to Securian (a Minnesota Life affiliate). Call: 1-866-881-3348.<br /> Non-termed Employees with retirement planning questions should also be routed to Securian.</p> <p><strong>What is Alight Solutions?</strong><br /> Alight Solutions is the new name for the dependent verification vendor AON (previously called AON Hewitt). Rebranding will occur in Q1 or Q2, 2018.</p> <p><strong>How can I check if my dentist is in the PPO network?</strong><br /> Network queries should be routed to Moda at <a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="http://www.modahealth.com/nike" target="_blank">www.modahealth.com/nike</a>. Employees cannot check if their dentist is in-network under NIKE's PPO plan until Jan. 1, 2018. Moda offers generic network information prior to this date.</p> <p><strong>Can my dependents be covered on the Vision Plan if I am not?</strong><br /> No. Employees do not have to enroll in every available plan, but they must be enrolled in a plan for their dependents to receive coverage under that plan.</p> <center> <h2>ADDITIONAL RESOURCES</h2> </center> <br /> <ul> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr-1.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/5089">Employee Self Service (ESS) training deck</a> for HRD Advisors</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/17356" target="_blank">Benefits Open Enrollment page</a> on NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/sites/default/files-public/primary-downloads/benefits-oe-faqs-en-us.pdf" target="_blank">Open Enrollment FAQs</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/15762" target="_blank">Medical Coverage page</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/15757" target="_blank">Dental Coverage page</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/15753" target="_blank">Vision Coverage page</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> <li><a style="TEXT-DECORATION: underline" href="https://nikehr.nike.com/node/16837" target="_blank">When Coverage Ends and Cobra page</a> on the NIKE HR Website</li> </ul>

Oscar Wilde in New York, 1882

Fall or autumn?

‘Tis the season – of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and attempting to call the time of year by its American name.

Unlike the unrelenting stacks of leaves blowing into our driveway – despite my occasional efforts to remove them – I’m not sure ‘fall’ will stick.

Because a season of low light, cool evenings, and chilly air presaging the arrival of winter is an ‘autumnal’ one. Full stop (not ‘period’).

The word itself has a long history, stretching back to the 8th century. Its origins are in the Old French ‘autompne’, which crossed with the Latin ‘autumnus’ to create the late Middle English ‘autumn’. From there John Keats and his ilk ran with it.

‘Fall’ is fine, but it just doesn’t have the same historical heft. It’s more of a verb – part of ‘autumn’, but hardly the full experience.

And so, the season of spectacular leaf color, and equally spectacular Oregon rainfall, remains ‘autumn’ – in my company at least.

But my annual wrangling with the topic is part of a bigger question. As an immigrant to the U.S., should I drop the old words for the new?

Is it an auto shop or a garage? A line or a queue? Fries or chips? A restroom or a toilet? I could go on.

Should I adapt? Or should I instead adopt some advice. Another Irishman who spent time in America, Oscar Wilde, remarked that, “we have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language”.

Little has changed since Wilde made that comment more than 130 years ago. Some things never change, it seems.

To that end, autumn will always be fall here. Just not to me.

_____

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Tom, Sean, and me

Sean Hughes

Sean Hughes

I’ve spent plenty of time in the early 1990s recently, pulled back there by the deaths of Tom Petty and, yesterday, Sean Hughes.

Both men were sides of a coin – or squares on a Rubik’s cube (this was the Nineties, after all) – to a teenager like myself, growing up in a smallish town in Ireland which seemed a million miles from Mulholland Drive or the Edinburgh Festival.

Reading tributes to and – more immediately – watching clips of both performers from 25 or more years ago, led to mixed feelings, some nostalgic and some of – ‘was it really like that?’

Sean’s Show ran on Channel Four, one of the nine or 10 channels we had at home back then. Not owning a CD player, I listened to Full Moon Fever on tape – so much so that I wore out the frail spool. It was one of about 20 cassettes I possessed.

After digesting the obituaries and watching the YouTube clips, and spending too much time chasing teenage memories, I was left with an unanswered question: what the hell did I do with the rest of my free time in 1992?

Tom Petty. Pic: Takahiro Kyono

Tom Petty. Pic: Takahiro Kyono

Nowadays it’s often a struggle to carve out 30 minutes to listen to a piece of music or watch a TV show; back then it seemed that I was the lord and possessor of vast amounts of time, some of it spent playing soccer, some with my head in Tolkien or Thomas Harris, and none of it linked to anything digital.

Was it a better time? Or a happier or healthier one? Who knows? I can’t really remember. Then again, I can barely remember the album I listened to yesterday on Spotify, or the last long article I read, because both have already been drowned out by the online noise I surround myself with.

Watching an episode of Sean’s Show last night, I was struck by its feeling of space, the slower pace, the unfilled moments devoted to a confused look, a wry glance, or a cut scene. There was nothing pressing about engaging with the show, it was easy to slip into its pace.

An hour later, I made it barely 15 minutes into an episode of Family Guy, because the jokes weren’t coming fast, or funny enough. Maybe it’s me? Or maybe it’s what I’m watching?

Tom Petty sang that ‘the waiting is the hardest part’. I’m not sure that 2017 me would have the patience to sit through some of Sean Hughes’ quirkier set pieces, or the filler cuts on late Eighties Heartbreakers’ albums.

Perhaps that’s no bad thing. But I still have a feeling that – minor as it is in the face of mortal news  – something’s been lost.

_____

 

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Power out, Stevenson WA

At 5am the Columbia River Gorge is mostly in darkness.

Returned to an earlier state.

But here and there the black is specked with lights

Driven by generators and engines, that assure us that we own the night

And that we control the darkness. That the gorge is ours.

But the fire-blackened hills and the tang in the morning air tell a different story,

Of how our control is an illusion,

And how we have been, and will be, here only a brief time,

And that our preoccupations don’t matter,

When cast against an enormous darkness.

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Finding Kavanagh in the canal bank rush

Patrick Kavanagh, 1963. Pic: NLI

Patrick Kavanagh, 1963. Pic: NLI

On a recent visit to Dublin I navigated through a Tuesday morning rush hour along Herbert Place, a few feet above the slow-moving waters of the Grand Canal.

As I did so, I wondered what the bard of Baggotonia, Patrick Kavanagh, would make of his old strolling ground.

The 50th anniversary of the poet’s death falls in November, and the Dublin that he left behind in 1967 is as dearly departed as the man himself.

The city of pubs and priests, holy hours and holy grail civil service jobs – the city Kavanagh knew, if not loved – no longer exists, thankfully. The 8am surge along Wilton Terrace moves with the same speed and attitude as that on lower Manhattan, or Canary Wharf.

Few wallow in the habitual or the banal in 2017, it seems. Why should they?

And what could a 20th century farmer poet from rural Co Monaghan have in common with today’s Baggotonians?

Canal bank walk, 2017

Canal bank walk, 2017

Little enough, I thought, until – days later – verses from one of Kavanagh’s later poems came to my mind.

‘Thank You, Thank You’ was written as an epilogue to a series of university lectures the poet delivered in the early 1960s. Part of the poem warns against nostalgia:

Don’t grieve like Marcus Aurelius
Who said that though he grew old and grey
The people of the Appian Way
Were always the same pleasant age
Twenty-four on average.

But, more to the point, Kavanagh’s poem celebrates the universal soul – whether it be in 1967 or 2017:

…what it teaches is just this
We are not alone in our loneliness,
Others have been here and known
Griefs we thought our special own
Problems that we could not solve
Lovers that we could not have
Pleasures that we missed by inches.

The words resonate across the span of a half century, from a poet seated by still canal waters to commuters whizzing by in 2017, yards from where he once rested. And whether we were there or are here, whether we were then or are now, we are not alone.

_____

 

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