Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Redemptive Power of Music

I sometimes feel that much of what I read about the therapeutic power of music is a mass of well-meaning but glib generalisations. But I have just finished ‘Instrumental’, a book about how the love and performance of music literally saved someone’s life. The British concert pianist James Rhodes suffered a childhood and youth full of unimaginable, yet all too real horror: this and its terrible aftermath are described in prose that will sometimes shock you to the core because Rhodes spares his readers as little as he spares himself. His short biographies of his favourite musicians are sometimes brilliant, sometimes annoying and, too often, his relentless, foulmouthed style vitiates the emotion – he certainly ignores that axiom that less is always more – but if you have any interest or belief in the redemptive power of music I urge you to read this book.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Morrissey's Autobiography

You could never accuse Morrissey of not having a balanced - and unhealthy -  diet of grievances; he has  bags of chips on both shoulders.
Ever the misanthrope (‘I've come to wish you an unhappy birthday’), his Autobiography has a go at everything and anything from Manchester - especially its school system - to  record companies, marriage, the judiciary, and his old band mate Mike Joyce (dismissed as ‘not even qualified enough to be a nonentity’).  His reaction to the death of Neil Aspinall, former Beatles road manager and head of Apple, is particularly nasty. Those who know Morrissey’s lyrics will find many familiar themes here.

Despite his often tedious vitriol,  I would still thoroughly recommend this honest, opinionated, sometimes infuriating, mostly admirable book. Apart from the protracted, self-pitying account of the post-Smiths court case, his style is never less than engaging and his characters, unlike so many of the cardboard cut-outs that litter the literary landscape, are made of real flesh and blood. The descriptions of his intensely Irish family are especially memorable and the short section dealing with the death of his beloved grandmother would move a heart of stone. In the proverbial nutshell, Autobiography is exceptionally well-written.
I found the pages dealing with his solo career much more interesting than those devoted to The Smiths. He has many striking things to say about the exhilaration of performing (“…. having never found love from one, I find it from thousands…’) but also emphasises the artist’s responsibility to his/her audience. I can’t, incidentally, understand his idolatry of the New York Dolls, or the 'winsome' Damien Dempsey (who 'captivates and enchants with all the love of one blessed and unselfish') but, as the man said, it takes all sorts.
Finally, I have to say –  as someone with only lukewarm affection for the music of Morrissey and The Smiths – that Autobiography  has resuscitated my interest to the extent of going back and listening to their albums again.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Noble Confusion

Sometimes I envy those who live their lives and die in the sincere conviction that there is a heaven and, all going well, a loving God awaits them there. Other times I think their self-righteous arrogance is matched only by the arrogance and self-righteousness of atheists. I have no idea whether there is or isn’t a God, whether there is or isn’t an afterlife, and I believe that, in the words of Brian Friel, confusion is not an ignoble condition.  
In Morrissey’s Autobiography, there’s a very moving page on the death of his beloved grandmother:  “ … I cry at the fixityof Nannie lowered alone into her grave; her very first time alone. She needs us still. The soul is not everything. Her face, her arms, her hands, they need us still, and they are what we know of someone, and all of these have gone. The soul is said to be somewhere, but the soul has only ever been visible through the eyes…”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Portlaoise. My Hometown

For many more pictures of my hometown please go to
For many more pictures of my hometown please go to

Albums I’ve listened to most in 2016

Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues.
The North Sea Scrolls
Shirley Collins. Lodestar
Culture. Two Sevens Clash
The Mountain Goats. Beat the Champ
Ablaye Ndiaye Thiossane. Thiossane
David Bowie. Blackstar
Ale Moller Band. Argai
Roy Harper. Stormcock.