Sunday, October 26, 2008

Music in a Box

I help run a small music club here in the middle of Ireland and, in our two-year existence, one thing has become very noticable and is, I think, a bit sad. I refer to the narrow-mindedness of so many people - musicians included - when it comes to music. I always knew that such compartmentalising (phew!) was out there, but I had no idea that it could be so prevalent and rigid. I know a man, for instance, who refuses to listen to anyone except Bob Dylan; someone else who has no time for anything recorded before 1980, and someone else again whose listening is dictated by what gets good reviews in the 'quality' English newspapers. Not to mention the retired teacher who absolutely adores every genre of music as long as it's a jig, reel or hornpipe. Or the friend of mine who refused to listen to REM after they signed to Warner Brothers. Or the young lad whose epithet for anyone who doesn't like the obscurest American Emo rhymes with banker. Am I immune to all this? I am not. Put me within an ass's roar of Oasis, Madonna, tribute bands, Country'n'Irish, warbling cailini with harps, or massive Brunnhildes belting out Wagner, and I'm gone like the proverbial hare. Prejudiced, moi?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Viva la Silver Revolución

On the same day - October 22 - that 10,000 students voiced their anger at the increase in student registration fees, 15,000 elderly men and women took to the streets of Dublin to protest against our government's callous treatment of the over-70's in the recent botched Budget. I have heard some young people express surprise - a mixture of amusement, condescension and admiration - at the militancy of what one newspaper dubbed 'The Silver Revolution' but I don’t think it’s surprising at all...

It is a cliché to say that the success of any government should not be measured in crude economic terms - how many jobs are created, houses built, foreign companies lured into the country - but by how well it treats its oldest citizens. Those who have worked hard, paid taxes, obeyed the rule of law, all their lives. In its abject failure to provide a proper health service, and now, by the terrible distress it has caused over pension entitlements, the Irish government is guilty of betraying those who most deserve recognition, security and respect. It has now backpedalled furiously, reversed unpopular decisions not because it was the right thing to do, but for fear of backbench revolt. But it is too little, far too late. Our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Mr Cowen and his cronies are now feeling the wrath of citizens they took for granted for too long; men and women who, significantly, lived through the convulsive birth of Rock’n’Roll and the hurricane of change in the Sixties, endured the deprivation of the Seventies and Eighties; a generation of rebels with a cause; with reignited fire in its belly, defiance in its soul, revolution in its blood. Viva la Revolución!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Mind of a Grocer's Assistant #2


The Year of Magical Thinking. Joan Didion
Oh Play That Thing. Roddy Doyle
The Free and Easy. Ann Haverty
Amo, Amas, Amat. Harry Mount
Norwegian Wood. Haruki Murakami
Yonder Come the Blues. Paul Oliver and others
The Final Passage. Caryl Phillips
A Spot of Bother. Mark Haddon
The First Verse. Barry McCrea

* Being the unfortunately fastidious person that I am, I employ a ruthless rule of thumb: If I'm not enjoying any book after reading 25% of it, I give it up. On the few occasions that I ignored my own rule, I've always been sorry that I did.

The Mind of a Grocer's Assistant

One of my all-time heroes, James Joyce, once remarked that he had a grocer's assistant's mind. Apart from nationality, the only thing I have in common with the great man is a fondness for lists. Something I inflict on friends and acquaintances, sometimes even hapless strangers on trains. And now it's your turn. In no particular order, here are the BEST BOOKS I've read in the last couple of years:

Shade. Neil Jordan
The Kite Runner. Khaled Hosseini
Notes From a Coma. Mike McCormack
The Canal Bridge. Tom Phelan
We Need To Talk About Kevin. Lionel Shriver
The Mayor of MacDougal Street. Dave Van Ronk,
There Are Little Kingdoms. Kevin Barry
Redemption Falls. Joseph O'Connor
Dancing in the Dark. Caryl Phillips
Lost in Music. Giles Smith
Only Say the Word. Niall Williams
The Book Thief. Markus Zusak
Julius Winsome. Gerard Donovan
The Road. Cormac McCarthy
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. John Boyne