DESERT ISLAND PICKSSo. If you were marooned on a desert island, and could have only one book, one film, and one cd with you, what would they be? Frankly I’m doing well to get it down to five of each: choosing just one is incredibly difficult, and, in a couple of months time, I’d probably give completely different answers. It all depends on what mood we’re in, and where we are in our lives. So I’ve simply gone with: which ones do I keep coming back to over time. Feel free to post your own up. BOOKWatership Down by Richard Adams. I was given this as a present when I was 9. I ignored it for a few months, because, despite the picture of the rabbit on the cover, I assumed it was something to do with ships: eventually I read it, and a love affair was born. I still have my original copy, held together with sellotape, and with my name and address written on the edge in marker (the full address, ending in Earth, The Universe). I read it every 3 or 4 years, and I still get completely involved each time, even though I know it backwards.These are no Beatrix Potter bunnies, dressing up in trousers and going off to work in the office. There has to be some element of anthropomorphism, obviously, or there’d be no story, but Adams keeps it to a plausible minimum, and portrays them as authentically as possible within that frame, while giving them distinct, rounded personalities: the visionary Fiver; intelligent Blackberry; macho Bigwig; crazy Woundwort; and peevish Hawkbit, the only rabbit I’ve ever wanted to slap.It can be read as an allegory, I suppose, with Woundwort and Efrafa representing totalitarianism, but that’s turning it into too much work for my liking. I read it as a story – exciting, sad, scary, inspiring, engaging, and very very imaginative. FILMI’m not really much of a film person, I lack the attention span for them, but there are a few that make it through my lack of visual awareness. Harold and Maude turns the idea of love on its head, and manages to be simultaneously dark, light, daft, clever, quirky, and sweet. It covers the big themes – love, fear, death, freedom – in a very low-key and flaky way that’s beautifully humane and life-affirming. Cat Stevens provides the soundtrack that catches the mood perfectly. MUSICGuitar legend Richard Thompson proves his versatility in 1000 years of popular music. Literally what it says on the tin. Alongside Thompson are Judith Owens (Mrs Harry Shearer) on keyboards, and the magnificent Debra Dobkin on drums; and between the three of them they take us through the centuries, beginning with some seriously catchy medieval songs and covering pretty much every genre along the way, including ballads, music hall, honky tonk, a glorious version of The Easybeats’ ‘Friday on my mind’, before delivering a very tongue-in-cheek rendition of Britney’s ‘Oops I did it again’. The box set comes with 2 CDs (perfect for singing along to in the car) and a DVD of the gig, which includes all the between-song banter. Rich, versatile, educational in the best sense of the word.
When I think of Dublin in song, the popular ballads that were the soundtrack to my childhood, spring to my mind, the songs I would have heard adults around me singing as they went about their work.My favourite is The Dublin Saunter. I think of my parents, in their courting days on Grafton Street, when they had less cares in the world. This song was written by a Dublin man for a Dublin man. Leo Maguire (1903 –1985), a Radio Éireann broadcaster who ran weekly radio show, the Walton's Programme for thirty years. He wrote over one hundred songs, including this one for Noel Purcell (1900–1985). Noel is fondly remembered for his variations of the role of old sailor with a long white beard, in over fifty Hollywood films in 1950s and 1960s. He was given the Freedom of the city of Dublin where there is a road named in his honour.When I hear the Rocky road to Dublin I think of learning the slip jig played on the tin whistle. This song was written by a 19th century Galway man, D.K. Gavan. He also wrote Lannigan's Ball, a song set in Athy, however, he spent six long months learning dance steps in Dublin. The Rocky Road recounts his travels from Galway through Mullingar to Dublin and then on the Liverpool. Incidentally, this song is recited several times by Mr. Deasy in James Joyce's Ulysses.Another Dublin song that rings in my ear is The Auld Triangle, which features in Brendan Behan's (1923 1964) play The Quare Fellow. The play was inspired by Brendan’s time in Mountjoy, where the triangle was rung to wake the inmates.The origin of the song Dicey Riley, about a woman who enjoys her drink, is uncertain. Verses were said to be written by Dominick Behan (1928–1989), Brendan’s brother and by Tom Munnelly (1944 – 2007), an Irish folk-song collector. Drink features in many of the songs, as does Liverpool - Dominick Behan also wrote Liverpool Lou.Another woman remembered in song is Biddy Mulligan the Pride of the Coombe. It was written by Seamas Kavanagh (1930s) who collaborated with the scriptwriter Harry O'Donovan, who worked with Jimmy O'Dea. Kavanagh based Biddy on The Queen of The Royal Coombe, which was found in a 19th century Theatre Royal programme. Biddy Mulligan is about a Dublin street-seller and was made popular by Jimmy O'Dea (1899-1965) who was "Dame" Biddy Mulligan in many variety performances and pantomimes. You can't but smile when you remember those shows. George Hodnett (1918-1990), part of the bohemian Dublin literary set of the golden '50s, was residential pianist at the Pike Theatre in the 1950s, and later reviewer of jazz and Irish traditional music for The Irish Times. He wrote Monto, a song about the district around Montgomery Street, now Foley Street, which, by the way, also features as 'Nighttown' in the 'Circe' chapters in James Joyce's Ulysses.Another famous Dublin song is referred to in Ulysses when Myles Crawford refers to the two women on top of Nelson's pillar as being, "Out for the Waxies' Dargle”.There are many more songs about Dublin, a lot made famous by The Dubliners folk band. However, these are the ones that I remember most, that send me back to various moments in my growing up years:“and if you don't believe me Come and meet me there In Dublin on a sunny Summer morning”
Lou Reed passed away on the 27th of October 2013.He was one of the most influential figures in rock music. His first band The Velvet Underground is probably solely responsible for any "Indie Music" we hear today. However he is most famous for two songs, "Walk on the Wild Side" and Perfect Day". The former was a hit in 1972. A most unusual chart song with sparse arrangement of an infectious backing vocal, two note bass line and spoken styled melody of lyrics about transsexuals and prostitution inspired by characters of the pop artist Andy Warhol's hangout, The Factory. The song surfaced again in 1990 as it's memorable bass line was sampled by A Tribe Called Quest as the backbone of their song "Can I kick it?". The latter was "Perfect Day" (the b side to Walk on the Wild side) which had a resurgence in the film Trainspotting and was released by an all star cast as a charity single in 1997. Both songs were featured on the album Transformer.The Velvet Underground were formed in 1964 and played as the house band in Andy Warhol's Factory. Reed and John Cale were the main composers. Their first Album The Velvet Underground and Nico is so unusual, some tracks sound like Bo Diddley duelling with a violin and other tracks are so achingly beautiful and simple the album is hard to forget. There is no point in me trying to explain it, just listen! It is still one of the most unusual records I have ever heard. When you look back to what was happening in the charts at the time, Nancy and Frank Sinatra, The Doors, the world was not ready for The Velvet Underground.The album only sold 30,000 copies, but as musician Brian Eno said "each one of those people who bought the record started a band".Lou Reed went on to record twenty solo albums after The Velvet Underground disbanded. He died of complications following a liver transplant.His life partner is artist Laurie Anderson.
This year witnessed the passing of one of the greatest country singers who ever lived, Frank Sinatra referred to him as “the second best male singer in the world”, George Jones.His story is a dramatic rags to riches tale with broken marriages and alcohol problems, subjects which are often the content of country songs. His recent auto biography I Lived to Tell It All is available in Dublin City Public Libraries.As a child he would play the guitar and sing for pennies. He rode on the bus for free because the driver would want to hear him sing. His first hit was White Lightening in 1959, even though he did not pen most of his own hits, like Elvis he was the great interpreter.He is also known for his stormy marriage and music partnership with the famous Tammy Wynette. Their daughter Georgette Jones published a book titled The Three of Us giving an intimate account of the first couple of Country's tempestuous relationship, often fuelled by drugs and alcohol.However, I think his previous work with Melba Montgomery is far superior. Although it is lesser known and not as commercial as the Wynette duets he does admit in the biography that himself and Melba did define the male, female duet sound. They attain the close harmonies that I have only ever heard family musicians achieve before. For Instance the Everlys or The Louvin Brothers. Check out George and Melba's sublime version of the Hank Williams classic House of Gold. Well, if that has whetted you appetite for some more information on Country Music, you can read this amazing book In the Country of Country: A journey to the roots of American Music by Nicholas Dawidoff.Using interviews and research he gives an account of the lives and careers of American Music greats from Jimmy Rodgers to contemporary artists including Emmylou Harris and Iris Dement.It is beautifully written and sometimes brutally honest.
A very important and fascinating book was published this year, "Where Were You? Dublin Youth Culture & Street Style 1950-2000" by Garry O'Neil and Niall McCormack.The book is a compilation of photographs documenting social and fashion scenes in Dublin. What sets this book apart is that there are no staged fashion shoots or celebrities, just amazing photographs of everyday people wearing what was in style and ordinary people with extraordinary style.It's a very intimate account of street culture in Dublin. This feeling of intimacy is directly linked to the way in which the material was sourced. Posters were hung up in cafes, bars and shops around the city asking people to send in photos, rather then all the material being collected in newspaper archives.O'Neil travelled around Dublin meeting people to look through their albums and hear about the scenes that were happening at the time. He also received material from different parts of the globe offered by people who had emigrated. The chapters are organised by decades starting with the 50s and 60s.Each chapter has a very readable preface setting the scene for that era by mentioning clubs,dances, streets and shops that were frequented by young people. They also include quotes from people who were interviewed, here is a very good one from the 50s and 60s "You dressed like your folks or you look like you were dressed by your folks". The pages of photographs also have ticket stubs from gigs, posters and flyers for clubs and really cute adverts from the time.It also documents the violence that sometimes surrounded street culture for example the Boot Boys and Skinheads in the seventies. So from suave suits in the sixties to break dancing, skateboarding and raving in the nineties I would highly recommend buying this book. If you've been stuck out in the suburbs for a while borrow or buy this book and you will remember just how colourful Dublin can be.Another interesting layer to this book is O'Neil's collaborator Niall McCormick who is a great graphic artist based in Dublin. Has designed book covers for O'Brien and Lilliput press. After you have enjoyed "Where Were You?" feast your eyes on Niall's website.
A Band of Authors, musical writers and literary musicians
There is a band you have probably never heard of called The Rock Bottom Remainders. However you will probably know a few of the members pretty well. Stephen King, Amy Tan and Mitch Albom to name a few. They got their name from a publishing term "remainders" which is left over stock of titles which are sold off at discount prices. All proceeds from their gigs and recordings go to charity. Another novelist who has turned the pen to music is Michel Houellebecq. His novel 'Atomised' won the International IMPAC Dublin literary Award in 2002. He released a single called Le Film Du Dimanche (The Sunday Film). It has been likened to Gainsbourg and Jack Brel, a huge compliment!Now for the other way round, Nick Cave the Australian musician who is famous for his gothic styled music and lyrics (he also released an album of 'Murder Ballads') has written two novels, 'And the Ass saw the Angel' and 'The Death of Bunny Munro'. He also wrote the screenplay for the film The Proposition. It's a violent outlaw film set in the colonial Australian outback, definitely worth a watch.Willie Vlautin who is the lead singer and songwriter in American alt. country band Richmond Fontaine wrote his first novel in 2006, 'The Motel Life'. This writing is not for the faint hearted as he has been classed as one of the greatest American realist writers. His style is straight forward, economical and reads very well. This book 'Lean on Pete' is doing very well, it won The Ken Kesey Award and is in the final 10 for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.If you can think of any musician/authors to add to the list, please post a comment and let me know.