Thursday, March 6, 2008

"You're Not Irish
You Can't Be Irish
You Don't Sing
'Danny Boy'"

(click on the headline to read the story of the owner of the only pub I'll visit over this month)

When first I came to the U.S.A. with my guitar in hand,
I was told that I could get a job singing songs from Ireland.
So I headed up to Boston , I was sure to be alright
But the very first night I got on the stage, I was in for a big surprise
they said: You're not Irish, you can't be Irish, you don't know Danny Boy
Or Toora Loora Loora, or even Irish Eyes
You've got the hell of a nerve to say you came from Ireland
so cut out all the nonsense and sing MacNamaras Band!
To tell the truth I got quite a shock and I didn't know what to say
So I sang a song in Gaelic I thought might win the day
But they looked at me suspiciously and I didn't know what was wrong
Then all of a sudden they started to shout, "Now sing a real Irish song!"
Robbie O'Connell, voicing my greatest concern exactly correctly in this autobiographical whimsy . Maybe I'll just keep reminiscing about my halcyon days in radio. If I had had any. Don't get me wrong: I know when I stank and how I stank and how I was stank upon. But I have first-hand knowledge, the kind that when you start to share, when you get that look, the bartender suddenly has to count cigarette butts on the other side of the room and your wheelchair mates are drawn to Dance Dance Revolution.
I had nothing to do with the day-to-day programming of radio station WHTB. That was the job of a handful of dried-up old has-beens, monstrously fragile egos, a couple of doughy pantloads, and a cokehead. In order to fulfill a dream of doing radio in my old hometown, I had demoted myself from network teevee producer to board-op for Fallriffic political hacks who couldn't turn on their own microphones or remember the call letters. At a party the day before the station went online, one of the owners told me that my "professional broadcasting experience would be a great asset" and that he would be seeking my "input." Too bad he never spoke to me except to insult my tie or my hair or my family.
But on Sundays, the place was mine. I ran prerecorded tapes of French easy-listening or surprisingly enjoyable Polkas in the ethnic ghetto that included my show. The Celtic Corner.
That was the name of the show, and I ran it from 1989 to 1993. I got to play brand-new traditional music from Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, the Canadian Maritimes, and anywhere else fiddles and guitars met. I got to build relationships with record labels and bands, and yes, I kept the CDs. I got to promote my own DJ gigs. I got to promote my theater work. I got to meet and create friendships with very important mates.
(If there is a heaven, it has a studio full of my albums, a seat for Barbara Carns, a seat for Johnny Cunningham, an open hour of airtime, and a reasonable recreation of Fall River's Ukrainian Club nearby.)
I got a lot of love letters from octogenariennes, but I got complaints too. "And what were those complaints," you ask. See above. Hardly a Tommy Makem would go by without someone calling in and screaming that it wasn't Bing Crosby, and what was I doing on the air anyway? "Carroll ain't no Irish name."
Although I bit the bullet and played Frank Patterson or Andy Cooney or Paddy Noonan, I preferred and played more Altan or De Danann or Cherish The Ladies. I vowed that I would play the latter until the local audience understood what "Celtic"meant. I gave short history lessons, pronunciation guides, genealogical information, football scores, all in hopes of reaching the Fall River Irish community that I knew wasn't just the French and Polish guys at Fall River's traditional Irish neighborhood bar, the Corky Row Club.
I'd spent plenty of time there as a kid, learning how to be Irish from my Dad, who was very good at it. I wasn't very good, since I was underage and obviously Welsh because of the size of my head.
The Fawrivvah Irish-American Renaissance never took off, or at least nobody ever told me about it, so I ended up doing live shows with folkies from Rhode Island and eventually New Bedford, where you don't have to wear green on March 17.
And you don't have to sing Danny Boy.
Ever.

4 comments:

Dr. Momentum said...

I still have to hold back a tear when I think of Frankie Kennedy. I was only listening to his music for a year before I learned of his death.

B.O.B.(bob) said...

Dammit you just reminded me I missed Altan at the Sommerville Theater last month. Oh well. Solas will be here in May. Anyone out there up for a trip to Sommerville?

Your post also reminds me of being in the scariest parade ever (Newport's St. Patti's day) in high school as well as the great memory of watching the drunk stumble along with the band until Mark Alves let him have it in the back of the head with his trombone slide. He dropped like a rock.

PicturesAndSound said...

Ah, Peej, we'll just have to introduce you to the family at the Kinsale... Actually run by Irish. Some wonderful music (including Robbie, who sang that song there last Sun.) and this Mon., Eddie Dillon (who used to play with the Clancy Bros.)... While they do deal with a bit of the commercial (gotta keep the customers happy if they ask for it) they also deal with the REAL. You'd enjoy it.

BTW, thanks for reminding me of the Uke. Memories of Pirogies past..

ThirdMate said...

Oh, b.o.b.(bob). I don't know if I'll ever get back to Som(m)erville Theater, but if it's any consolation, I got to interview Tannahill Weavers there. Left my little voice-activated tape recorder in my pocket and accidentally recorded their first set over the talking.

Quality was very good. I wished I'd had that recorder when I was going to Dead shows.

Maybe I should come up with some "Irish" Music Festival memories. Hazy, most. For obvious reasons.