Friday, March 18, 2011
It’s Not Easy Being Green
This time of year it is hard to avoid things green in general and Aran sweaters in particular. You know, the heavy knit sweater every American tourist buys on a first visit to Ireland. And when you’re known as an Irish musician, with a “career” spanning thirty years, it’s even harder. This year was no different.
Every year I try to avoid the events peopled by those who, except during the month of March, look upon Irish music as something you would scrape off your shoe. I have, in the past, leaped from behind a curtain at a congressman’s house furiously sawing on an Irish jig. I have played jigs—why is it always jigs?—for dancers in kelly green silk tutu’s, imitating someone’s idea of Irish dance by hopping about with their hands curled in the air, as if they had just walked into the kitchen to find the floor covered in roaches. This is actually closer to the Scottish form, although in Scottish dance it’s not roaches on the floor, but swords. Which would be the worse to step on?
Once upon a time I was doing an interview with a reporter from a local paper (name withheld to protect the innocent). I always offer to “vet” interviews, for good reason as this story illustrates. The reporter inquired as to the name of a tune our band had played at this Paddy’s Day variety show.
That’s Paddy with two D’s—it ain’t “Patty’s Day” with two T’s—that’s St. Patricia, who, scared out of her bloomers of an impending marriage, took the veil, finally imprisoned herself on a tiny Mediterranean island and died shortly thereafter, admittedly about the same time as Paddy (with two D’s) was bloodlessly converting the Irish, but not by any stretch the same person—her feast day is August 25).
Anyway, back to the story. I told the reporter the name of the tune and it’s 17th century harper/bard origin. Its name was, in Irish Gaelic—and always beware of reporters and Irish Gaelic—Sí Beg, Sí Mor—translated as “the big and the little,” referring to two adjacent hills in Ireland, where the Little People leap out to do perpetual battle on a specific day in the Irish mythological calendar—much the same as I from behind that congressman’s curtain, although, thank god, I only had to do that once. My band mate (an English term, by the way, hard to avoid those English, what?) obtained a copy of the article the following day, and, of course, the reporter had called it “St. Patty’s Day,” and had entitled the harp tune “She Begged for More.”
I avoid the sort of “gig” where men in kilts—not Three Men in Kilts, they’re my friends—sing When Irish Guys are Driving. Kilts, by the way are from the Scottish Highlands, a beautiful desolate place where they speak bagpipe. Aside from the foolery, these events usually score low on my “corned beef and cabbage index.” A “10” on this index is the fragrant dish, properly known as “bacon, cabbage, and spuds,” which when prepared by an Irish woman of tradition has a heavenly taste and bouquet. A “1” on this index is the “When Irish Guys are Driving” type, with the consistency of a rubber band and a smell like Satan’s outhouse.
I am not entirely immune to the lure of “Aran sweaters and things green.” Last year I was the Grand Marshall for South Bend’s Paddy’s Day Parade, and for many’s the year contributed music to the post-parade party at St. Patrick’s Church. This is a genial potpourri of dancers and musicians—all my friends—in a “church social” atmosphere of corn beef and drink taken. My “parade day” has ended for the last five years in a wonderful concert in St. Joseph, Michigan, where I lead songs and play tunes in an art gallery atmosphere. I’m not immune: I always sing Danny Boy.