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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Listening to Now: Voice of Ages, by the Chieftans

I'm about halfway through the album Voice of Ages, by the Chieftans, at the moment, and it will likely have played through by the time I finish blogging. I came across it because I was watching videos of Keith Harkin on youtube, and wound up on his channel, looking at some of the videos he has 'favorited'. One singer he has 'favorited' is Paolo Nutini- how is it that I had not come across this guy before? He's very good, and his voice sounds like he ought to look more like Leon Redbone(though I can't imagine there are many people quite like Mr. Redbone), but in fact this guy looks like a hot Italian, the kind the classic marble sculptors used to use as sitters. I'm sure he'll turn up in weekly playlists for quite a while this year. But he is also on this Chieftans album, a fantastic music project for which all but 1 song is a collaboration with another artist. Each track draws on the particular sounds that the collaborating artist can bring to the session, and blends this sound with the perfect instrumentation and aesthetics of the Chieftans.

This is why I was really missing out back when I was just listening to the music of my favorite artists. Yep, it is really all about the music, sort of, and I am definitely never going to be one of the fans shrieking and demanding that some poor artist sign things for me. But while I was just listening to and enjoying Celtic Thunder's music, I was not benefiting from 'knowing cool people who have music tastes that intersect with mine. I probably do know of about as many songs as any of my favorite singers, actually, across quite a few genres, and in several languages. But, my favorite singers live in the world of music-making, and come across great new (or different) music almost certainly more often than I do.

It can be hard to tell exactly whether tools such as 'liking' or 'favoriting' or making playlists, or any other social media devices actually make much of a difference. If the only people who see your music on youtube are the fans you already have, who have already bought the album(s), and if the only people who notice you on tumblr and facebook are the fans who are already buying tickets to your shows, these sites become just fan-base maintenance tools, not tools for marketing to expand your fan-base. But perhaps, if youtube, facebook, tumblr and the rest stop changing their sites so fast, so that fans and artists can actually get past learning the sites themselves, there is a somewhat effective word-of-mouth marketing system in these social media sites.

(Of course, when the Big Music folks start posting and liking stuff on behalf of their most popular artists, using the fame of their stars to fool fans into consuming particular new recordings, this system will start bleeding out its authenticity just as other systems have in the past. We all have seen those twitter accounts which are supposed to belong to big-name artists, but which we are pretty sure are maintained by someone other than the artist.)

Anyway, this time it all worked nicely. Paolo Nutini is a very cool singer, of whom I am already a fan after only a few songs. So, thanks to Keith Harkin for being the guy who 'introduced' me to Mr. Nutini's music. It might just be enough to take the edge off of the waiting for Keith's new album.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Christmas in July! Oh, and ordered a new CD

It has been a tradition at the scout camp I used to work at, that we celebrated Christmas in July on the 25th, decorating nearby pine trees, singing carols, and pulling friendly pranks on the other camps. It has been a few years since I last was in Elbert, but July 25th still is on my radar as a special day, full of joy and song and wistful imaginings of snow and cool weather. It may be 100F or hotter outside again today, but it will be below 32F in my imagination, all day! Yes, one of these days I'll have internalized Celsius temperatures, but sadly not yet. 32F is 0 degrees Celsius, and far more pleasant than mid-July heat. 100F is very hot, hotter than most folks in Great Britain will see unless they go on vacation somewhere south.

Here, at least, it is a dry heat, like being wrapped in a nice, cozy, dry, woolen blanket in front of a crackling fire, only the fire is maybe a bit too hot or too close. This is far better than summer along the Southern coast, where the humidity is ridiculously high so that you are basically being steamed alive. Winters are also dry here, so if you put on a few too many layers the sweat against your skin starts making you cold, but this is a relatively minor problem. I figure you can always put on another layer or change into a warmer sweater, but you can only take off so much, and once naked, you get awful sunburns in those bits that don't often see the sun.

I actually bought myself a present this holiday, though it is on pre-order, and won't get here till September. I generally hate waiting, but this time it may be ok. Remember that I said I don't buy many CDs lately because I have only a wonky DVD-player that is dying, and cannot otherwise play CDs? Well, the DVD player's speakers have finally gotten bad enough that the silly machine is not worth plugging in. It lasted through the second disc of the second season of Sherlock (thankfully, as this second season is not available yet streaming on netflix, just on actual discs). But, that last episode was rather painful. Mr. Cumberbatch speaks too rapidly in character, at least too rapidly when one is trying to listen to him on really bad dying speakers. So, while I didn't miss anything vital, I really did not catch much of his actual dialogue.

The screen works fairly well, but I don't need a visual display for an audio CD- I would need speakers for that. Still, there are some artists whose CDs are nonnegotiable items on my wishlist. I keep buying internet downloads instead of physical albums, partly because otherwise they won't be playable on my computer, but I miss album artwork and having an actual CD. So, between now and September 18 I am going to have to buy either a new DVD player or speakers. Actually, since my player has no buttons on the machine that actually allow navigation through menu screens, I have yet to see any of the special extra features on any of my Celtic Thunder discs. Maybe a new player would be best.

Anyway, this is the CD I bought myself for Christmas in July- Keith Harkin's debut solo album:
1) The End Of The Innocence
2) Daisy Fields
3) Have I Told You Lately
4) Everybody's Talkin' At Me
5) Nothing But You & I
6) Here Comes the Sun
7) Orange Moon
8) Take It Away Boys
9) Don't Forget About Me
10) Rosa
11) Highway Man
12) Heart of Saturday Night

I am very excited about this one, and not just because Keith is a sexy Irish man. I am a bit concerned that he may be too nice a person for his own good once he starts drawing in the attention he deserves as a musician, but the fans he has earned through Celtic Thunder are a very nice, supportive, protective bunch, and I am sure they will continue to keep an eye out for him in his solo career. I really like that he is still a nice, real person(who looks lovely both in and out of a suit/kilt/etc.). And he plays guitar beautifully, has a nice voice and writes his own songs. Now if only Ryan Kelly and Neil Byrne could get a few new albums out...

I still think an Acoustic by Candlelight tour album, a mix of studio and live recordings of the songs from their tour, would be an excellent follow-up to their tour, and would placate some of us who do not live on the East Coast and rarely get to enjoy the many solo shows these guys have done in between the Celtic Thunder shows. Not to mention, I keep getting their rendition of "Don't Go" stuck in my head and would love to have it on my ipod to listen to away from my computer. Oh well, back to writing the thesis....

Happy Holidays!!!!!!!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Weekly 20 Songs PlayList: July 13

I keep trying new strategies to avoid falling into ruts of listening only to very limited sets of tunes over and over again. From month to month the songs I get stuck on vary, so that some months I almost only ever listen to old songs from my childhood, mostly 80's rock and 90's rock/pop classics. Other months I shift back into the modern country tunes I got into while I was living in Elbert and Seattle a few years ago. In between I get back to Celtic Thunder, Rhydian, and my growing and somewhat comprehensive collection of Irish and Scottish songs on spotify, a playlist which is over a week long already. I will never have time to listen to all the great music I would enjoy, but I will never hear all the music I have put in my playlists if I keep listening to the same few tracks over and over again. And, after a while, in any of my monostylistic kicks I get to where all the songs run together and get rather irritating. Too much of any one style or category of music gets old, and I wind up just listening to the handful of songs I cannot find irritating, like the Celtic Thunder recording of "Amazing Grace", or Katherine Jenkins' recording of "I Will Pray for You."

Always at this point I read something or talk to someone and am suddenly reminded of some song I had forgotten existed, and my listening patterns shift again. No doubt this will always be somewhat my habit, but I am trying a new experiment to see if I can keep a broader range of tunes current in my head. Every week, for a while anyway, I figure I'll put together a list of 20 songs, on spotify initially, that span a reasonably broad range of music, all songs and recordings I really really like. And, in part for my own record-keeping so I don't repeat any of them from one week to the next, I'll post the list here on my blog.

So, without further ado, here's the first set:

20 Songs for the week of July 13, 2012

1. "Wind and Rain"- Julie Fowlis (with Eddi Reader), from Uam

2. "My Little Grass Shack"- The King Sisters, from Imagination- The Blend and the Elegance

3. "The Hills of Ardmorn"- The Corries, from Lads Among the Heather

4. "Mambo Italiano"- Patrizio Buanne, from Patrizio

5. "Silencio"- Nelly Furtado (with Josh Groban), from Mi Plan

6. "Mamie Ma Belle"- Guillaume Cantillon, from Des Ballons Rouges

7. "The Weaver and the Factory Maid"- Steeleye Span, from A Parcel of Steeleye Span

8. "I Won't Let You Walk This Road Alone"- Rhydian, from O Fortuna

9. "Homeless"- Ladysmith Black Mambazo, from The Essential South African Trip

10. "Volare"- Gypsy Wanderers, from Gypsy Kings and Gypsy Queens: The New Collection

11. "Song for the Mira"- Celtic Thunder, from Voyage

12. "I Will Pray for You"- Katherine Jenkins, from Rejoice

13. "Neon Moon"- Brooks and Dunn, from #1s ... and Then Some

14. "Sonny"- Hayley Westenra, from Celtic Treasures

15. "Step It Out Mary"- The High Kings, from Memory Lane

16. "Rio Serenade"- Paul Byrom, from This is the Moment

17. "Emily"- Ryan Kelly, from In Time

18. "Truador"- Neil Byrne, from Sensitive Souls

19. "Rosie"- Young Dubliners, from St. Patrick's Day Party Jam!

20. "Nine Pound Hammer"- Bill Monroe, from All the Classic Releases 1937-1949

All of these songs are available to listen to free on spotify, and I can say for certain that most of these albums are well worth buying. I own CDs of 11 of these and have enjoyed most of the songs on all the rest of these albums via spotify. So they are all recommended. (I stopped buying CDs when I realized my one remaining CD playing device was starting to wear out, so I have not yet bought all the albums from this list. I am sure I'll be back to buying more music again soon, after I decide whether I am buying a new CD/DVD player soon. I only own a few dozen DVDs, and actually until quite recently Sally Sparrow, the Dr. Who character owned more DVDs than I did. But, those I own I watch constantly till they wear out. So, when I go into withdrawal from those shows, or from my CD collection I'll be electronics shopping for sure.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

On further reflection: POLS analyses for Belfast?

It would be rather uncomfortable if I were Irish and Catholic and in Northern Ireland, especially as I am at least sympathetic to the nationalist cause anyway. I suspect that the Republic of Ireland is a bit too bankrupt at the moment to attempt a reunification with the northern counties even if Britain relented, and I am not so sure Northern Ireland has the basis for economic security internally if independence was secured right now. Realistically a lot of people would be impoverished and suffering as a direct result of Northern Ireland winning its freedom now. Still, the Irish people have suffered greatly at the hands of the British in the past, and it was not long ago that certain people in Britain wrote about Catholics as if they were subhuman and fit only for slavery or extermination. After such a history, I would hate to be at the mercy of police and British politicians entirely, and yet so much of what determines the future of the tensions in Northern Ireland right now lies outside the purview of the Irish Catholics.

The way violence is excused and sanctioned during riots, battles, skirmishes and wars is that it is made distinct from daily life. A man may murder as many people as he wishes so long as he is in a war zone where he can assert that those people were at least potential combatants. We also have such terms as 'collateral damage' to cover all those obviously innocent people who die at our hands while we are trying to kill combatants. None of these deaths are classified as murder because as a society we agreed to turn away and let those deaths slide, because somehow in those cases the people killed were not quite people perhaps, or because their deaths were not entirely the fault of those who killed them, or because those who did the killing were acting on behalf of the king or queen or president. The police, when they beat or kill someone, do so on behalf of their superiors by rank, and ultimately their violence is done on behalf of the US President here, or the Prime Minister in the UK. Those positions are the seats of legitimate power in our respective countries, and any violence by US or UK citizens that does not ultimately derive its power from them is not legitimate.

The decision to allow a group of Orange Protestants to march through an Irish Catholic area was indeed an act of institutional, legitimate violence, to the extent that it used the power of the state, through the police escort and the threats of arrest which protected the parade. This rather inflammatory tradition continues despite all the public statements from all sides saying that they wanted the Troubles to be over, and to live in peace. Thus it may be more profitable at this point to really start applying political, social, economic and historical analysis at a fine-scale and more broadly, to trace the actual processes and influences that lead to these counterproductive events. The most effective weapons that could be used right now in Northern Ireland to achieve justice for everyone, and peace, may be in fact political science, sociology and psychology. These tools could expose the people pulling the strings that make cities like Belfast and Derry dance, and which could suggest the best future strategies for achieving better representation for marginalized neighborhoods and peoples.

Information gathering and analysis is only a first step- one can gather information forever and do nothing with it- but the kind of analyses that go on in a political science department in the US, tracing the power dynamics, influence structures, agenda and policy-making patterns, etc., should give a clear enough picture of what goes on under the surface. Certainly some of this does go on in Irish colleges now, so I am hoping that what I am envisioning is already out there in some journal where I could find it tomorrow through the university library. It is dry stuff to read, usually, in the US, in part because we aren't often likely to see people lobbing bricks and homemade explosives at each other as a direct result of their city political systems. In a place like Belfast, where there are car-bombs turning up every few months, and militants parading through each other's territories regularly complete with drums and whistles, city and local politics suddenly seems much more exciting, even translated into political science jargon.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Initial reactions to reading and thinking(too much) about the July 12th riots in Northern Ireland

I've been watching the events unfolding in the areas of Belfast and Derry this afternoon, and most likely will continue following twitter and the online news sources all evening for these areas. I knew yesterday when reading about the Orange parade arrangements through Ardoyne that there would certainly be some sort of violence after the march, just as I am sure the Orangemen participating knew. The fact that they had to bus in their token marchers to meet the deadline set by the Parades Commission suggests that this march was entirely unnecessary for the overall parade march, because otherwise how did all the rest of the much larger parade, of which they were a rather small sample, make it through the day without getting stuck? I am sure I am oversimplifying a bit, since I am hardly a local, and do not know the streets, but I suspect that the march that set off the violence in Ardoyne was planned to reconquer, or more accurately to conquer Ardoyne and its nationalist population. What would a winning, non-violent strategy be in the face of this 'peaceful' invasion by Orangemen and police, for the violated local neighborhood who was victimized in this July 12th celebration/situation?

First of all, to the extent that the Catholic or nationalist, or neighborhood rights oriented people objected to the parade being routed through Ardoyne, they were not being represented at all by the government that is set to protect and govern them. That government had to know just as well as I did what sort of violence this march would produce, and yet knowingly accepted the route that the march followed, even providing police escort for the transplanted marchers as they made their symbolic invasion of this 'enemy territory' which did not welcome them. In any of the places I have lived in the US, parades are generally not permitted in residential areas, or in places where those parades might create unrest. Yes, parades have a long history in Ireland, as a sort of pseudomilitary display of machoism that allows the rest of the world to see a less pleasant side of certain factions of Irish people. But unrest also has a long history in Ireland, going hand-in-hand with that parade history. If parading through streets of people to lord it over them that they were conquered and remain conquered is an integral and valuable part of Irish culture in NI, than so are the riots an integral and valued part of the NI lifestyle. Overstated? I'm not so sure.

In any case, if the Catholic neighborhoods which are subjected to Orange marches against their expressed wishes simply say nothing, or step back and allow the marches to continue unmolested and unresisted, the Catholic people will in a very real sense have been conquered completely at last. If the Catholic neighborhoods stop 'rioting' when Orangemen invade them under police escort, they will have been defeated and colonization can continue unresisted. Sure, this is in part what the British government wants, too. Nationalist Irish people, even if they are peaceful, remain quite far from the 'docile bodies' that make for good, obedient, manageable subjects. This is part of why Catholicism was so hated, too, in that so long as people retained loyalties to the Pope, as well as to the King, they were not completely cowed, not completely the docile subjects that would accept unquestioningly anything the King required of them. The Catholic nationalist is thus doubly resistant to being cowed by the British government and its power. And, as jobs are again scarce and all of Europe is going through a major depression/recession, these people who dare to remain personally unconquered by the great powers of the UK make safe targets, if only they can be demonized enough.

So, while not rioting would play into the hands of the British central government by making their conquest of Northern Ireland more complete at last, rioting also plays into their hands by turning justifiably angry people into thugs and domestic terrorists in the eyes of the world. This frees the Northern Irish government to use greater force against the unruly and volatile nationalists who 'clearly' threaten the security of Belfast, and Derry, and the whole of NI. Thanks to the rioting, raids on anyone and everyone linked to nationalism can proceed with less international scrutiny, and we can lose track of the fact that the violence was triggered knowingly by the Orange marchers in the first place. The Orange 'side' doesn't have to fire a shot to fight the nationalists, if they can get the nationalists to start rioting- the police will take all the injuries and cause plenty in return, while the Orangemen sit back and gloat.

So, what was the correct answer, the one that would neither sell out the Catholics and nationalists of Northern Ireland nor allow angry nationalist/Catholic people to become victims of escalating violence as police stand proxy for the Orangemen long gone? Democratic institutional procedures along the lines of lawsuits or formal protests? General strike? Unfortunately when historically the British government has wanted to exterminate or otherwise remove all Irish from their own land, any sort of strike would seem to be a step towards allowing the British a win. And, buying into the courts and bureaucratic systems of the ruling government similarly gives Britain the win. So long as the government is happy to sell out the safety of whole communities so that a handful of loyalists can symbolically march down that community's street is not going to care about lawsuits, petitions or formal complaints from that already marginalized people.

Thankfully, most people in Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, loyalist and nationalist, are not willing to take up arms for their 'side'. They will most certainly take up arms to defend their homes, their families and their friends, as any sane person might, but they are not looking to escalate 'sectarian violence'. Sure, Britain conquered Ireland several centuries ago, but no one on the island today was alive back then. If the governments running the cities and counties, and the governments running Northern Ireland and the UK, can refrain from treating their Catholic citizens as a conquered or marginalized people, most of these people would rather move on and live their lives in peace. The choices open to these people depend heavily on how the police and local governments respond in the next few hours, days and weeks to the tensions, suspicion and violence that have once again sprung up on Irish soil. So long as Catholic people or nationalist people are seen as an enemy, or potential enemy, chances are that they will have further need to defend their communities and their loved ones, with whatever means they have at their disposal.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Finally Recovering from the 4th, Mostly

(though my electronics are hating all this warm weather. Maybe I can find someone in Dublin or Belfast who'd like to trade- I can live someplace where it is cooler, cloudy, frequently damp and dreary, and they can live here where we get 300+ days of sunshine every year, and where it is only wintery for a few days at a time at the very heart of winter. I know it sounds lovely, but it makes laptops very unhappy if they have insufficient cooling mechanisms, even without my cat's fur clogging the air-stream.)

Anyway, I'll post a separate account of the music from yesterday, so that if any folks find my blog looking for information on those bands they won't have to read a 'blog' post, just to read about the shows. But, there was a lot of music yesterday, all of it good, some of it really good, and none of it likely to attract any of the younger population of Fort Collins to the park, at all. In fact, there were no bands that played kid-friendly music; I would have tried to find a Partridge Family cover group or some other family-oriented folk group for the younger families- the kids who were there with their parents were just bored and annoying all the nearby adults all day. Was there no kid-friendly folk group, or maybe a catchy bluegrass band interested in a city-sponsored gig in the park? And, no, the Celtic rock band yesterday did not make up for the one-sidedness of our 4th of July music lineup, because the Celtic rock show was too poorly advertised for any students to know about it. I was one of the few younger people in the audience who was not there with a bunch of kids in tow or elderly parents along. A few students got pulled in as that show went on, hearing the siren song of live electric guitar from the surrounding streets, so I'm sure they'd not have minded knowing about it ahead of time.

I have seen may times how the city planners in this town prefer the longer-term residents' perspectives to those of students, despite having a 30,000 student major university in the center of our otherwise smallish town. Lots of students settle in or near Fort Collins after graduation, and marry, and have families here, and these people, as non-student residents get ignored, marginalized or discriminated against outright along with their similarly aged student neighbors. Very annoying, and if students ever really start using the local ballots that they receive in the mail every year, the city may find their blatant disregard of students really problematic. [End of soap-box rant.]

I'll probably have more soap-box rants referencing back to the 4th, too, by the end of the month, but since it seems I have more readers in Europe than in the US at the moment, I won't spend all night tonight griping about problems in Fort Collins. I am sure other college towns see similar problems, but it makes me just tired and grumpy writing on these local issues for long.

Of course, it is local politics, and politics in general that make the United States of America worth celebrating, and worth fighting for, at all. Independence Day marks the day the Declaration of Independence, a document which made clear officially the intention of the colonies to break with England. There was really nothing in 1776 that would have suggested that women or non-White people, or poor people would be respected in the USA, as citizens, with rights as both citizens and as human beings more generally. It was due to the broader values of freedom and democracy that the marginalized groups in 1776 did not remain marginalized, and all of this change was politics, that boring and seemingly unimportant stuff our newspapers are no longer really interested in reporting about, and that few people willingly admit to 'following'. Politics is not about smearing political candidates, or admiring their families, or their pets. It is about deciding at every level of our country's practical workings, how we want our country to function.

Thus, while it is annoying that we keep going back to discussing whether President Obama's birth certificate is valid, an issue which if decided in the negative could somewhat disenfranchise a large segment of the state of Hawaii btw, it is also interesting that the President is not afforded the same respect and professional courtesy that other, White, presidents received simply out of respect for the office of President of the United States. Politics is seen as a dirty, corrupt game, in large part because of the shady deals between business lobbyists and Congress, and now we seem to have forgotten the rest of the way how to have any pride in the institutions of our 'great nation'. There is still greatness in the US, in all classes and all professions. Our tourists may annoy much of the rest of the world, but not all of them. And, while our foreign policy has its ups and downs, the ideals the US represents in the abstract are still quite worthy.

We have forgotten how to come together as a people, to the extent that when we have no fireworks, we almost have no 4th of July to celebrate, it seems, but that just means we need more practice. Almost no one danced when we had our really good swing bands playing in the park yesterday, and the space in front of the stage was nearly empty for most of the day, but there were some people up in the front, and a few of them even struck up actual conversations with complete strangers. I was even asked to dance, once, despite there being so few people there willing to dance. Maybe a few more people will try these small gestures of community building at our next public festival? One can only hope.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July!!!!

[Right now the atmosphere on tumblr is still the social media equivalent to all the fans jumping up and down with glee and grateful relief, so this post gets to live here instead, rather than interrupt that gleeful merriment. Again, deepest apologies to anyone stumbling across this blog who would rather just read more 'serious' stuff.]

Remarkably, I am actually not starting out the 4th by hunting pictures of candles and trying to decide what to say about Ryan being absent still. I was already dreading writing tonight's candle post, days ago, in part because it would be a lousy way to start a holiday, and more because it would be the start of a whole second month since his accident. I am sure Ryan's plans are not built in any way around me, but his timing could not have been more perfect for me. His tweet came a few minutes before midnight, my time, so that I started out the 4th with his message, and I had not yet begun the night's candle post, so it need not ever be written.

I am very glad that June 2012 is over, and that with the new month we are getting Ryan back. I had thought May went so slowly, and was so surprised near the end of May when I realized that summer had not even started yet for everyone else. I got a lot done in May, and was starting to focus in on my thesis work when June 3rd rolled around. The rest of June has been just one long blur. I read 16 books, started a few new subblogs on my tumblr, and wrote a lot. So, June has been productive enough, really, and good things have happened. Indeed, because of Ryan's accident, I actually have met some new friends online with whom I can share my enjoyment of Celtic Thunder, and I am an active part of the tumblr Celtic Thunder community, which might never have happened otherwise. And, while I am still rusty and need lots more practice, I have more fully experienced 'my vocation' as a writer, through trying to articulate feelings and ideas that made it into my candle posts and elsewhere.

But, I would rather not spend the rest of my life polishing my ability to write about my everlasting love of a singer I am not likely to ever really know. I could see how those feelings could work themselves into short stories off and on for the rest of my life, certainly, but I'll never pay my rent by getting stuck just in that vein. Somehow this summer a 90pg masters thesis has to finish itself with my generous assistance, so I can defend my thesis- hopefully not the same week as the Denver Celtic Thunder show. That would be a really crazy roller-coaster week- and so I can graduate and maybe actually find a job that will allow me to finally live in Great Britain or Ireland for a while.

In the meantime, there are 7 straight hours of free live music in the afternoon at the park, and I intend to spend the majority of those 7 hours in the park (jazz, big band, 80's cover band, and orchestra), with my books, notepad, camera, and plenty of soda and sunblock. Since it is ~1:30am now, if I get to sleep now, I could even practice with my bodhran in the morning before the shows start.

Happy 4th of July, everybody!!!!!!!

OMG! OMG! OMG! Ryan Kelly Tweeted!!!!

Ok, this is clearly not a 'fan blog', despite all the Celtic Thunder stuff I post on here, but just this once... Ryan just tweeted!!!! He has just made a lot of women (and some men too, I'm sure) very very happy. I doubt any of us will be particularly articulate for the next few hours, until we let all the 'omg!' initial reactions die down a bit, anyway. We may not be having any fireworks in Colorado this 4th of July, but if this is how the holiday is starting out this year, the rest of the day is bound to be amazing anyway. (And I am very glad my sister does not have any sort of camera, because there would otherwise be lots of random happy-dance shots of me from tonight.) Happy 4th of July to you, too, Ryan, and thank you!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Celtic Rock show in FoCo: The Indulgers

2 hours of free live Celtic rock music, 2 blocks from my apartment? And free cupcakes? Couldn't ask for a better deal. And, while the Indulgers don't have any bodhran-players, and did not bring bagpipes or whistles into this evening's show, they somewhat made up for my missing the Young Dubliners when they were in the area back in March. (Yes, I am still grumbly at myself for missing that show, and the High Kings back in August. Clearly I need to pay more timely attention to local music events.) The Indulgers rely more on original songs instead of the reworked traditional stuff the Young Dubliners do so beautifully, but they are a very similar sound otherwise. And I always like hearing good new songs- traditional stuff is cool but I hate to think that we have lost the ability to write new songs that stand up to the quality of traditional ones.
Walking back from trying to obtain a soccer ball from a friend's house (unsuccessfully) I discovered that there was a stage being set up on the grass on CSU's campus, literally 2 blocks from home. And, the music they had on during the set-up was an Irish reel. So I headed back home, changed my shoes, grabbed my camera, and went back for the show. It started late, thankfully- they were having issues with feedback during their soundcheck, which were not quite resolved by the time they gave up and started the show. So, even though I got there about 10 minutes late, I had time enough to find a spot on the grass and settle in before they started. I sat in the back initially, on a little hill, where I could read my book in peace, but the lead singer, Damian McCarron, had to mention that there were free cupcakes up at a booth next to the stage, and a few songs into the show I had to relent and go get me a cupcake.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Land Grant act, which established Colorado State University, among other things. Thus the cupcakes, and of course they were green because CSU's colors include green.
Most reasonable grown-ups, at least the kind that tote lawn chairs and picnic baskets along for concerts like these, tend to sit further back. After all, if you sit too close it gets VERY LOUD. So there was plenty of room on the grass right up front, not far from the free cupcakes. So, as seems to be becoming the norm now, I sat in the very front row for the majority of the show. Thus, in the pictures where it looks as if one of the guys on the stage was looking straight at me, they probably were, wondering at the strange woman in the orange hat, taking pictures of grass and cupcakes and reading a paperback book at a rock concert.

The band today was The Indulgers, a local Celtic rock group. Damien McCarron, the lead vocalist, is originally from Dublin, and definitely still sports a bit of an accent, especially when talking about whiskey. Renee Fine, on fiddle, and Mike Nile, on guitar and mandolin today, carried most of the instrumental songs, always with a nice percussion and bass backing (Aaron Haywood - Bass, and Frannie "Cheech" Mannone - Drums). And, while their website barely mentions him yet, this show also included Ryan Bunnell, the group's newest, and I am guessing youngest member. Ryan unfortunately lurked just behind the speaker, from where I was sitting, so most of my pictures show just the bright green of his pantlegs, but this guy would be the one teenage girls would go for- long blond hair, not bad-looking, and plays electric guitar. Not my type, at all, really, but I already have my allegiances set by now anyway.
It was a fun show, mostly original songs, and I was really wishing I knew how to dance jigs and reels by the second or third song in. The only familiar traditional song they did that I knew already, "Whiskey in the Jar", blended in nicely with their own songs. There were a few couples that took advantage of the open grass right up front for dancing, and there were lots of kids dancing and running around quite happily up front, getting quite puffed up and excited every time Damian commented on their lovely dancing. ( I found the lone ~13yr old boy particularly amusing- he obviously wanted to dance and play with his little brother, but just as obviously realized he was the only kid his age uncool enough to join in up front. So he did what any decent self-respecting boy would under such conditions- he danced on his knees, so he looked as short as his brother and the other kids.)

Yay, I finished the movie!

Actors like Liam Neeson were invented so that people could watch movies like Five Minutes of Heaven without being too overwhelmed, I think. I am so glad now that I was not born Irish. I was a moody, troubled kid growing up in the quiet and dullness of Colorado; I can't imagine how I would have made it through to adulthood had I grown up on that lovely but trouble-laden island. I'd have probably been just another of the bodies that wash up on the beaches for sure, too depressed from being too precocious and liking history books a bit too much.

I think, after watching this movie, and after all my lucid dreaming about conflict in Ireland, maybe I understand well enough how people find themselves becoming monsters. In the neat little scenario in my dreams I found it natural enough to be the instrument of the death of someone I love, and the motives in my character's head were not far off from what Neeson's character was describing. Nor does it take starting young. My dream self was a kid, about the same age as the kids at the start of the movie, but I think if given enough fear, enough random shootings, it would still be easy to turn any modern neighborhood into just as deadly a place as Belfast during the Troubles. Get a man into office just a bit more rabidly religious than the most recent President Bush, throw in a few new laws or some sort of crisis that would fundamentally challenge the values of the American people, and keep unemployment and real earnings as bad as they are now, and the American people could turn their towns into war zones too.

And so long as the global economy is as shaky as it is, I am thankful, unemployed as I am, that I am not a world leader trying to hold nations together under these conditions. I'll be content if I can find a nice quiet way to pay rent while writing. If the stuff I write ever is useful to anyone, I think I can be content with that, and leave saving the human race to someone else.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bad dreams, long nights, and gypsies

From now on, maybe I will have learned my lesson, and I'll not start watching potentially disturbing movies at bedtime. I am not so sure reading a nice 'hi, I'm back" blog post from dear Mr. Kelly would have made any difference, either. His being unwell may add slightly to my mood tonight, but even if he was well and hanging out in my living room with my cat, I would still probably have had bad dreams this time. (Ok, maybe I would not have been dreaming, depending on whether we would have stopped talking yet, and whether I could stop thinking about the stuff of our conversation long enough to fall asleep. Anyway...)

The Dream: So, since one of the kids in the movie looks vaguely like Ryan might have looked at 15, it particularly bugged me watching those kids gearing up to go kill someone. If Ryan had been born 10 years earlier he could have been drawn into the fighting just as those kids in the film were. I, at 15, thought I knew enough to get by on my own- indeed at 17 I made an attempt to do just that- and if Ryan was anything like me and my friends at that age, in that climate of fear and violence... So, in my dream, Ryan and I both lived in some town in northern Ireland in the early 70's. He was Catholic, of course, and I was Protestant, but the town was small enough that we knew each other despite going to different schools and churches. And, in this dream, our folks and their friends, and various other members of the surrounding community made it impossible for us not to wind up on separate sides.

I was the same person I am now, reacting to everything as I am sure I would if I were transposed into that setting, so I was quite actively a part of the violence, not firing guns, but acting as an informant against the Catholic people in town, and procuring guns and other stuff for my brother. (I'm glad we were not born in that time and place- I'm not sure the Universe would have survived the 4 of us if we had been there then.) I woke up only after watching a skirmish in a park in the town, in which my brother and his friends were taking on the Catholic kids who had been blamed for one of 'our own' being beaten up earlier, and of course the dream ended when Ryan was killed, his body replacing one of those in the old photographs from the start of the film. Most bad dreams I can sleep through, but that was one image I could happily have lived without, and that it was completely imaginary just meant I saw more detail than I would have in real life.

I wonder now if most of the violence in Ireland is more like what I was creating in my dream, people killing each other for revenge or to preempt being killed, with no real ideology behind it. There are all those grand political goals and historical sources of resentment that usually turn up in accounts of violence in Ireland, and certainly some of the people involved killed to accomplish the liberation of Ireland from England, or to rid Northern Ireland of Catholicism. Some kids would of course pick up their parents' values and fight almost as proxies for their parents, too. But it seems that a lot of the escalation of violence, both during the Troubles and earlier in the violence preceding the 1922 treaty, stemmed from motives of revenge. The English would do something particularly nasty to an Irish person, and then a few Irish people would react, hurting English soldiers or civilians to even the score. And, even if non-Irish civilians in Ireland were sympathetic to the Irish cause, they would not long tolerate being targeted by angry Irish folks.

So, for all that there was probably 'othering' going on, creating 'us' and 'them' and demonizing 'them', on both sides, the dynamic is different from what went on between the English and the Welsh, or between the Travellers and Gypsies and everyone else. Catholic and Protestant people might have developed a steady distrust between them, but as far as I can tell, both sides still hated Gypsies and Travellers as dirty, sub-human creatures. If I had a caravan back then, I can't imagine willingly staying in Northern Ireland during the fighting, but then again, there is only so much space in an island that small, and it's not like the rest of Ireland was particularly better for these universal 'others'.

And the Welsh? Through the 1950's kids were still being punished in school for speaking Welsh. But it was the language, the culture, that was being targeted, not the people themselves. I suppose, in part, so much of Wales was employed in digging coal and doing other dirty manual labor that it was perfectly alright for the Welsh to be dirty and primitive, so long as they stayed in their part of the island. The Irish, on the other hand, were migrating to towns in Scotland, Wales and England, looking for work and trying not to starve to death. The Irish were not staying put, and even if they were, England had laid claim to Ireland, at the very least to the northern part, but really all of Eire if they could only keep hold of it. And, with the Protestant settlers several hundred years ago, England made it plain that they preferred to clear the Irish from Ireland- the Irish were considered an inferior race, lazy, dumb and worthless even as slaves, such that eradicating them would be a service to humanity. The Welsh ideally were being educated out of their language, the Irish were simply being killed off.

The Gypsies and Travellers, to the great annoyance no doubt of all their surrounding neighbors, could not be educated out of anything, because they don't stay put anywhere long enough to let their children be educated in any one place for long. This is still a major frustration in both Great Britain and Ireland- no one knows how many of these nomadic people there are, and their children don't mesh well with the local school systems that are based on the assumption that their pupils live in a particular place long-term. Thus, these people make themselves elusive targets both for those who want to educate them and those who wish to eradicate them. They do preserve themselves and their cultures by being nomadic, but this lifestyle also maintains their status as universal 'others' more permanently.

On the plus side of all this, I may never run out of things to write about on Ireland and Great Britain, long after this thesis is done, printed and bound. Who knows, but I might even manage to make it back to England, and maybe even to Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the course of the rest of my life after this degree. On the negative side, though, so many people had to go through so much suffering to get to what we have now, and while I like to think people are better now, I do know better. If humans were all better now, my thesis would be a pointless exercise. It is because modern and future humans will find new excuses to be nasty and evil to each other that it makes any sense analyzing past conflicts.

The 'races' of the British Isles, with the exception of Gypsies, all blend together now and it seems silly to think of Irish and Scottish and Welsh and English people as distinct races. The distinctions humans found to base these earlier racial types on were as meaningful and real as whatever new distinctions our children will invent. And, unfortunately, just as God could not just blow up Sodom and Gomorrah because there were in fact a few humans he liked among all the bad, I can't just give up and declare the whole human race evil and not worth the effort, because there are beautiful people on this planet whose lives make humanity as a whole worth saving for their sake alone. Realistically my own work is not likely to make that much of a difference either way, but it is on the hope that it might at least be creating a dim flicker of new understanding that most academics in these areas keep working.

Ireland: academia vs. a movie

I'm not sure how long it is going to take to finish watching the movie I settled on tonight, Five Minutes of Heaven. I've read plenty of literature on the Troubles in Ireland, including some rather graphic stuff. And I've seen enough of the old photographs to recognize places in the first few minutes of this movie as familiar sites of violence. I think if I had less foreknowledge I might find the movie easier to watch, actually. I keep thinking that any time now, the Doctor will pop in and stop the boys from actually making their first kill. I am once again very glad that the Irish lads who constitute my favorite singing group are too young to have seen the worst of the violence, but I have to wonder how far under the surface those violent tendencies really lie, now.

The Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness a few days ago, and the last few large bombs found in Northern Ireland were discovered before they took out a crowded shop or street corner. Clearly we are not seeing civil war in Ireland just now.

But, when I was a kid here in Colorado, my favorite Irish singers were my age in Ireland, and where they were, the Troubles had not yet ended. Actually, if I had the opportunity to have a real, lengthy conversation with any of my favorite celebrities, it would be with Ryan Kelly, not about anything related to his job as a singer, but about what it was like being a kid in County Tyrone in the 80's, and about living in Ireland now with all that recent and still smoldering history all around. I had rather in-depth conversations with friends a few years ago who were from various parts of the former USSR, and realized in the course of those conversations just how different the universe looks from their perspectives. We were all friends, but while I grew up knowing quite a bit about Russian history during and just after WWI, and quite a bit about world history in general, the education my Moscow friend got during those same years was oddly silent about history, except that internal to the USSR. The same sort of myopia seemed pretty common among my Chinese friends, too, actually.

But knowing history is not everything. I know a lot about quite a few subjects, but in a very detached way. With my peculiar childhood and decidedly dysfunctional family, I only understand what it feels like to have a close family, loving parents, or just someplace that feels like home through other people for whom these things are real. I can feel uneasy, even heartsick watching boys going off to kill someone, but I cannot understand the feelings that led others in Northern Ireland to begin the violence that tore Ireland apart. I feel, deeply, that if I could truly understand how neighborhoods of nice normal people could become war zones in Belfast, and how so many truly good, wonderful human beings, in Ireland and Britain, could become killers and monsters, I might understand better how to describe a society of the future where such nightmares could not exist. Could talking to Ryan answer all my questions? Of course not.

I suppose with how tough this movie is to watch tonight, I would be even less comfortable watching it if I had a better, deeper understanding of what it is to be Irish. And, I would like to understand all sides, not just the Irish Catholic side. Right now, my gut reaction any time I read or watch anything on Irish history is mostly anger and disgust at what the British did. Through my interest in old Irish lullabies I keep coming across horrific tales of how Catholic people were treated in Ireland, as part of why the song I am hunting is so fragmented, or why the most common lyrics to a particular tune are laments. I've read Anglican theological arguments enough to understand logically why the English monarchy would be challenged by Catholicism, but I can't imagine yet how that translates to wanting to kill Catholic people. I guess what I want now is just to talk with someone I like, someone whose mind or soul I understand, who has also been thinking about these things, but from the perspective of being an Irish Catholic in Northern Ireland.