Archive for January, 2012

Letting go.

There is never a good way to say goodbye. Losing someone from your life is often one of the most difficult things that we ever experience. Letting go takes a toll and no matter what we say a failed relationship leaves us feeling empty. I don’t know what love is, I don’t know how to quantify what I feel for a woman when I do fall in love. Creaky metaphors and sickly similes don’t seem enough, in fact they feel contrived, and a cheap way to express what is, in many ways, inexpressible.


When you let go of the person that you thought would be the guiding light you lose a possible future. You let go of their company, their strengths and weakness and you miss the fact that somebody cares for you, that someone has your back. You miss those little texts and you miss those little smiles. Memories crowd the mind and all the small things remind you of her. Ghosts are in the small details. You realise you have to let go of the time you both sat on a bench in Trinity College and watched the cricket game as you talked about all the things to come.  You let go of the times you discussed your favourite film or book.  You let go of the trust you had for each other and the way you opened up about your fears, your dreams and your hopes.


The above sounds false don’t it? Nothing more than a trite attempt to describe my emotions. Maybe I am just a bad writer. What disturbs me is that maybe, just maybe, you have only one true love and maybe that true love is gone.  If that is the case, what are memories but pain? What is hope?  When do you let go? If this were a Hollywood romance the protagonist would let go in some hugely dramatic way, a way which would give us all a satisfying resolution.  Life isn’t like that. I let go looking out the window of a bus and realised there is no such thing as a satisfying resolution.


Things Left Unspoken

Recently, I have been watching an excellent four part documentary on Ireland entitled Muide Eire (We are Ireland).  The series concentrates on the representation of Ireland and the Irish in film and television. It is wide in scope, considering such topics as the stereotyping of the Irish as a bunch of God fearing drunks on the one hand to our relationship with the land. Nationalism, religion, land and drink are like footprints on the sand of the collective Irish memory in that they leave their traces. The scars of the nation’s colonised past run deep in the Irish psyche. The dark side of the psyche was under the spotlight in the episode entitled Smacht (Control) and it really hit a nerve. This episode was concerned with the relationship between screen and society and, at a personal level, it was difficult to watch.

Why? Because it dealt with the things left unspoken. These are the parts of history that skulk Grendel-like in the dark margins of historiography. It dealt with the ways in which Irish society treats women, children, the poor and the emigrant. It probed the way history has, at least until very recently, shied away from the uncomfortable truth. It highlighted the ways in which the words of equality and fairness that our founding fathers and mothers hoped we would bring to life at the moment we broke from empire have proved to be nothing more than ephemera.

 Through film and television these ephemeral words are confronted by the vision and viewpoint of the camera. The cold hard gaze penetrates, illuminates and commentates on the dark corners and the truth behind the lie. Films such as Song for a Raggy Boy, H-3 and Kings show the complexity of Irish life from our politics to our relationships. Abortion was covered by Margo Harkin in Hush-a-Bye Baby she stated that when she addressed the audience at the premiere in Dublin she said ‘We all know women who have had this experience’. She was met by silence. Kings shone a light on the emigrant experience and in particular the ‘navvies’ of London. Again, we were in the domain of the voiceless, the forgotten Irish. As one character said ‘we are no longer Irish, no longer Connemara men. We are something else, we are Paddies’.

There is no doubt that confronting the past is difficult. History writers often focus their eye on the movers and shakers of history and in the process forget the hoi polloi. Social history, and in turn the experience of the men and women at its core, is often seen as problematic. They often don’t conform to a countries narrative. Historians often ask: ‘Where are the sources? How can we say, with any degree of certainty, that the individual experienced what they claim to have experienced?’ My answer is: yes, there are difficulties but we must find a way to make sure these experiences are not forgotten. We have a duty to write and to show, both in a factual and fictional way, to make sure that we remember, no matter how distressing.

 And distressing it was. The reason I found it difficult to watch was because of the violence that was committed to children in our little republic. In particular there was a film called Our Boys about the way in which schoolboys were beaten in a school run by Christian Brothers. It was made in 1981 but such was the subject matter that it wasn’t shown till 1991. The director Cathal Black stated that he wished it was shown in it’s time as it had lost some of its impact when watched out of context. Again, things left unspoken. Dark corners left unilluminated due to fear that we would have to confront the darker sides of our nature.

Going to school in 1980s Ireland I had reason to see that darker side. I went to school after they had banned hitting children but it still occurred. Some teachers knew who to hit. They would pick on boys that had family problems or those whose parents didn’t have the words to complain to the school authorities. I remember when I was nine I saw a fully grown man drag one of my classmates across tables. Another time a teacher threw a twelve year old boy against a sink and his crime?  It was to look at a skin mag. I was never hit but what I remember most was the fear. For most of my primary education I was terrified of doing something wrong. I could never admit I was bad at maths because I was afraid I would be ridiculed. Thinking back now what I hated most was the way those in authority misused their power. Unfortunately, what I witnessed was all very minor stuff to what would be uncovered in 1990s Ireland. But watching that documentary made me realise all the little boys that were hurt under our watch. Perfidious Albion wasn’t to blame here. All the hurt of things left unspoken. The screen becomes a mirror reflecting the ambivalence of our society towards those that were the weakest let us hope that in these testing times we never forget the lessons of history.


Underneath the ghost light
The painted faces of forgotten players
Watch the empty seats.
 We learn our lines,
A facade of love,
 the grammar of the masters has only served to divide.
We touch for a moment,
 two understudies insecure in our roles.
Deep down we both know we will never shine.

Little Earthquakes

The next album on my review hitlist is a departure from my previous musing and it is Little Earthquakes by the one and only Tori Amos. Twenty years after its release it still remains a remarkably fresh sounding album and one that has had a far reaching influence. Without Amos would we have had the pure rage of Alanis Morrisette? Or the confident sexuality of Alison Goldfrapp? Or the creative force of Bat for Lashes? Maybe we would have, but Amos has certainly helped to shape many diverse artistes.  The first time I became aware of her was through her cover of Smells like Teen Spirit. It was a brave move to cover such an iconic and era defining tune. I am sure many a grunger thought ‘what the hell is this?’ But in many ways Amos was in tune with that movement as they both had a confessional side and they both challenged the conformity that was a hallmark of the late 1980s: a conformity that began to dissipate as both Amos and grunge exploded into the 1990s.

Looking back at the early 90s one can see that a strange surrealism had started to creep into the popular consciousness. David Lynch’s seminal Twin Peaks had arrived and dreamscape and actuality danced a mind-bending waltz into our existence. The walls of communism had begun to collapse and in the western world hope was the watchword. Grunge, melding the two, tapped into that rich seem offering hope to the dispossessed but it did so in surreal terms. Cobain spoke of ‘the mulatto, the albino, the mosquito and, (of course), the libido’. Chris Cornell screamed of searching for a place with his good eye closed and Vedder, knowing he was alive, asked ‘Do I deserve to be? And if so, who answers?’ It was amongst this background that Earthquakes was released and Amos would take the surreal, the serious, the comedic, the theological, the masculine and the feminine and make a beautifully layered piece of art.

Opening with Crucify she asks: why do we have to carry so much guilt and try to endlessly please those who are meant to love us? Her piano playing is a revelation but her vocals are astoundingly emotive. Her voice has the passion and rage needed to question and challenge the patriarchal system that, more often than not, places women in a secondary position. Girl expands on the theme where she states that she has ‘been everybody else’s girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own’. Serious lyrics backed by sumptuous strings and a mesmerising melody. Silent all these years looks at relationships and the ways in which the feminine is subsumed and voiceless.  Precious things is a stand out track, a staccato piano kick starts it into life, the drums drive it on, the use of the guitar is atmospheric and the lyrics are searing. Amos is on top form writing ‘because you can make me cum, that doesn’t make you Jesus’. As the percussive beating of the piano climbs she delivers one of her best lines about the girls who have taunted her with their ‘nine inch nails and little fascist panties tucked inside the heart of every nice girl’. In a word: masterful. Winter is just a beautiful song about her relationship with her father. Her father asks ‘when you going to make up your mind? When you gonna love you as much as I do?’ Happy Phantom, China, Leather, Mother and Tear in your Hand are all equally as important to the overall concept and themes of Earthquakes. The album ends with the song Little Earthquakes which is about the way in which the small things in life can rip us apart. But before that there was a truly harrowing song and one of the bravest and honest songs I think I have ever heard. Me and a Gun is an acapella song which details Amos’ experience of being raped. To be honest it would be an injustice to try to find words to describe it but I will say that I think it took a strong, brave and courageous woman to put into song what she experienced. If you have never heard it I urge you to listen to it when you can.  Amos would later co-found RAINN an organisation dedicated to help those affected by sexual violence and abuse.

So, there you have it Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. It is twenty years old and still a vital record to have in your collection. If you don’t have it then get out there and get it. It is a rollercoaster of a ride. Thanks Tori.