Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Horslips meets Irish academia

I gave two papers on Horslips and literature, that only overlapped about two sentences! (I have amassed about 12,000 words of notes so far out of which I had to hack out two 2,800 word, twenty-minute talks for entirely disparate academic audiences). The first was at the 21st Irish Conference of Medievalists at Mary Immaculate College, a teacher-training institution now under the aegis of the University of Limerick. It has the usual horrid 60's-70's-era concrete around a charming, Hogwartsian century-old Edwardian hall where I gave my paper. The trouble with any such presentation on a topic less familiar to an audience of Old Irish specialists is that half your allotted time you must spend on background, and I reasoned few out there would know much about the band and their two relevant concept LPs. But, I entertained and edified, I hope, and at the end a couple people asked me where they could buy Táin & BoI-- I directed them to the band's site.

One man recalled hearing Barry on Irish radio last year telling how they were treated (poorly) by a club owner aghast at their sound and look; another told me of his own teenaged love for the band, and started chanting the chorus to ""Charolais." I hope that my paper in Limerick roused up interest; the director of the conference told me she at MIC teaches the Táin and introduces it with some of the songs from the album.

At University College, Dublin, I gave the second paper to the International Conference for the Study of Irish Literatures, IASIL. This attracts hundreds each year from around the world to give papers, drink free wine (well considering the exorbitant reg fees, not exactly on the house) at book launches, and regale each other with obscure arcana from texts far-flung. While paper one pitched the band's use of medieval themes made relevant-- I argue while other critics tend to dismiss the band as a-political, that the band "back-dating" conflict into ancient times allows them and their audiences to participate as if the struggles then related to the tensions in the 70s-- the Dublin talk featured the band's pioneering grassroots attempts to make the material fresh and iconoclastic. While the original paper sought to concentrate on the band's resurrection via CBH and how that site uses user-generated content and social networks to spread the influence of Horslips across the diaspora in virtual space and real time, the fact that my 14-year-old son sabotaged my iPod's files (now I get a message that they are corrupted or unreadable-- if anyone can solve this version of doomsday, I beg your intervention) the day I was leaving for Ireland made the paper less hi-tech.

Instead, the discovery in the publication in Sean Manning's new book (Da Capo, 2007) "The Concert I'll Never Forget: 50 Writers Relive Their Most Memorable Gigs," of Paul Muldoon's essay purportedly on one (he does not remember which of the three dates although his essay is dated April 1980) of the final Whitla Hall Belfast Gigs shifted my paper into a direction that I figured would play to the lit-crit crowd better within the limits of my time frame. I did use basic tech after all, but had little time to set-up even a Net hookup, as I do not believe in Power Point on stodgy principle anymore than I never liked overhead projectors...yet the band's own site with the album covers (which are kinda dinky, and where's the interior shots of inner sleeves I thought were there for such as HTMSTP?) failed to do justice to their contents. I also showed the home page for CBH and explained its features.

Of course, as Miss T. guided me, I re-read (after ten years) the whole of "Dead School" (reviews on Amazon and my blog at fionnchu.blogspot.com dutifully followed). I link the three mentions of Horslips to the co-protagonist Malachy's own rise and fall from countercultural rebels to old fogies disdained by punks (well, back then I was the exception to that rule!) within the arc of the 70s and the changes in Irish culture. Using McCabe & Muldoon as well as Gerry Smyth's critiques of the band in his books "Beautiful Day" & "Noisy Island," I then briefly surveyed the DVD, the exhibition, and the CBH & HorsLit sites before wrapping it all up with how the Belfast Gigs LP neatly summed up the band's trajectory. Muldoon perversely stops his essay at the moment the band took the stage, so he actually never tells of the "gig that he never forgot" explicitly!

I do not wish to name-drop, but scholarship served, I must tell of Cheryl Herr's own work that used Horslips in her keynote lecture that closed the conference wonderfully. A renowned Joycean at the University of Iowa, she had listened to my paper and asked a question for myself and the previous presenter (graduate student at UCD Barry Shanahan gave a great paper on a 2004 story, "Home to Harlem," published in Metro Ireland in Dublin and in McSweeney's in the US, which Roddy Doyle wrote about Declan, half black, half Irish, in New York City's hip-hop scene) how we, removed directly from the respective milieux we critiqued (in my case as an American Irish examining Ireland, in his as an Irishman analyzing America), could speak as outsiders authoritatively about the somewhat "foreign" contexts we were studying. A great question, but time prevented me from responding after Barry. I guess I'd say along with the Rabbi Hillel, if not me, who, if not now, when?

Professor Herr, whose influential critical analysis published about fifteen years ago on the music-hall, melodrama, popular culture, and sermons underlying "Ulysses" was a study so engrossing I wound up xeroxing it all when I only needed, I thought, one chapter years ago in my research, gave a talk, "Stories for Boys," that examines how rock-n-roll works within post-WW2 Britain & Ireland to liberate adolescents. I believe a book is forthcoming.

She told of McCartney & Lennon stringing up wires to hear Radio Luxembourg, of this same station's allure in other films and books fictional & factual, of the amazing to me incident that critic Nik Cohn grew up in of all places as a secular Jew in Derry and heard Elvis for the first time when he ventured outside the Protestant enclave (where such wordly influences were proscribed) to hear the King played in the Catholic ghetto, and of the tendency for boys of a certain age to stay in their bedrooms, often in their skivvies (like John L.) to hear the rapturous sounds extracted from the static half a Continent away.

Best of all were film clips. One from a movie by Martin Duffy (British from a few years ago?) "The Boy From Mercury," contrasting the older brother's Quarryman-type quiff with the younger lad's SF obsession as music marks the gap between the two youths; "All Things Bright & Beautiful," Barry Devlin's 1984 BBC film that seemed rather autobiographical, if not the part I presume about "Barry O'Neill" having a spurious Marian vision (I won't spoil the results), also fixated on the power of radio changing the ten-year old (born Professor Herr charts around the same time as Mr Devlin, circa 1944) as he too hears a certain station; and tellingly, as she argues, the Mork-like I don't wanna grow up robotic nu-wave contortions of jerky marionette mime Bono, backed by Adam in a lime-green neon top and the Edge with a haystack rivalling Ian McCulloch's on a 1980 "Late Late Show" appearance that after a while she turned off with a wry "I think we've had enough."

(Cross-posted, mostly, on CBH & HorsLit for maximum reproduction!)
(Image from Slipkid's site with other self-designed album sleeves for downloaded gigs, with some of Horslips both vintage and fresh from radio/TV shows in 70s and 2006. Too bad the albums themselves cannot be downloaded as the wife prevents such forays by me. http://www.webserves.com/slipkid/cdartwork.html )

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