Back at the start of the summer. I spent the weekend in Gibson’s landing on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia; a knick knack tidy little town where one is never far from an art exhibition or a market selling jalapeno red pepper dip or a shop selling jokey hand towels; the kind of town where people go to follow their bliss and frequently catch up with it and even if they fail, a freshly baked muffin or a gluten free pie is always available as compensation.
Add to that, some magnificent views of the coastal mountains, Mount Big Thing and Mount Next Big Thing, and some good weather and you have a perfect place to relax, read and enjoy the sun, which I did, bringing with me a Rolling Stone, a New Yorker, the previous weekend’s Sunday New York Times (it takes me a week to read it) and Bruce Springsteen’s excellent autobiography (the Boss can write).
Both Rolling Stone and The New Yorker had articles on Steve Bannon. Matt Taibi’s piece in Rolling Stone was funny, caustic and concise; the New Yorker piece by Connie Bruck rambled on forever, generally adding to the picture I already had of Steve Bannon as a dangerous amoral individual. One quote got my attention, from an anonymous friend: “he never fit in the world of investment banking, – he was this gauche Irish kid”. Over in the New York Times, there’s a piece on Jimmy Fallon, turns out he’s Irish too: “I’m Irish, I need all the luck I can get”; apparently his stage mark is in the shape of a four leaf clover. I would like to point out that the shamrock which is used as a symbol of Ireland is actually a three leaf clover (it was used by early Christians to explain the concept of three gods in one, the Holy Trinity, those 5th century Irish peasants must have been a clever bunch, if they could grasp that one). Never mind, Jimmy Fallon is talented and likeable, so he can be Irish anytime he wants.
Back to the New Yorker where Calvin Trillin writes an article titled “The Irish Constellation” in which he explains that for a long time he thought the Orion Constellation was actually called “The O’Ryan Constellation”. He stretches this extremely lame joke way beyond the point where it is even remotely amusing. At the end of the article he describes being at a talk about The Orion Constellation in which an Irish man who, he says, has an accent like Barry Fitzgerald, gets up and makes a comment that reveals that he too is under the same misapprehension regarding The Orion Constellation. Laugh? I nearly cried. By the way, for those of you under the age of a hundred, who don’t know who Barry Fitzgerald was, he was an Irish character actor who won an Academy Award, for playing an Irish priest (no surprises there). He died in 1961, my mother thought Barry Fitzgerald was old.
My wife interrupts my reading to tell me that Sean Spicer is Irish American and likes to wear green shamrock covered pants on St. Patrick’s Day. This is more than irritating, the only consolation is the sun is out and I’m getting a bit of a tan. Yes, that’s right a tan, I mention that in case by now you are picturing me as some helium-voiced shillelagh swinging, freckled-faced mick. Maybe I’m being a bit sensitive.
I turn to Bruce, one of my heroes. As I said above, Bruce can write and when the subject is New Jersey, Asbury Park or his early life, he writes really well. It turns out Bruce is half Italian, half Irish: his mother is of Italian descent; his father is of Irish descent. His mother is hard working, positive and supportive; his father is miserable, disappointed, drinks too much and is prone to unpredictable rage. Later in life, his father becomes mentally ill. Bruce suggests that this mental illness and perhaps his own depression came over with his Irish ancestors who came to America to flee the famine. C’mon Bruce, throw us a bone, if you have to indulge in facile causation, perhaps you might concede that your gift for language and story-telling, your talent for writing laments (The River, Downbound Train) comes from your Irish heritage. This is all getting too much, I look up and down the beach and wonder if the other people hanging around enjoying the sun know that I’m Irish.
Then rescue comes from an unlikely source, an article in Rolling Stone about Chris Rock. Apparently Chris is a U2 fan. On the day of his father’s wake, he found time to run to the record store and buy a copy of “Rattle and Hum” which had been released that day. “I love Bono”, Rock is quoted as saying. Flash back to North Florida, early eighties and I’m driving along a coast road close to Amelia Island, sand from the adjacent dunes drifts across the road, the sea is doing that blue sparkling thing, I’m listening to “Sunday, Bloody, Sunday” on the radio, hearing it for the first time, and the hair at the back of my neck is standing on end. “How long must we sing this song”, the old politics is being rejected by an Irish band and they are playing my music – rock and roll – not some maudlin shite dispensed by some bearded guy with a banjo and a beer belly. You see back then if you asked anyone two things they associated with Ireland, they would say drinking and terrorism (terrorism that was partially funded, ironically, by Irish Americans). But Bono broke the Irish stereotype and for a while, at least, Ireland was cool. Ireland was where U2 and Bono lived. I have been a fan of Bono ever since.
So, all you republican ersatz Irishmen out there with your shillelaghs and your shamrocks and your antediluvian politics, look for a personality somewhere else, co-opt someone else’s imaginary identity; dress up as Mounties, wear lederhosen, I don’t care, just leave us alone. By the way, the current Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadker, is gay, fiscally conservative and the son of an Indian father and an Irish mother. In other words, he is a complex human being not a cartoon.