When we moved from New York to South Carolina, we drove down with a friend of ours. I had never been to the South before and it's certainly a culture shock in lots of ways. It's also beautiful, atmospheric, and very interesting. It's probably no accident that since the move, I've found myself drawn to a lot of the various “roots” musics of the United States, from jazz and blues to Appalachian folk and country. I'm not exactly about to record Rattle and Hum or anything, but this short instrumental (again on the Agile silverburst, in its other big moment on the album) shows the influence.
This is another song inspired by a newspaper story. It's not about Occupy Wall Street, inspiring as that is, but about an earlier phenomenon: the “ninety-niners,” a designation used for those whose unemployment benefits have run out. In the present economic crisis, there are a lot of people out there in that situation and there are not enough jobs for them. (“Why don't they just get a job?” Well, because there are more unemployed people than vacancies.) I am not the biggest fan of the New York Times as a source of news but one thing they do rather well at times is the human interest story. The feature they did about the ninety-niners was very affecting; one of the stories was about a middle-aged woman who had had a fairly good job once but who was now selling her furniture and driving off in search of work, not really knowing where she might find it, with nothing much but her cat and enough money for a few nights in motels. I don't think there's even any need to editorialize; a society in which this story happens over and over again is surely lacking in basic justice and decency.
This is the newest track on the album, an instrumental composed and recorded on the same day in spring 2012. I was feeling some kind of nostalgia, some kind of bittersweetness about distances of space and time, nothing I could quite put into words. That's when I just sit and plug in my guitar and wait for the feeling to come out in music. And it did. Most of the guitar work on this album is on my much-loved Danelectro U-2 (with a few Strat moments you'll probably be able to identify) but apart from a track of Nashville-tuned rhythm guitar, this one's all done on my silverburst Agile LP copy as I had it lying around; it's fun to play.
I'm a city person at heart-- I thrive on the energy you get in urban areas-- but from time to time, I dream about packing it all in and going off-grid to live in some kind of commune way out in the countryside, living in harmony with nature, away from the rat-race. The chorus catches me at my most optimistic, even if it's still qualified: “There's almost always some kind of choice.” I certainly don't think most people have a realistic prospect of dropping everything and going to live in some rural paradise. But I do think that there is often a bit more room for change in our lives than we see, especially when stress and pressure takes over. Maybe that change isn't that big, maybe it's just setting aside some creative time every week, but that's not nothing. The music was written on my Nashville-tuned guitar and the version you hear features a (virtual!) horn section.
I used to go to indie discos in the Eglinton Hotel when it housed a nightclub in the 1990s. The place later became a hostel for asylum-seekers, who live under a “direct provision” regime, stuck for years, often, before getting a decision on their cases. After I had moved away, I read a news feature in the Irish Times about the people living there and how hard life was for them there. Asylum-seekers in Ireland are not allowed to work and are given food and board (usually totally inadequate and unsuitable) and a cash allowance that is so small, there is little possibility to do ordinary things like take your kids to the cinema or buy them stuff they need for school. The residents of the Eglinton Hotel had been treated really badly and were afraid to complain because of their asylum cases. And all of this goes on right in the midst of where I grew up, and I don't think people really know or pay attention. It's that that got me thinking about the song. I think it is pretty risky, morally, for someone like me to take on the perspective of an African asylum-seeker in a song. The only reason I did so was that I had their first-person accounts from the newspaper story and the song more or less just reports some of the things they said in it. I guess I think of those lines of the song as simply being an invitation to look up that story and listen to the people who live there. Still, I sometimes consider deleting it from the album.
“We are where we are” has become one of the most nauseating political cliches of the Irish economic collapse; it was meant to discourage any questioning about the systemic failures that had brought it about. Blame, paying back your debts, all of that sort of thing was only for the small fry, those who didn't matter because they were not rich. You know who must be saved, indeed. It was awful to watch from afar and see that line work to the surprising degree it has done. I decided this would be the album title as well; it's kind of a striking phrase and of course it also has these other suggestions too, about really “being where you are” in the sense of trying to make the most of where you find yourself, which is personally quite resonant for me these days and a kind of theme running through the album in some ways.
This is a simple sketch of home-- Salthill, a seaside suburb of Galway city. I used to work in one of the grocery stores there and although I was not the most gregarious youngster, I enjoyed meeting all the characters that used to come in: there was a pink-jumpered Angela, and all the bingo ladies, and families like my own that shopped there from generation to generation. There were also a lot of gobshites like the one evoked in the second verse. I started the song around the time I left Ireland, hence the sentiment of knowing I had to go, but it took a while to finish and the passage of time has made it more of a nostalgic piece. The little noise at the end is me catching my mug of tea with the shaker I was just finished recording-- I liked how it rounded things off so I left it in.
When I lived in New York, obviously I spent a lot of time on the train and like most New Yorkers, I had a love-hate relationship with it. One striking thing about it is that you have this odd experience of being so close to lots of people, seeing what they are reading, overhearing their highly personal conversations (you wouldn't believe the stuff that people confide to their friends in front of whole subway cars), seeing them cry or sleep or eat, and yet being largely unable to connect with them. Sometimes it's okay to say something-- “hey, that's my favorite book”-- but usually there's an unspoken agreement that you'll pretend you don't see or hear them. So we look at the ads about hammer toe, Dr. Zizmor's amazing skin peels, and careers in parking instead. Subway preachers attempt to get people out of that, but it doesn't work; in this case, we know that no good can come from making eye contact.
This is the web home of my musical endeavo(u)rs. I'm a songwriter and recording artist from Galway, Ireland, now based in Cincinnati, Ohio following stints in New York and Charleston. I make DIY independent pop music and you can hear it here and in other places around the web for free. I'm also assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College. Here on the blog you will find music, pictures, news, occasional random thoughts, and some of my musical influences. If you've been listening and enjoying, do say hello and/or ask a question. For philosophy stuff, go here.