Roddy Doyle is my stalker…

Roddy Doyle is my stalker. Or at least at a certain point frequent path crossings convinced me of this status. Clearly, this recognition works two ways but for a period Roddy Doyle was everywhere. Near me in ques, in cafes, on public transport and at concerts. At times  it seemed there was certainly more than one Roddy. Not quite omnipresent, Roddy moved around Dublin and the midlands at pace ensuring a fairly persistent presence. When does he write books I wondered?

Vaguely chuffed at first noticing Roddy at a belting performance by The Return of British Sea Power in the midlands, I nudged my companion. Agreeing that Roddy was gathering material for a novel, we also hoped he recognised the strengths of British Sea Power from an early stage in their development. This, in the book of any half discerning indie music lover, is enough to earn the schreibmaster significant kudos. At the time, Sea Power were predicted to rise to heights now occupied by the likes of magnolia music makers, Elbow and chief churners of bland, Coldplay. Unfortunately, The Return of British Sea Power are continually eclipsed by easy sales, and as far as I am aware Roddy Doyle has yet to mention them in any of his novels. At this stage they could probably do with the boost Roddy!

Penning novels seemed to have been shelved at that stage however, as Roddy was seen shortly afterwards rocking out to the repertoire of the cult classic band Mercury Rev at Vicar Street. His penchant for indie rock was becoming increasingly apparent. Sporting spectacles only a novelist of substance can get away with, Roddy seemed to know his music prompting a mental note to read  his anticipated next novel on the music scene. Mental notes are sometimes interrupted at gigs by music and the outbursts of  other revellers. Both factors turned my attention to the hazy lights, the rock star profiles of a band putting their all into  Darkness Rising, and the torrent of beer the nearest hispter saw fit to pour down my jeaned leg. Lucky Roddy escaped this!

There was no escaping Roddy though! Twinges of suspicion began to grow when I saw Roddy on a bus in Dublin less than a week later. Coincidence is strong however, and Ireland is tiny so shoving twinges aside, I assigned the crossing of our paths to serendipity. The fact that he was sitting across from me on the Luas less than a week later was simply uncanny. However, when we both alighted at the National Museum I realised that Dublin’s matrix was closing in on me. Being Irish, I expected to find out any day that Roddy Doyle was in fact the third cousin of my neighbour’s wife. This didn’t happen. But what happened next confirmed my suspicions that Roddy Doyle was neglecting his writing to rush around in my path.

Settling into a cafe in the Italian quarter in Dublin,  I set up my notebook to do a bit of typing. Being in a tiny cafe where Italian waiters encourage you to indulge in little chocolate luxuries and relishing a cappuccino, I felt pretty relaxed. Relaxed enough to ask the woman on the bench next to me to watch my belongings while I used the ladies. “No problem”, she said, “I am just waiting for a friend” and that has since become one of the most ominous sentences ever uttered. “I am just waiting for a friend”. The  explanation was needless and, yet, when I returned it made sense. Sitting across from her was her friend and, of course, it was Roddy Doyle. Who else could her friend possibly have been? At this point Roddy Doyle was not just recognising me but clearly  jokes I made to  friends about our frequent meetings were becoming reality. Roddy Doyle was my stalker.

Realisations have consequences and this one snowballed quickly. Becoming preoccupied with the perceived  fact of having a stalker, I began to revel in it. I gobbled up Doyle’s novels. Revisiting Paula who walked into doors was excruciating and following the movements of Henry back and forth through war torn Ireland into the under worlds of Dublin was thrilling. However, getting to know Jimmy  Rabbit again was easily the most enjoyable revisitation. Jimmy Rabbit, the protagonist of Doyle’s early novel The Commitments, is a dreamer seeking to over come the obstacles working class Dublin puts between him, soul music and managing a motley crew of musicians and fractured individuals into global stardom.

Regularly imagining interviews with Terry Wogan during which he modestly bats Terry’s praise of his imagined success aside, Jimmy’s wanderings act as a literary device filling the reader in on the future possible directions of the plot. Jimmy loves music, champions popular culture as politicised action and dreams of bringing a white soul band to the heady heights of Stacks and Motown. Aspirational this may seem but for one single beautiful moment, stardom is almost possible. Jimmy’s band misses success by the grace or gracelessness of  accident. His imagined interviews come to nothing and we are left witnessing Rabbit’s gracious acceptance of chance and what never came to be.

The grace of acceptance  Rabbit demonstrates is admirable. However, such grace can only work when followed by the enthusiasm to tackle aspirations from another angle all over again. Recently, when bombing down the M7 towards Limerick, the shock of seeing giant white star fish suspended and turning  above a valley jolted me out of  a day dream. Drawing closer to the wind turbines, my internal conversation with Tom Dunne, radio talk show host and former lead singer of the 90s band Something Happens, in which we were discussing my blogging joy ended. Conversations with Tom Dunne? Giant suspended star fish in the midlands? Clearly I have turned into the female version of Jimmy Rabbit. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is certainly not a good thing.  Admittedly, internal conversations with Tom Dunne in the car are  less embarrassing than interviews in the bath with an imaginary Terry Wogan, but they won’t  improve my writing. Work might help, but better still some tips from a former stalker would certainly be of much greater benefit. Roddy, where are you now? Your shadowing is required and there could be a couple of mixed tapes in it for you.

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On being a nationalist #ntl

Being a nationalist in the 21st century is hardly voguish. After all nationalism implies hefty loyalty to a particular cause. It also requires a willingness to participate in events and media binding you to concepts of nation and nationality. More importantly it necessitates a profound and continuing sense of togetherness. In an age when the transience of our focus shifts from tweet to post with IMG_20140716_212508hitherto unexperienced speed, adhering to the specifics of nationalism is difficult, if not impossible. Impossible that is unless you have discovered Indie Rock band The National.  One night in a hot tent with a few thousand others in the west of Ireland in mid July listening to The National and you will be hooked. One night with The National and being a nationalist will become your new and, perhaps, your sole preoccupation. One night with The National and your love of popular culture’s mob tendencies, minus the ugliness, will be renewed.

Inflated and exaggerated these claims may seem, but having witnessed The National bring their audience on a “blood buzz” last week at the Galway Arts Festival, I am convinced of their merit  now more than ever. If this has happened to you in Galway or elsewhere then it has probably become  impossible toIMG_20140716_234430 avoid embracing nationalism. You will find yourself scrolling their Instagram posts, liking them on Facebook, waiting for notifications on Twitter and seeking out possibilities to hear them play once more. You will connect with other fans and seek out reasons to discuss the band’s  gradual yet stunning rise from the sparsity of their early albums to the beautiful craft of  Boxer and Alligator, and later to the heartbreaking layers of High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me. You can probably find little else to think about other than stunning honesty of Mr November or that suspended moment when The National yielded their acoustic offerings of Vanderlyle, Cry Baby, Cry to the audience. This is the kind of focus that makes you a new nationalist. And no, it doesn’t matter that you have already seen them play twice this year because The National provoke that kind of dedication in their fans.

But what is it about The National that prompts people to follow a band  that  in many ways are subtle, discreet and underwhelming? Perhaps it is the very honesty of their subtlety that appeals to their fans. Being a fan of The National allows you to join with others in melodic mappings of failure’s heartbreak, the vulnerability of human weakness, terrible loss and the fear of joy’s abrupt truncation. Matt Berninger and the other members touch these tender human traces  making their fan their peer and not their idoliser. The National pull the threads of pain and exhilaration out of all of us to form a binding togetherness that can only be described as being a nationalist. The loose binding of a hashtag #ntl goes deeper when you are a nationalist. Am I a fan? Just a little…

Insect Hotels, Force, Bruno Latour and our Power to Contribute.

Insect hotels occur in inordinate numbers in Switzerland. Rustic structures resembling a
insecthotelcabin, they provide gathering or swarming space for insects. Odd constructions, made even more odd by stumbling across them in the dark of a Swiss night, insect hotels are relics to the contributions individuals  and small groups make to our domain. But what is so special about insect hotels in Switzerland? Building quirky homes for spiders in a country that is hardly short on space or scenic landing spots for insects is testament to our capacity  to consider the vulnerable and what largely goes unnoticed. Little spots of industry, insect hotels are places where force gathers to percolate wisps of power outwards. Feeble it may seem, but that gathering of force in spots of energy builds, allowing us to reach out and around us enabling impacting connections. Spots of force that is enable us to make a difference.

Emblematic of a gathering power, these oh so dangerous in the night structures, and the wisping power insect hotels initiate, parallel “vibrations” of  domesticated power and undomesticated force. Bruno ConnectionsLatour discussed a similar type of “vibration” at the Digital Humanities conference in Lausanne, Switzerland recently. Referring to “double-click formations” we build online, Latour emphasised the significance of interconnections, and the gathering nodes of knowledge we form through online interactions. Building connections through technology, through our reading, through our activities we create “vibrations” across and between both knowledge and each other.

We capture and contribute to those ever-growing “vibrations” to create distinct nodes of   knowledge. Minor wisping contributions become knots of knowledge and nodes of power and, sometimes, those gathering nodes are enough to stop us in our tracks. Stumbling through the unmapped terrain of our new connections, these knots are the very launch pads from which we can contribute to our domains. Being open to building knots is the first step individuals and small groups must take in being brave enough to build and test their potential. Brave interactors have a lot in common with the builders of insect hotel and respect goes to their constructors everywhere!

*force – see Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus

“I guess we’ll just have to adjust”: Arcade Fire and why we need to be bored by The Pixies.

Pristine skies are something of a rarity in Dublin. June 29th however, was one of those welcome occasions when the weather yielded to neither cloud nor night cool. Ham Sandwich, enthused by the showing in of their idols, were adorable. The sun shone. When night came Arcade Fire filled it with light and sound. Guitars screamed. Voices soared and crowds echoed lyrics excitedly. Indeed, on June 29th we were all excited. Well, almost all of us. The Pixies bored and looked bored with only  hard-core Pixie fans staying attentive throughout.

Their flawless but sultry performance suffered from a certain rheumatic aura. Hit followed hit. image-fcfe85c8173d2129325b2cc35bd0dac69aa6f6971a7bd3e966226e9d7effc87e-V-1The crowd, populated mainly, but not solely by those of a certain age, swarmed stage ward after Ham Sandwich to be met with trophy number after trophy number. “Hey” and “Where is my mind?” had us on our feet  yearning to name our own consciousness while turning from tones of milky Irish to freckly red. In between the crowd lost interest and The Pixies didn’t seem to care. Younger crowd members, there to see Ham Sandwich and Arcade Fire, were given a lesson in rock’s cool detachment. What else might you want? Engagement with the crowd? Maybe. Deviation from a jaded performance that has clearly been repeated countless times? Certainly!

The Pixies have a scant reputation in terms of  crowd interaction. They bang out song after song regardless of those listening. This is their style. Knowing that however, does little to prevent the onset of disinterest. Cooing to “Caribou” is one thing but swaying jauntily to “Here Comes Your Man” when even Frank Black has openly expressed boredom is another. Watching one of the most impacting bands of the late twentieth century churn out anthem renditions of their most influential music is a little grinding.

Still, close your eyes and you can hear their influence echo down through the past thirty years. From Nirvana and The Libertines across the spectrum to Arcade Fire where indie meets rock, bands pull their roots from The Pixies’ exploration of punk, psychedelic rock, surrealism and old fashioned rock and roll. For this reason alone,The Pixies should never stop touring.

Boring to watch they may be, but we need The Pixies. Metarock, gigs where music is mediated by our mobiles, has spoiled us. We want bands that look good in pictures and cool as hashtags. The Pixie’s exposure to crowds whose attention is split between the event, social media and the music makes their performance seem something of an historical exhibition piece. In light of movement away from pared down rock towards roller coaster concerts dishing up explorations of light and sound, modest displays where music speaks for itself are necessary. They remind us what raw brilliance sounds like by itself.

These occasions, pristine but boring are likely to become much less frequent in the future. Unlike Arcade Fire, we will Mileyandthepopenever witness The Pixies donning a Bono or  Pope head to rip up a picture of Miley Cyrus with the crowd accompanying a flat screen  Sinead O Connor singing “Nothing Compares to you”. The Pixies will never blast the stage in white light and release confetti in a million pieces into the night. The Pixies, in this respect, are a much greener band than Arcade Fire.  However,  metarock is here to stay and The Pixies have not gone away. Not yet anyway.

We now occupy an odd space where we can still remember gigs without all the tricks of  theunnamed contemporary festival. But we expect more. As crowds we expect light, sound, confetti and to be teased by both band and music. Standing between us and the band, our phones act as an immediate channel to the wonderful world of social media. Delights Arcade Fire and their ilk deliver are expected when parting with hefty admission prices. Nonetheless, The Pixies’ influence will last long after Arcade Fire’s capacity to draw huge crowds has diminished. We need The Pixies to bore us so that we know the raw enjoyment of rock before it disappears altogether. And when The Pixies are gone?  Then ” I guess we’ll just have to adjust!”

 

You know when you’ve been tangoed…

Emerging from the basement of the Globe bar on George’s street earlier, the evening settled powdered and blue across Dublin’s sky. Silken dusk scarves pulling themselves across the city for the night brought a certain peace to the moment. Half turning back to say goodbye, I moved off the kerb. This, I knew, was going to be awkward. The people in whose company I had just spent the last two hours were also finding the moment a little strained. My shuffling certainly didn’t help.

A strange sight you might think. A group of acquaintances saying goodbye with one looking upwards as though utterly entranced while twitching away from them down the street. Having witnessed the occurrences of our last dance class however, they knew it wasn’t strange at all. Rather it was required to alleviate all of our embarrassment. Sky focusing helped avoid their eyes. It was goodbye and we all knew it was for the last time. I wouldn’t be back. Both brief and tumultuous, my flirtation with tango has definitely come to an end. It was enjoyable at times but for once, I can safely say this relationship is over.

Tango requires poise, rhythm and a certain confidence. Most of all however, tango requires that your have two feet at the end of your legs unrestricted by dyspraxia. Your feet that is should understand simple instructions like leave the weight on your right foot and swivel, and swivel until the lead urges you to swivel in the opposite direction. That, apparently, is all it takes to perform a backwards ocho in Tango.

Trust your weight on your feet and turn on the ball of your foot. Look poised.  Now, pull your breath from your stomach. Lean in towards your leader. Push against him. Only move when urged to do so and read his movements. His movements, a body map, let you move through space together. Keep your legs loose. Move from your hips. Lean in. Not out. Lean in. Strike a spatial equilibrium between you keeping your embrace rounded and firm. Hold your hands in the centre. Relax. Forget that both of your palms are sweating profusely. Swivel. Extend your leg backwards. Keep your weight on the other foot. Turn, extend, move, swing, straighten up, breathe, listen to the music, so on and so on.  Poise, rhythm, a physicist’s capacity to interpret space and turn it into action are all the skills required to perform the basic moves of tango. Their absence however, brings embarrassment, extremely sweaty palms and the awkward collision of bodies. That simply isn’t tango!

Failing to dance opens up lots of possibility however, and not dancing tango in Dublin is just as interesting as dancing tango in Dublin. Just beware of the risk to your pride. Saving face is certainly important to the established dancers of whom there are many but they actually can dance. However, throwing all pride aside lets interlopers like myself become briefly privy to the politics of a well networked niche that has had people dancing across Dublin’s basements, bars and society’s for the past 20 to 30 years. Fleeting but fascinating that insight has now come to an end. And it is all a little disappointing. Rather than being an inability to accept that I will never really tango across a wooden floor in Buenos Aires, the disappointment towards my dyspraxic feet is more to do with the ending of this look into and at tango fanatics.

Lessons and melongas (social meets) in the Globe are just a small suggestion of the movements and interactions of Dublin’s dancers. Indeed, the capital’s tango fanatics meet five nights a week in places like the basement of the Globe, the Turk’s head, Wynn’s and the Pillar Room. The Pillar Room, a secret room tucked away behind the Rotunda Hospital on Parnell square, draws a “classy crowd”. This information, passed in whispers and with the confirmed confidentiality of a hand squeeze, suggests layers of hierarchy and a thinly veiled snobbery at work. Being poised and classy, it seems, is of central importance. The regulation and control demonstrated on the dance floor stretches across this network. This, after all, is tango, not rock and roll. The push and pull of resistance dominates this dance rather than what looks like the suggestion of tantalizing moves and sensuous chemistry that could explode at an given moment. It is a dance of control.

Knowing this of course does very little to quell the mortification of your patient leader moving you to the right with yet another ‘okay we can start again’. Tango bliss, a state far beyond any existential knowledge of our being, is further away than ever. Indeed, my encounter with tango has drawn out an inner child tripping around in her mother’s stilettos. It is back to rock and roll for me. It may be a short cut to a point outside ourselves but the slide of rock guitars and the safety of dancing boots are easier to trust. Sophistication and control may induce bliss but this woman knows when she’s been tangoed…