5.0 out of 5 stars The Amazing World of Liam McEneaney
Amazing Initial Journey
By Bill Sweeney
Amazon Review/Kindle Edition
“Moby-Dick” is a book about a whale. “Leatherback” is a book about a turtle.
While it might seem preposterous to mention together perhaps the greatest
achievement in modern literature and a digital debut on Amazon’s Kindle store, it
does make a fathom of sense. Herman Melville’s seagoing mammal questions our place in the universe. Mi Wae
uses the unblinking eye of an oceanic reptile to look for signs of
life on the shores of Wales, the streets of London and avenues beyond.
Ishmael would be proud.
In her first time out, Mi Wae proves a poet of prose, twisting and
turning, dazzling and
dizzying, diving, breaching.
There’s that sense of “Wow,” and “How does she do that?”
And then “Leatherback” sails effortlessly through our
That is Mi Wae’s gift. “Leatherback” lives.
Living, striving, yearning, caring, digging into the waves, feeling
their thunder, chasing the light, the glow that creates us, nurtures us, fails us. Crushed by the crowd, solemnly alone, “Leatherback” lives.
This was our next-to-penultimate trip to Ireland, No. 4 of six. The next two would be one. The first would establish an Irish residency. On the second, we would be married.
Our journeys had taken us all around the Teddy Bear Isle, from its eastern back of Dirty Auld Dublin to the belly of its Wonderful West with Clare and its daunting Cliffs of Mohr. Like many Irish, it had a troubled head, but one worth examining. Somewhere near the rear was Cork, where our families had exited not so many years yore.
We had avoided the feet, for at its toes lay the Ring of Kerry, seemingly the only part of the Bear mentioned in the States. It was for “whiteheads,” ancient Hibernians of American descent. That was our perception and it proved prescient. Buses crowded the narrow roads and their thin grey lines stormed the shores. Marching bands were sure to follow. We drove on. Our she did. She liked the left side. The road was hers. She was mine.
The Dingle Peninsula is usually packaged with the Ring of Kerry, but lacking that fanciful name and stuck with a quizzical one the former is often overlooked. Thank you, St. Patrick.
There is a coastal course that takes one high above the Atlantic and into ancient “beehive” settlements. Below are waves crashing upon the cliffs, and yes, those are surfers far below.
It’s striking feature is the area known Dingle Beach, mentioned in Mary Black’s modern Celtic anthem “A Song for Ireland” and featured in the tragic romance “Ryan’s Daughter.” There is no finer shifting, glowing, drifting place upon any shore.
The town is upon it busy one with shipping and fishing appearing to outweigh tourism. The narrow lanes are lined with lovely painted doors and this twilight place makes the colors dance.
Night comes knocking and the feet follow. There seems to be only one bar. It is huge. It is packed with paddies. The only open table is right in front of the “band,” which consists of two scruffy suspects. There is no public address system. Unlike Dylan, Ireland has not gone electric.
We occupy this small slab and our evening’s entertainment is across it.
Their buffer is our home.
Across this span is the duo. Upon closer look, the fiddle player is not so disheveled. He is almost neat. His partner, now playing a button accordion, is another matter, all drooping matted hair and endless grisly beard. He is quite the mess but something lurks beneath, What there is of his face is buried in the instrument, one is he playing remarkably well. It is apparent these two have switched roles. The fiddle player, usually featured in any setting, is the rhythm, the accompanist. The star is our man of the squeezebox.
Still, the accordion is a novelty. My eyes went down to his feet for there was encased a banjo.
This primitive instrument is thought of as the Yankees’ doodle but it of course it is older than the New World. The five-string version is pure Americana and mostly Earl Scruggs. The fifth string supplies a drone of self accompaniment, the right thumb providing freedom for the fingers. It is the choice of virtuosos and its self-appointed messiah is Bela Fleck.
Ireland does not do five strings. It has humble gods.
One was sitting across from me. He took the four from its case and went at it with a small pick held guitar style. Every note is plucked. It is more like a mandolin but chords are never played. It is all melodies, runs and mesmerizing improvisation.
Again, with this particular pairing, the fiddle is only in the background, never featured. It serves only to support our star as the path is established and the journey begins.
No matter the genre, all musical explorations follow the same map. The road is the destination.
Our man establishes theme, drawing it out, flourishing each note. This is our song, remember it well, you might not hear it again.
Yet it is always there. Each turn recalls it, builds upon it. Goes in and out around it. He is picking up speed, bouncing to the beat. So am I.
At this tiny table, we are so close our knees are almost touching. I am already rocking in my seat but now I realize it and go with it. I am careful not to stamp my feet or clap my hands. I do want to be part of the music yet I am in it, every thrilling run, twist and turn, I am right there. And he knows it.
Years earlier, I had seen banjo great Barney McKenna of the Dubliners. My rock and bluegrass heroes are many and thankfully I had witnessed many such flights. But the master who came to mind this night was familiar only from recordings. John Coltrane could make you wonder why you ended up in Montauk when headed for Levittown. He took you places. And so did the Four-string King of County Kerry.
When the end voyage was over, the banjo man leaned over. He looked mad. He always looked mad. He motioned for me to step closer. I had to lean and turn an ear. I was getting good with accents. He was talking, and it was about me.
You, yourself, he asked, do you play?
Uh, not really.
What do you mean, not really. Do you play?
I used to play bass.
Ah, bass is the one for you, all right. You don’t play now?
No, not for a long time. I work nights, weekends.
Forget all that. You have to play. You have it. You have it fierce. I know. You have it.
I gulped and shuddered. I told him it was a great honor to hear that from one so accomplished. He did not disagree.
We looked around. Many had become four. The two of us said goodbye and hit the street.
What did he say to you?
He said I should play bass.
We would return to Ireland for the residency and the ceremony. A reception was scheduled for back home. I would play. Friends were performing. I took a quick lesson from the lead guitarist and borrowed a bass from his band.
The thing to remember, he said, is keep playing no matter what. Nobody cares what the bass plays but they know when it’s not there. Keep thumping.
The reception came. I sat in. It was messy, but nobody noticed.
I didn’t know you were going to play, she said. That was great.
Maybe it was; maybe it wasn’t. Either way, I’m still thumping.
And I owe it to the Man in Dingle.
PS: I meant to get this out in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and then again on our anniversary. But the March presents a forgiving calendar, one that allows me to say Happy Birthday, Mary Jo!
Television was the first band to play CBGB. That fact was not lost on the Rough Trade music venue when opening night was scheduled.
It was also not lost on me. I had to be there. I would be there. Maybe I would be there.
Spoiled by easy access to internet scalping, decisions were put off. Stay or go. Friday or Saturday. There’s only one opener but the second night somehow seemed more alluring.
Then, apparent disaster. Stubhub had zero tickets. On Craig’s List, there were reports of counterfeits. Some were explaining that due to a will-call policy, reselling was almost impossible. Others claimed to have tickets in hand. It was time to sweat. What was the actual scenario? The answer was in Williamsburg, a subway stop away.
Rough Trade is a hole in the wall of huge warehouse almost on the East River. The interior is impressive, at least at first. There’s a huge room, all corrugated walls and distant ceilings. Lovely, shiny LP covers fill this space.
Then the realization.This is it. This is the successor to Tower Records. One room, a few bins. It might indeed be the biggest record store in New York in terms of empty space, and it certainly is the place to get your Black Friday Record Store Day Lana Del Ray picture disc, but for music, try the rest of Williamsburg, or the East Village, or the West Village. Or just get down to J&R. They really have it all. Oh yeah.
A line had started to form within this steely structure. People were waiting to get in. A quick poll of the future attendees produced an explanation. Both camps were right. Some would have to go to will call but many already had ducats. Where there tickets, there would be sellers. I was as good as in.
There was time to kill. A river to gaze upon. A shirt to stain with pizza.
Back at the shop things were happening. Suddenly tickets “held at the box office” were available. There would be no bargaining, no schemes. I was in at list price.
I had never seen Television, a group that some – or maybe just me – called the punk Allman Brothers for its twin lead guitar attack. The closet calls were an almost forgotten solo show by now former member Richard Lloyd and a somewhat recent appearance by Tom Verlaine as a member of Patti Smith’s band. She was opening for Bob Dylan. Bob was off; she was on. Verlaine’s vibrato was a thrill
The Rough Trade venue is nice but small. It did not seem majestic enough. Soon they wandered out on stage. And meandered. Verlaine’s guitar cable was tangled. He enlisted a patron to sort it out and then fiddled with his Vox combo. New guitarist Jimmy Rip had the same amp. The stage seemed sparse.
Eventually the cable was straightened out and Verlaine led them into the arms of Venus de Milo. All was right. I remembered the Bangles doing this as an encore of yore. Yet it seemed a lack presence. You could hear but not feel it. The place was packed and the amps small. Fred Smith played his Precision with a pick; drummer Billy Ficca appeared overly polite. But they gained momentums and swung through the familiar – “Prove It,” “I See No Evil” – and kept the bar busy through the rest.
Finally, “Marquee Moon” rose on the horizon. Verlaine mesmerized, Rip harmonized. This was indeed a Television show.
Forty years later, they had christened another another club. I am a witness.
Gene Clark was definitely “The Byrd Who Flew Alone,” as the compelling new DVD that unravels his complex story is titled.
He was also the one who flew under the radar, which is why I surprised to see the disc on a shelf at Other Music in the East Village. I knew of its existence but figured like most things that surrounded the Tambourine Man, it would be hiding out in some corner of the Internet as it drifted into the lore of the band and its mysterious songwriter.
Yet there it was and thus it went, quickly hopping into the dusty player I barely remembered how to operate. But I got it spinning and made the proper selection and well … for anybody interested in American rock ‘n roll, and particularly in its first and greatest exponent, this disc is a heartbreaking must.
From the first rare glimpse of animated Clark leading his mates through an early non-lip synched version of “Feel A Whole Lot Better” to his drawn out doom, this DVD portrays the life a true artist like No Other.
Few sources are left unturned. David Crosby is almost rational … almost. Roger McGuinn is practically emotional. Chris Hillman, who shared Clark’s country boy roots, provides the most insight among his former feathered friends but sources – brother, sister, wife, sons, bandmates, producers – all combine to try to explain the seeds of his genius, the mysteries of his life and the designs of his demons. And there are a surprising number of performances, starting with a jaw dropping look at him as an inspirational New Christy Minstrel.
I saw Gene Clark twice, the first time when he was a member of McGuinn, Clark and Hillman. Their record company enforced pseudo-disco approach did not showcase Gene or do much for me.
The second time I saw Clark he was the leader of the loosely titled “Twentieth Anniversary Tribute to the Byrds.” Those days are detailed by John York, a member of the that amalgamation and a Byrds bassist for two albums and longtime Clark collaborator. My recollection of the show at the Lone Star was that Gene looked like a worn out farmer and had the presence of prophet. To see him launch into “Eight Miles High” at five feet away was transcendent.
Like all decent American lads, the Byrds were a part of my musical upbringing. At 12, I was playing the bass intro of “Mr. Tambourine Man” with my fellow Ravens. By senior year of high school I was in a Byrds-themed band that twice played before over a thousand people. Two members of that group are my bandmates today, the keyboardist then is our producer now and the drummer from that high school group has provided percussion on one of our recordings.
It was a Gene Clark fan club contest that led me back to playing. I had not touched the bass in at least 20 years but I thought we could put a group together and enter. I even took lessons. Unofficially, we “won.” The Gene Clark covers we did were impressive enough to be played on the radio and get us hooked up with a real record company. We have recorded a Byrds song for them previously but we are now working on a Gene Clark classic. It’s been a while but we Don’t Care About Time.