Irish Music

St.Patty’s Day has passed, thankfully. In America, most of the populace is content to get inebriated on whiskey and green beer and sing one “Irish” song (written by the American Shel Silversteen)—“The Unicorn.” Sad.

Frankly, this is rather disgusting to me. It is like saying “Leave It To Beaver” is the pinnacle of American cinema. In one feel swoop, generations of Irish music and song are hurled to the ground without being listened to or evaluated. The great traditions of Irish and Scottish music are totally ignored on St. Patty’s Day. I should not be surprised. As shallow as American culture has become, just to get a Wheee hoo! from some bar drunks is almost more than one can expect. If they get to do their thing with “The Unicorn”, then all is well. I guess. To say that The USA does not march in lock step to the traditions of Irish music is an all too obvious statement. Few would realize that Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” is a direct tribute to the tradition of Irish song. Still, Ireland and its history of song has no place in the American consciousness raised on rock and Motown. Not that I have any axe to grind about either genre—it is just that those forms make Irish traditional music seem like even more distant cousins than they are.

Just as modern “country music” has almost nothing to do with the traditions of country music, “The Unicorn” has even less to do with the traditions of Irish music than the latest hits from Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift have to do with real country music. Its not that any of it is “bad”, it is just that these new songs do not carry on any tradition in terms of story, sound, arrangement or style. To most casual listeners that do not care at all about style or tradition, none of this matters in the slightest. To me, it is like a Christian walking into the Church and declaring that Jesus and all he taught doesn’t matter.

Well, why should Irish music matter in Detroit, of all places? Good question. To start with, Motown abandoned Detroit for the green pastures of Los Angeles back in the early seventies. Now, I love Motown music of the day, but they sent a cultural F*** you to Detroit when they left for the long green of LA. At least Irish music has a long history that is still being celebrated. It still comes from the same place. It is the roots of country music and folk music in America. Along with the blues from Africa, it is one of two really relevant styles of roots music that we have.

As a songwriter and a musician, I cannot help but be a bit jaded when I am totally ignored on St. Patricks’s Day until some drunk chick or dude insists on me playing “The Unicorn.” Of course, I play it. And I try to do so without reluctance or attitude, but, deep down, what strikes me is that American audiences are too shallow to concern themselves with anything except what tickles their fancy in the moment. Once can deduce that real Irish music is not something that 99% of them have ever studied or even listened to.

And this is the common conundrum of being a musician in America. The audience barely knows the American songbook, let alone songs from other places. Though one may metaphorically be able to deliver Foie Gras, the table wants a cheeseburger. Some things are never going to change here.

Which only proves that if you want to be a musician in America, you better have both a thick skin and an incredible sense of humor that leans to an acceptance of the absurd and the ridiculous. Or as my alter ego recently wrote:

Keep laughing—whatever you do
Life is gonna leave you, reeling and confused
Keep that sense of humor while you’re getting screwed
Whatever happens
Keep Laughing


4 comments on “Irish Music

  1. Janel says:

    I think this is why it took me so long to understand what songs to add for our country band. I kept thinking that people would want to hear better music, and maybe something a little off the beaten path, if they could. But, most of the time, they really don’t.

    And, what I think is a shame about what has happened to both Irish and country music, is not that those new types of songs exist. If people like them, that’s fine. But, what’s sad is that the old – GOOD – songs are not being played along with the new, and are being lost. And, there are a bunch of people who will never know what they missed. I’m just thankful for Pandora, because commercial radio has lost me.

  2. I feel I must defend northern New England which has a rich tradition of Irish music year-round. Within 15 miles of us there are two bars that have weekly jams (The Press Room in Portsmouth) and Blue in Portland) where some stunningly talented musicians join in playing to packed houses. The mastery of some of the fiddle players is amazing! If anyone were to request “The Unicorn” they would be looked at as though they were two-headed.

  3. allthingsal says:

    Joan: You are so lucky you don’t have to endure living in Detroit. I wish I lived in northern New England. Perhaps I will end up there…

    • I think there’s lots that’s good about Detroit and I miss the area every day. Also northern N.E. is cold and not terribly diverse. But yea, I think all of the arts are pretty well nurtured and respected.

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