Category Archives: words from music

Watching the swans with Shane McGowan – fragmentary writings


Years ago, my mother moved to Bray, a seaside town near Dublin and looked for a property to buy. My brother, always a man with grand designs at heart, discovered that the Martello Tower which guarded the harbour was for sale and campaigned, hard, for my mother to make it her [ and his] home.

Later still, I found out that the tower had been owned by a member of the U2 management team and loaned to Shane McGowan for  recovery and drying out.

My mother bought a bungalow.

 

I am standing with Shane, safe in the shadow of the Martello Tower, built to warn the invaders, the interlopers, that others might come, blown across the grey sea, with their own plans to take this poor land.

We are watching the swans, Children of Lir, huddled in the harbour, buffeted against the jetty. Their plumage, snow-white, bone white against the customary grey, brown of the Irish sea, interlopers and alongside them, other outsiders. The yachts, playthings of the playboys of the western world, or at least the western coasts.

These yachts belong somewhere else, somewhere with azure seas, skies that blend, fall from other shades of blue into the gentle swell, not this landscape of hard lines and cold breezes.

Shane discourses, poetry, womanizing, the arts of falconry and warfare.

And we walk in the footsteps of poets and warriors, taking the waters, but not the water of life because Shane is drying out, drying up, moving towards  the years of silence.

I learnt to swim in the other harbour, concrete wall built to trap the sea and in water so dark that we could not see the bottom and so we learnt to swim, a lesser terror than sinking into water we knew had no ending, no sanctuary  for feet, clenched in cold, searching out safe harbour.

We never expected to find this sea swimming pleasurable, water so cold it would

” knock the very breath out of ye”

and in homes where the threat to

“knock the very breath out of ye, see if i won’t”

was commonplace, the sea held no fear for us. The cold a rightful punishment for almost pleasure, our catechism re-inforced

“Who made the world?”

“God made the world”

I wonder what Shane looked at,that winter, when the sea and sky met, bands of grey and brown and white, dirty white, another shade of pale, a million miles from the plumage of those swans rocked against the winter waves.

I wonder if he looked out to sea or turned inward, inland.

Th Italian chipper, our reward, wrapped in cardigans and our anoraks, our knees and lips blued by over immersion in the sea.

The chips, our reward for childhood bravery, child stoicism, we ate them, huddled ourselves against the constant winds, hot, greasy, somehow more delicious the colder we are.

And then, we walk past the Amusement arcade, because nice children don’t go there, licking the tang of salt, sea salt, chip salt from our fingers as the purple fades from our knees, our lips.

I am standing in the shelter of the Martello Tower, taking refuge from a storm, one eye on the horizon, grey and brown and white.

Watching for interlopers.

 

 


christmas wishes from rubiesandduels


And just to whet you appetite for tonights’ little piece

“Watching the swans with Shane at the Martello Tower” – here is the man himself and the stunning Kirsty McColl – Happy holidays to everyone who has visited this blog in 2013 and best wishes for 2014.

Watch this space for what may be the last writing of 2013!

 


Chelsea Hotel


The old man, besuited, fedora wearing, is singing of long ago love but this is no hearts and flowers and moon in june moment,
this is sex and drugs and rock and roll
and it ought to be ridiculous, ludicrous, perhaps even embarassing, but it’s not.
It’s tender and it’s funny and it’s rude and he smiles at the memory and I smile too at his remembering

And I watch him on stage, moving carefully, but sure, confident,
And the ever present backing singers, the girls and when he moves amongst them, there is nothing avuncular about his gaze.
I wonder if he still feels ugly, still cowed by notions of beauty ?
How much does a man need to be loved before he feels himself to be a man ?
I wonder if he still thinks of you at all?


The Partisan


[ and who says old white men in suits and hats don’t rock]

i’m watching a boot leg film of Leonard Cohen, world tour 2008 – the stage is full of old, ugly, men in strange hats and suits that remind me of my father and his Sunday best.
They’re playing as if their very lives depend on it and perhaps they do, but this is no showmanship, no slick styling, this is old men who have spent a long time getting very good at what they do.

And it’s my turn to choose the tune among the flotsam and jetsam, the detritus of Yr 9, the refugees from learning, the chuck outs, the self selecting opters out of co-operation, courtesy and classrooms.

They have drifted or been directed to here, the behavior room, the behavior teacher and we should be working, doing something useful, but its the fag end of the day, so we’re playing music.

The rules are simple, we all get to choose, no-one rubbishes anyone else’s choice and we have to make a comment.

I do my best, really I do, but more and more I feel like a member of the royal family watching some tribal performance, in terrible danger of nodding my head on the off beat, the wrong beat.

Dub Step – makes my teeth hurt

Grime – quite a lot of swearing really

X Factor winner – do you want to hear the original ?

And because the boys are fair, sometimes, just sometimes, I get to choose a tune.

Mohammed 1, from Papua New Guinea picks up the french, translates for us all
“This guy, he’s like a soldier, undercover, the baddies have killed his family, but he goes on killing, and these other people they hide him and then they get killed”

Mohammed Squared – double named for double blessings – an unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan, smuggled across the border in the boot of a car, doesn’t say much, but then he doesn’t.

Yahya – five countries in 10 years – in the jargon a child with no mother tongue smiles when the mandolin soars above the guitars.

And then the door burst open and Saara, refugee from science bursts in and by force of personality alone gets to choose the next track and we all remember the rules and listen politely to another X Factor finalist.

The bell rings and they scatter and I sneak another quick play and watch the old men do it right.


Sisters of Mercy


Oh yes, he found comfort with us, in our arms and later in the warmth of our cunts, but always the talk of sin, of loss, of loneliness.
And that face, the nose too big, unlikely angles and the eyes, never warm.
I wonder if they’re any warmer now, I wonder where he is now, we kinda lost touch.

Somone said he was famous now, but I dont know, he always seemed to wrapped up in stuff, I can’t imagine him on MTV.

He slept with both us, one each side, wrapped around him, the sisters of mercy he called us and yeah, it was a mercy fuck, this dude was drowning in dark thoughts, lost in some kind of deep.

He’d talk about Jesus and God like it was real, like it had just happened, not something from the olden days, when he talked about the crucifixion, his eyes would fill with tears and then we’d make him smile, try and get him away from this bad place.

He said he’d write a song for us, used to fool around on his guitar, said everyone should have a sister of mercy, someone to reach out to when the lights are too bright.He liked to look at us in moonlight. His hands, big strong hands, such long fingers, caressing us, stroking us, the way he’d stroke that big old guitar.

He said he didnt love us, not like real love, he was saving that for his God, the God that watched him, tortured him and it was a long time ago and we thought that it was ok, good enough to be the sisters.
He said he’d told all his friends, said that they should look us up and fools, we felt kinda proud, pleased.
He said could make men feel better, free-er.
He always crept away before we woke, a tangle of arms and legs, with an absence at its core.

He never asked how we felt, about anything, anything at all.


The Story of Issac


I put my hand on his shoulder, ready to make the descent and he looks up at me and i know something has changed forever.

It all seemed so easy, when as the sun rose, HIS voice was so strong, so clear, the message burnt into my brain and I woke the child and told him to walk with me.
The village was sleeping when we left and my son ran to keep up with my steady pace.
We climbed the hill and as we rose higer, the trees grew smaller, stunted and finally there were none and the child strugggled but I knew what I must do.
We rested and I allowed the boy a sip of sour wine, he was unsure of this adventure, but I reminded him that God spoke through me and even as I said it, I felt the god energy shine through me and I started walking again, the child trailing behind me, too obedient a boy to turn, to hide.

At the summit, I waited for a message, a sign and built and alter to HIS glory, sure of my purpose, sure of HIS blessing.

And then, HE spoke to me and it was as if the world was on fire and I fell to the ground and understood HIS message perfectly, with a new light of clarity, of purpose.

I had been tested and not found wanting, my God was happy with me, I bathed in the light of his approval, my heart was lightened and my soul sang with worship for HIM.

We started back down the mountain and I was tired, my very bones aching with exhaustion and I stretched out to reach my son, to balance myself, to prepare myself for the journey and the message I must take back and share with the faithful, but my child, my first born, the one I would have offered up to HIM, a sacrifice of perfect love, ducks his shoulder under my touch, recoils from me and for a second looks full into my face and something has changed forever.

We walk back in silence and I realise that my Lord has tested me more deeply than I believed possible and has taken more from me than I can bear.

At the village, the child slips away and I do not see him again until nightfall.


Suzanne


Her hands move continously, plucking shapes out of the air, stroking your arm, your shoulder and when you move slightly away, she rubs and pushes the skin on her own face.
She is a dervish of ill commmunicated desire.
Her hair, greyer than your own, is long, uncombed, although in her moments of near stillness she runs her fingers through it, teasing out snarls and tangles only to re-make them as the movements continue.

And her voice, her voice is constant, just this side of audible, so that you have to lean forward, get closer to her, to hear what she says.
“I took him to the river ” she says ” I took him there and he was almost famous, so serious, so cold, I took him there”.
Her voice trails off, sentence lost and she strokes your arm again, but her fingers are more insistent now, jabbing through the fabric of your coat.
” I feed him oranges, all the way from China , see, red oranges, red chinese sun, everything red…………….” and then she pauses, confused within her own personal narrative.
“No, Japan is the red sun, China is just red, blood red, blood red oranges, red sun on the water”, her voice is even quieter, you lean in closer and she looks directly at you, eyes showing a clarity, an understanding.
” He said he didn’t love and I said it didn’t matter, but, oh it did” and now she is rocking backwards and forwards and her speech is coming faster,
” On the river , I saw him walk upon the water and he said he could save me, save me from drowning, save me from the sea and he touched me, oh yes, he touched me, not just with his mind”, the last phrase is loud, almost shouted and suddenly she is laughing and her hands are on her own breasts,
“he touched me, not just with his mind”.
You make sushing noises, trying to calm her, to stop this terrible laughter and then it is gone and the silence feels even louder and she looks at you again,
“he watches me, from his tower, he watches me, but I am safe, the river will keep me safe”
You want to walk away, but she’s got you on her wavelength now, you want to walk away, but you can’t.
You reach out, one finger resting on her face,
“Suzanne” you say “Suzanne.