Irish American

This blog post is a week late, but you will have to forgive me. I was too busy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with my family.

The Feast of Saint Patrick is held annually on March 17, which coincides with the traditional death date of this patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival, all thanks to us Irish diaspora, those of us who are the descendants of Irish refugees. I am officially 2/3 Irish, with Welsh and western Europe making up the rest. The right to register as an Irish citizen terminates at the third generation and since my Catholic ancestors were forced to emigrate to the United States during the Irish famines of the late 1800’s, I cannot claim Irish citizenry and am considered an American. Fair enough.

I have been told that it is in my DNA to go to Catholic Mass, then hit the Irish pub and I suppose it is. Many authors have chosen to compose in pubs. Drinkers with writing problems. But unlike bars, pubs are ‘public houses’- social spaces to meet your neighbors over a pint and conversation. They are a different animal than your run of the mill bar. If there are rooms to rent overnight, they are called an inn. Strange concept for most Americans and yet so common in the old country. There are poetry readings, live music, and céilidh dancing. I can always pick out the non-Irish by not only the way they look but also by the confusion on their face. They sit uncomfortable while the rest of us clap and sing and dance shamelessly, even while sober.

I know no other culture than Irish American Catholic.

There is a weird phenomenon among Irish Americans, a sort of posturing with one another about who is ‘more Irish’. It is really stupid. I understand it though. I believe that the 500 years of occupation by the English and their systemic attempt to eradicate Irish culture, language, and religion developed this tight grip, this desperation among the Irish people to hold on to their identity. Maintain the old and stay ever true to it. That came over with them and that is perpetuated by their offspring.

When people get up in my face about how much ‘more Irish’ they are than I am, it starts to piss me off. I will then ask them what county their family comes from. They generally do not know what I am talking about and if they do, they don’t know the answer. Mom’s family is from County Mayo & Leitrim. Dad’s family is from County Carlow & Waterford. I’ve had native Irish comment how my parents’ families come from the north and the south, but they met in the Midwestern United States. All of the Troubles mattered less and less.

Corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish dinner. It is an Irish American dinner commemorating our immigration and poverty. It was the most affordable food for a special celebration, regular beef being expensive and out of the reach of most Irish households. Both corned beef and cabbage were ingredients of the lower working class.

And don’t pinch me if I fail in the wearin’ of the green. You, joe-average American, don’t know why we do it. You puke your green beer in Wrigleyville and perpetuate negative stereotypes of the Irish people as a bunch of violent drunks. That color is the color of the landscape and the color associated with St. Patrick, who legend says converted all us pagan Celts to Christianity using the shamrock to explain the holy trinity. But the wearing of the green in about Irish nationalism. At one point the British outlawed that color. So you see, the wearing of the green is an act of rebellion.

Learn your history.

There is song I sing every year to celebrate the day: Thousands Are Sailing by the Pogues. Not a traditional ballad by any standard but the story of my family and the family of millions of other Americans. The lyrics sum it up pretty well:

“Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery
Where e’er we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees
From fear of priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies
And we dance to the music and we dance…”

-Written by Phil Chevron, featured on The Pogues’ album If I Should Fall from Grace with God.

le grá go deo

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2019


Reference materials for this blog post:

St Patrick Day: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick%27s_Day
Irish Diaspora: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_diaspora
Thousands Are Sailing by the Pogues: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thousands_Are_Sailing

Sell Out

I had an odd experience in February 2009. I went home to see my mother, about a month after the end of my last long-term relationship (I’ve had two). When I walked into her kitchen, she said in surprise, “It’s nice to see you… I haven’t seen you in a long time…” She didn’t mean physically. She meant my spirit, my being, my inner self. I asked her how long it had been since she had seen ‘me’.

1993. Sixteen years. Before I sold out.

I knew what she meant. Back then, I intentionally changed who I was. I hated who I was. I wanted something more, something different, something that I thought was better than what I naturally am. I gave up being an artist in favor of a technical career.

I am a sellout.

No, it’s true. I am a musician, a pianist. Most people don’t know that because I gave it up many years ago. I used to bleed music. I could read it before I could read language. Mom says I wrote my first song at age three… musical notation, not lyrics.

My sister taught me to harmonize when I was very small, in the bathtub while washing my hair so that we could sing together in the beautiful acoustics of the bathroom. From that moment on, I bled music. When I would hear melodies, I would write accompaniment in my mind and sing harmonies. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I knew very few melodies to songs for I’d only sing in harmony.

I was in band, choir, and theater. My mom provided me with piano lessons. But I was terrified of performing solo. I did not excel at playing instruments because I was afraid to practice and I didn’t do it enough. I think the only way I got through being a lead in the school musical was because I was pretending to be someone else. That and the stage lights and being a natural ham…

By the time I went to college in 1990, I was listening to music no less than 12 hours a day. It was all I ever wanted to do as a career. Music was my first major in college. I practiced and practiced and my abilities flourished. But I had to face a soul crushing truth. While music easily flows into me, it does not easily flow out. I have such horrible musical performance stage fright that it crippled my ability to be a professional musician. It broke my heart.

When I finally gave up hope, I stopped playing music and singing altogether. I refused to even look at a piano for five years. If I walked into a room and there was a piano in it, I would intentionally turn my back on it. It had defined who I was for so long that it crushed me thoroughly to give up my dream of being a professional musician. I could not face it.

I switched over to writing, an English major in 1992, but soon the voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough took its toll and I turned to a technical career. Many people told me it was a good thing to put away frivolous and childish things in favor of real work, that I was better off this way. Welcome to the machine.

To me it was a betrayal of my ideals, my belief that one should pursue one’s passions, one’s calling instead of money. I justified my choices by thinking that I was getting a great day job so that I could afford to do what I wanted to do the rest of the time. That has turned out to be true at this stage of my life. This is in fact what most artists must do in order to survive. The problem was that I wasn’t pursuing my arts at all and did not for many years. It took its toll on my psyche and my relationships.

My last long-term relationship was with a drummer who played out at clubs with friends. Watching them stirred up the call in me to play music again. The greatest gift I ever got was a keyboard in October 2000, celebrating my 28th birthday. I did play it for some time but never got over my trouble of playing in front of others. I got ‘caught’ by friends once playing Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’. They told me they thought the classical music station was on… so sweet.

In 2005, I made a conscience choice to stop playing music in favor of writing. To play the piano at that level took a lot of time and practice. I felt like I could either be OK at piano and writing or give up one to excel at the other. I chose writing. Now I bleed ink instead of music. Music comes in, words go out. Mom says I wrote my first poem at age six. Of all the great many gifts with which I have been blessed, I believe writing is my greatest. I believe it is my calling and strangely, my crippling stage fright with music has forced me to write instead.

But I know in my heart that my fear of performing music is a personal challenge associated with my inability to accept myself and allow myself to be vulnerable. In 2014, I started to take on that challenge. I took voice lessons for the first time at age 41. That experience with my wonderful voice teacher Julie broke up a lot of my stage fright. I sing out now with much greater ease and joy. I sing out publicly and willingly participate in karaoke. You can see a video of me singing ‘Natural Woman’ here:

I guess my point is that we take many roads to find ourselves, even some that lead away for a time. But ultimately, we do eventually point toward home. And it’s never too late to find joy in those things we truly love. My music may not look today like I wish it could have but I do have it. It is forever part of the artistry that I am.

 

Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2018

RAGBRAI

20,000 fools
Flood into small town mid-west
Under summer starry sky
In search of food and especially beer
Carbohydrates, protein, a painkiller

The band’s biggest gig
They will ever know
Whether they be
80’s cover band
Heavy metal cover band

It did not matter
They shredded it
We loved it
Hell, we would love anything

Sitting in front of small town
Downtown
Across the town square
 
Cycled 60 miles
Cycled 80 miles
Cycled 100 miles

Whatever
We were cooked
Grateful someone else
Cooked dinner

Staring at the cover band
Tear down the house
20,000 cyclists got cooked
On the lawn

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2017

Blood, tips, and Gore

“My band was banned, man,” said ‘Razor’ as he threw the dirty utensils into the sink. His real name was Francis but that was no name for the lead singer of the hottest new local rock band. “Your girlfriend works for the St. Mary’s radio station. It’s a Catholic college. What did you expect?” replied Steve-o. “Unsuitable for minors? Kiss my entire ass! How about my rights?”

Razor shouted as he scrubbed out the large kettles that boiled the sausages. They were both line cooks at the busiest restaurant in town, Porky’s, where they served up a large selection of meat on a bun. It was famous for good food and lines around the block to get a bite of it. The job paid Razor’s bills while he tried to make a real go of it as a musician. Steve-o just needed a way to buy beer. Continue reading “Blood, tips, and Gore”