Holidays and Irish Music

It’s Thanksgiving, babe…

I don’t know, whenever the weather turns more chill and people start exchanging season’s greetings, my mind goes back to when I was larking about with the Irish music scene here in town and one of the more popular songs to play once the frost started sticking around after the sun comes up is the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York.

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Needless to say, the lads playing the musical instruments at these dive bar (and not so dive bar) venues had little interest in keeping to the traditional tunes in they way someone traditional like Pentangle played the old songs (most bands I went to, anyway), and they often added some bawdiness, shanties and other punk-like elements like The Flogging Molly do, but no one had heard of The Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphys yet, so it was still new and fresh. And your Pogues aren’t all that trad either, and so they often played Fairytale when winter was barking at the nape of our necks, Thanksgiving often seen as the official transition point in which it was acceptable to sing about the next holiday. We’d all raise out pints (sometimes pitchers) and cheer, some of us standing on chairs. Wobbly, but standing tall all the same.

So, as I typed (originally), “Well, it’s Thanksgiving..,” I had a flashback to those drunken salad days hanging out in the pub where it was not uncommon to see the same man sitting at the end of the bar in his stool in the morning as it was to see the same man just before bar close. And, if you walked past an empty stool where he normally sat, you’d see his ass had made permanent indentations in the red vinyl that approximated the shape of his humongous arse.

For those not used to or familiar with the tradition of Thanksgiving, it is largely an excuse to feast and see old friends and put of with stinky Grandpa Earl who chuckles every time he farts and knows you’ll have to deal with it because he’s your elder. Oh, and American football, the game where a ball rarely comes in contact with the foot of the players and plays more like gentlemen’s rugby (murdering you opponent, or teammate, is strictly forbidden). There’s no real cajones behind this tradition — it’s just an excuse to drink, eat, argue politics and watch football.

Part of the tradition that has developed, however, is that when you fly half-way across the country to see relatives you’d rather not see (not if you’re being honest), is the annual gathering of friends either the night before the family gatherings, or sometimes the weekend after. And such gatherings are typically in pubs, bars and nightclubs, depending on your choice of entertainment, and the common activity while you do the same things as you do with your family on Thanksgiving Day (sans eating) is drink and get stupid in public.

I used to see this song largely as a comedy, but most drunks would. Now I see it as a tragedy, nothing to cheer about as the band started playing the first few chords, though I’d appreciate it all the same. The difference is that I see it with a different set of lenses these days. Instead camaraderie with the narrator, I feel sympathy for the narrator. It’s a song about dreams that come crashing down and the end of a relationship based on unfulfilled promises. Name calling, fighting and recrimination. Meanwhile, in the middle of it all with grating dissonance:

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing Galway Bay
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas day

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