WHEN RTÉ reporter Brian O’Connell listens to some of his late musician friend, Brian Carey’s songs, all he can now hear “is depression and someone trying to figure it out”.
O’Connell was a close friend of Carey who took his own life in April, aged 46. He has made a radio documentary, Life After Loss, which includes contributions from Cork singer/songwriter Jack O’Rourke, and Carey’s 17-year-old daughter Fia. He also visits to the National Folklore Collection to examine unusual grieving practices from 19th century Ireland.
Carey, originally from Dublin, had lived in Cork for years and worked as a musician, composing music, writing lyrics and recording his songs. His band, Musical Brotherhood, had a residency in Gallagher’s Pub and he also taught the guitar. O’Connell recalls his friend telling him that David Bowie’s music saved his life when he decided to move out of inner city Dublin at the age of 18. At Carey’s funeral, Bowie’s ‘Sweet Thing’ was played.
As O’Connell says, Carey was open with some people about his depression and had come to a realisation that he would be on medication for life.
“It wasn’t a high dosage. It allowed him to function very well,” says O’Connell.
But there were signs that all was not well with Carey who told O’Connell, some time before his death, that he was in a very dark place.“I never thought of his songs as being melancholic but now, I feel he was trying to work through certain issues. I used to ask Brian what certain songs meant but he would say, ‘They’re whatever you want them to be’.”
I lost one of my closest friends to suicide this year. As a result, I'm making a prog on grief, Life After Loss, for @RTERadio1 (Dec 29th 4pm) - it's prob the most personal programme I've made. Promo here: https://t.co/s4MhBWt9fr— Brian O'Connell (@oconnellbrian) December 11, 2017
O’Connell, who bonded with Carey over the music of Bob Dylan, says he feels like a hypocrite. In his work, he reports “a lot on mental health issues, depression, anxiety, and suicide. But I suppose, it was hiding in plain sight beside me. I should have been more direct with Brian. I should have asked him if he was suicidal when he said he was in a dark place.”
O’Connell says it’s important to be open about one’s feelings and fears, “particularly Irish males. We need to talk more.”
Now, O’Connell takes a certain amount of solace from music, as he reflects on his friend.
“In the documentary, Jack O’Rourke talks about grief and music and how we all resort to music as a way of accessing our emotions.”
O’Rourke references songs such as ‘Tears in Heaven’, written by Eric Clapton following the tragic death in an accident of his young son, Conor.
O’Rourke also says that while he is not religious, hearing plain chant or choral singing in a church, are moving spiritual experiences. Emmylou Harris’s song, ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ is mentioned. Writing about the death of her mentor, Gram Parsons, Harris sings: “Well you really got me this time and the hardest part is knowing I’ll survive.”
For the documentary, O’Rourke has recorded a version of ‘Wonderful Life’ written by the late Colin Vearncombe, who had an international hit with the song under the stage name Black in 1987. Schull-based Vearncombe died after a car crash in Co Cork in January, 2016.
Christmas and New Year can be a difficult time for the bereaved.
“Christmas is tough but for me, grief can be hiding in the ordinary, in the mundane. When your guard is down, grief can hit you and when it does, you realise the magnitude of it,” says O’Connell.
Sometimes there’s no escaping those feelings, but O’Connell hopes hearing them expressed in music will help some people to cope better.
- Life After Loss will be on RTÉ Radio 1, tomorrow, Friday, at 4pm