MARIO Rosenstock’s grandparents had an extraordinary war.
His grandfather, George Rosenstock, was a German. He served as a young medical officer in the Wehrmacht.
He was called to the Eastern Front, but managed to sidestep its killing fields by getting his friends to break his arm.He washed up instead on the island of Jersey, aged about 23, when he met Rosenstock’s grandmother, a young Irish nurse from Athenry, Co Galway. They fell in love and he took her back to Germany, of all places, as the war was coming to a close.
“It was love across war-torn Europe,” says Rosenstock. “She wrote a novel about it in the end called, Hello, Is It All Over? In 1945, she was in a bunker. There was lots of bombing and noise outside, but she didn’t know what was going on. When the bombing ceased, she came out of the bunker, and she saw this figure walking to her in the distance, a shadowy figure through the mists, with a gun, and she didn’t know who it was. It was just a silhouette.
“Without knowing who it could possibly be, she shouted, ‘Hello, is it all over?’ The voice she heard coming back from the mists,” he says, adopting a heavy American drawl, “It sure is, mam. It’s all over.’ It was an American voice — an American soldier. It was like something you’d see in a movie.
“There was no Facebook or Twitter back then in the bunker. She wasn’t tweeting, ‘Under heavy fire here in Germany #blitz.’ For all she knew, it could have been a German or a Russian voice, going, ‘Get back in the bunker. We’ve won the war.’”
After the war, the couple settled in Kilfinane, Co Limerick and had five children. Rosenstock’s grandfather ran a medical practice, and died in the early 2000s. “He was a patriarchal figure,” says Rosenstock. “He reminded me of a Bismarck sort of figure — he was very Germanic, very aloof. The first time he saw me I was a baby. I was in a Moses basket. He came to visit. I was his firstborn grandchild. The meeting was very perfunctory. He looked into the basket, pulled back the blanket and went, ‘Yeah, yeah — fine German head’. That was what he thought of me, and he’s not the last person to say I’ve a big effin’ German head on me.
“He was intimidating, but he was also capable of great kindness. He brought great gifts. There was an element of Bismarck meets Santa Claus about him. He was a mythical figure in our family. He was a legendary doctor in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He was apparently gifted in the area of diagnosis. For example, a person would often walk into a room and he could tell by their gait and demeanour what was wrong with them.”
His gifted impressionist grandson was born in 1971 in Islington, London. He grew up in Waterford until he was 10 or 11 and spent a couple of years in Dublin before decamping to boarding school at Ashton, Cork, an idyllic experience at odds with the memories of many other middle-aged Irish men who boarded in the 1980s.
“It was a lovely, romantic set-up — 40 boys, 40 girls. It was like Noah’s Ark. For a young, hormonal 15-year-old young man it was a very exciting place to be — to be locked up in a house with 40 girls.
“Far from having the lard beaten out of me by a Holy Ghost father, I was crawling across the roof at night, breaking into windows, trying to get into the girls’ dorms. It was a great time for misadventure.”
One of the defining traits of his Gift Grub show on Today FM is the rapport he has with the radio presenter Ian Dempsey.
He says the Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald’s voice reminds him of a Smurf. With Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, he was struck by his giddiness when he first heard him properly interviewed last year.
“He’s so excited and emotional about what he wants to say that he can’t say anything. He can’t actually articulate himself: ‘So Seán, tell us about your upbringing.’ ‘I, I, loike, loike, the thing I, loike, tough times, tough times, Fiji, I, I, I. This is what I get, loike, loike, loike, loike…”
Basically what happens in the show is that he turns into a seal, down on his knees barking like a seal.
Rosenstock, who will perform his Gift Grub show at the Live at the Marquee on Saturday, says Cork is fertile ground for good heckles, referencing a recent show in the city.
“Louis Walsh in my new show creates a new Irish boy band in 10 minutes from the audience. The boy band — invariably, the way I pick it — is made up of men maybe in their fifties and sixties. I want them to be an older, more mature boyband.
“One night I had these four guys on stage of a mature vintage, with beer bellies and moustaches, and Louis Walsh turns around and goes, ‘I’ve created boy bands all my life, but I need a name. These are four guys from Cork. They’re gonna be huge. They’re gonna take over the world and end up working in a petrol station in Glanmire but listen, What name are we gonna call them?’
“One guy from the back of the audience shouted up: ‘No Erection.’ And it took the roof off.”
Mario Rosenstock’s Gift Grub Live 3 is at Live at the Marquee on Saturday. www.mariorosenstock.ie.
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