Timely tribute to the living legends

I can’t remember the first time I heard Bob Dylan or Van Morrison or even Lightnin’ Hopkins, but I remember the first time I heard Dolores O’Riordan, writes Michael Clifford.

Timely tribute to the living legends

The song was ‘Dreams’, and while it’s a good song, it’s not anything to write home about. Especially if you were more inclined to write home about somebody like Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins.

It carved out a corner in my memory because I heard it when visiting a friend in Boston. My friend Mick is from Scariff, Co Clare, and we were belting along some motorway or other on the outskirts of the city in his air-conditioned vehicle.

The day was sticky and warm, lifted straight from a picture-postcard Boston summer of blue skies and roiling heat.

The song came on the radio and Mick began to rattle and shake. He pointed at the radio and said the band’s name. I’d heard of The Cranberries but had no idea they had made such inroads stateside.

Mick was in his element. Dolores O’Riordan and the musicians were from just down the road from his hometown and now she was a big noise in the US, out here representing Limerick.

For a displaced Gael like my friend, she was something to write home about. Just listening to her singing the heart out of a Boston afternoon provided a shot of confidence in who we were — as if a shot was needed now and again to make up for the national deficiency in the country of our formative years.

O’Riordan hit the big time running. Overnight she and her band cracked the US market. They arrived at a time when this country was graduating to the top table of developed nations. Pretty soon we’d have our own air-conditioned vehicles and a motorway or two to boot.

She had talent, attitude, and was freshly minted in Limerick. She sang in her own accent, spurning the impulse to lose it somewhere mid-Atlantic, unlike many of her contemporaries who lacked that confidence.

She flew like a comet through the ’90s, and then, before the turn of the millenium, The Cranberries crashed out.

Dolores popped up now and again but those heights were never scaled again. (My kids spotted on the news that she was once a judge in The Voice of Ireland, the ultimate cool accolade).

She continued to sing but, after a period, it was her troubled soul that made more headlines than her work.

The eulogising that followed her tragic death last week, however, was slightly off-kilter. Leo Varadkar’s description of her as the voice of a generation was an example of how, these days, tragedy is blown up to near-epochal event.

Much of this can be attributed to the Diana effect of mass public grieving. More of it can be laid at the door of the media, which succumbs to a zeitgeist in which emotion trumps reason, the personal story dwarfing the public issue that affects multitudes. People want to feel the news.

This outpouring can be of some comfort to the bereaved, but their pain is really only be soothed by the warm closing of ranks around the family by those whom they know and love.

Beyond everything, hers was another life cut short, a voice extinguished, the book closed on a fine talent and three children left without their mother.

Dolores O’Riordan’s untimely death and all that flowed from it brought to mind the importance of celebrating talent while the subject is still alive and perspective available.

One who was eulogised during the week was Shane MacGowan. I wasn’t quick enough off the keyboard in grabbing tickets, but the reports and YouTube clips from the National Concert Hall give a flavour of the love poured on him.

It was a defiant tribute to the poet laureate of the coulda beens and woulda beens.

Defiant because MacGowan has, over the years, battered every living pore in his own body through the ingestion of mood-altering drugs, principally alcohol. He has drunk at the deep well of a troubled soul except he always gives the impression of just being thirsty.

How must it feel to constantly hear that nobody ever thought you’d make it this far, as if you had suffered from a degenerative condition since arriving in adulthood?

Michael D was in attendance to break bread with his fellow poet. So was Glen Matlock, once a Sex Pistol, and the Moses-like figure of the Dubliner John Sheehan.

Nick Cave, Johnny Depp, and Cait O’Riordan also contributed to the eclectic mix of talent. Bono even showed up to have a cut at ‘Rainy Night in Soho’.

The way things are going, MacGowan is on track to catch up with Keith Richards — his kindred spirit who has defied the odds of debauchery into old age.

Another who was recently lauded while still above ground was Gaelic football’s legendary exponent, Mick O’Dwyer.

He has, over his life, been known by the title of the film Micko, or by a version of his surname, Dwyer. Nobody, it seems, calls him Mick or O’Dwyer.

The makers of the film astutely allowed Dwyer to do all the talking instead of reverting to type by having others tell what a great fellow he is. Micko is well able to tell everybody what a great fellow he is without any assistance.

His mood-altering ‘drug of choice’ is football, to which he happily admits he is addicted. Two years ago, at the age of 79, he coached a Waterville U14 team to win a county league title.

What leapt from the film was the enthusiasm for life he retains into his ninth decade. The spirit is alive and kicking, mad for road, if only it could be freed from the shackles of the body.

The moment of the film that captured both the man himself and the benefits of eulogising the living was shot when he walked down the seafront in his native Waterville in south Kerry, on a blustery autumn day.

There are two statues on Waterville’s seafront, their backs to Ballinskelligs Bay. One is in the image of Charlie Chaplin who used to be a frequent visitor. The other is of the village’s most famous son.

And as Dwyer strolled along, slightly stooped in mock modesty rather than anything exercised by the chain of long years, his eye glinted as he passed the bronze statue of one Mick O’Dwyer and offered it a salute of courtesy.

The living legend giving the nod to the bronze image fashioned to remember him when he’s gone.

How much better it is to salute when they’re still among us.

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