Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone. Hope you have a good day drinking pints of Guinness, listening to U2, or reading Yeats, Beckett and Joyce. Alternatively you can sit back and listen to my award-winning alternative Irish national anthem, Read the story of the song here.
Back in the days of writing and creating for artlick.com (alas no longer online), I filled my notepads with several ideas & sparks for pieces to post on the site. Almost 25% of my ideas those days were visual – little doodles or sketches – which was probably due to the website being such a visual medium. One such idea was to create a secret part of the site that would take you to our artlick lounge bar.
And of course in that lounge we would digitally serve conceptual and silly beverages. And the signature cocktail was “The Michael Gross Drink”, named after the journeyman actor who starred in the sitcom Family Ties and the Tremors movie series. I remember us being very tickled by the sheer mundanity of calling it “drink” rather than cocktail or martini. And if memory serves, the drink contained whiskey, some prescription medication, and a feature length movie playing inside it.
The idea never went any further than these doodles that I sketched it out. Either it was too complex to pull off with our limited web design skills, or we found another idea that captured our imagination more.
Adventures in homeschooling. A cardboard clock. Photo taken at approximately 3:30
Brings up a persistent memory of a Salvador Dali painting…
Many moons ago, when I was gigging more frequently and reciting poems and performing sketches, I was lucky enough to be part of a regular night called the Monthly General Meeting, which was a showcase for the most inventive and willdy wonderful creative minds in Ireland. On one of the particular shows, I was on the bill with soon-to-be global musical phenomenon Hozier, as well as Arthur Mathews, the co-writer of Father Ted (possibly the greatest sitcom ever). I recall the gig itself was in the unusual and interesting surroundings of a newly refurbished Georgian building in Merrion Square (it has since become an office building of some sort) For a while Shane (Diet of Worms) and Nial (delorentos) who ran the night, produced a terrific series of podcasts entitled The Weekly General Meeting focused on creativity, and I featured on the debut episode. Take a listen to the episode and I urge you to listen to the entire back catalogue, every one of them a snapshot of a golden age in Irish creativity, amiably hosted and curated by two great artists.
Unearthed an old painting of mine in the attic that I love – I call it Big Bloody Copybook. A visual work that begs to have written work upon it.
Many years ago I received the wonderful book The Haiku Year as a gift. It is a collection of non-traditional haikus from 7 friends (including Michael Stipe of REM) all of whom decided to write a haiku every day for a year. It is a beautiful and sometimes surprising collection of short poems that I return to often. I was really taken with it at the time and embarked on the same challenge. I recently stumbled across my efforts in my own haiku year notebooks, where I found these little short poems, many of which still hold up quite well. There’s a bit of silliness in there, and also some slightly more serious, melancholy ones, and even an unfinished imperfection to others – but overall I still feel that they manage to capture something quite nicely in their terse short few lines. Little poetic windows to a specific time and place.
was surpassed only by my
My life had finally
Reached the point
That it could be condensed into a haiku
with only enough money for chips and cans
we head off to Coney Island for the day
wide eyed and Irish
Just before I assumed the worst
I consumed the best
steak I’d ever had
I dreamt about
the night before
My cheeks redden
At the thought
Of what I just implied
Try to open your mind
The same way you expect
Me to open mine
we poured the night
into our pockets
a treasure this great
does not deserve
to be kept a secret
the conversation credits
to run out
but all of this
is nothing without everything
that came before
In 2013 I was asked by commissioning editor Dave Lordan to write a piece for a publication entitled New Planet Cabaret which was a cool, interesting anthology book published by New Island Press. Here’s how they described it on the book jacket:
In December 2012, New Island and RTÉ Radio One’s Arena launched the first on-air creative writing course. The course took place on the first week of each month until June 2013. Writer and creative writing teacher Dave Lordan led the course, each month offering a new writing prompt to listeners who would submit material based using that prompt as inspiration. This book contains the best of those submissions. To accompany them, Arena specially commissioned pieces by a host of emerging Irish writing talent producing a completely novel and enjoyable anthology that presents the best of up-and-coming Irish writing talent.
My piece was a cross between a surrealist story and stageplay, featuring two recurring characters (Freddie and Jam-Jam) from my writings down the years. They had begun as Friedrich Nietzsche and James Joyce as children on a quest in a mythological Icelandic world, and gradually evolved into these oddball variations of that idea.
In the end I think this piece was quite successful, and I do like the playful feel of it, and the way it jumps in and out of traditional forms, as well as how it comments on the written form itself. For the launch of the book, RTE Radio (our national broadcaster) did a live show from the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin and I performed an excerpt of the piece live on air with my friend Brian, which was really fun and very warmly received. I think this is one of those pieces that definitely pops more when read aloud, and I have very fond memories of the performance (far more than the lengthy process of writing it)
Freddie and Jam-Jam head to Outguard
A short, wooden gangway extends out onto a lake. Freddie and Jam-Jam sit at the end, feet dangling, staring into the middle distance. A rowing boat, tied to a pole beside them, thuds rhythmically against the gangway.
FREDDIE: Right, I’m about to push off.
JAM-JAM: What’s the story with it?
FREDDIE: It’s that giant new cabaret place.
JAM-JAM: Oh deadly. We should probably get a load of cans!
FREDDIE: No. It’s not that kind of place.
JAM-JAM: Well what kind of place is it so?
FREDDIE: I believe it is being described as a new narrative arena.
JAM-JAM: Sounds like bollocks, let’s definitely get cans.
FREDDIE: We are not bringing cans.
JAM-JAM: Alright man. Whatever. Let’s push off.
The boat slices swiftly across the surface of the lake. Freddie and Jam-Jam are seated facing each other. A plastic bag full of cans sits between them. The moonlight gently illuminates their faces as they speak.
JAM-JAM: I was wondering if I could switch to another story?
JAM-JAM: This story is kinda pretentious. I was wondering if you’d mind if I went to a different one?
JAM-JAM: This story is kinda pretentious. I was wondering if you’d mind if I went to a different one?
FREDDIE: You mean leave the story we are in right now?
JAM-JAM: Yeah. It’s a bit shit.
FREDDIE: What? That’s not fair. It’s half yours.
JAM-JAM: I suppose, but I’m not mad about it.
JAM-JAM: To be honest, I’m not really sure what it’s trying to say.
FREDDIE: So what! And even if you could go, where would you go?
JAM-JAM: I’d say a Hemingway novel would be good craic. All that bravado and bulls. And balls!
FREDDIE: But those novels are already written
FREDDIE: So, you can’t go there, there is no room for you in the story.
JAM-JAM: Says who?
FREDDIE: Says Hemingway.
JAM-JAM: Fine. I’ll head off to a nice warm foreign book. Maybe something Middle Eastern.
FREDDIE: What about Outguard? I thought you wanted to come.
JAM-JAM: Yeah, I was thinking a bit more about that. Can you maybe jump ahead a few pages and see what it’s like, then let me know?
JAM-JAM: Yeah. Just have a sneaky little peek and see if I should bother my hole.
FREDDIE: (sighs) Very well.
JAM-JAM: Savage. I’ll be here, just text me or whatever.
FREDDIE: Wait a minute. This is stupid. I don’t even know what you want me to find out for you.
JAM-JAM: Ah sure, the usual. See if there are any good-looking women, bit of intrigue, sparse dialogue, hint of danger. That kind of thing.
FREDDIE: (wearily) I see. Alright. See you in a moment then.
JAM-JAM: (engrossed in his phone) Ok dude
Freddie steps out of the boat onto the shore. The coarse, damp sand crunches beneath his feet. He walks into the forest. In an instant, maybe longer, he reappears. He motions at Jam-Jam to come with him.
JAM-JAM: What’s this, man?
FREDDIE: This is Outguard.
JAM-JAM: Ah here, this is bullshit; you’re after tricking me.
FREDDIE: What do you mean?
JAM-JAM: This is just the same old story.
FREDDIE: Maybe so, but can you not just enjoy it for what it is?
JAM-JAM: No chance! I’m actually pissed off. You have me doing this heavy-handed dialogue now. This party’s definitely over. I’m heading back
FREDDIE: Go. You won’t find what you want.
JAM-JAM: How would you know man? We’re not even on the same page!
A breeze blows stiffly across the lake. Freddie and Jam-Jam sit at the end of the wooden gangway in silence.
JAM-JAM: Here, I’m sorry about earlier on, you know, over there.
FREDDIE: Forget about it. No harm done.
JAM-JAM: It was out of order all the same. C’mere though, what was the story with your man at the cabaret?
FREDDIE: Some character wasn’t he?
The wind picks up and waves start to splash against the base of the gangway. The boat begins to thud loudly as it strikes the gangway with force. Freddie and Jam-Jam pull their coats tighter around their frames.
FREDDIE: What do you think?
JAM-JAM: About what?
JAM-JAM: I dunno man.
FREDDIE: I always feel like I am missing something.
JAM-JAM: Story of my life.
Many moons ago, myself and my friend Loughlin formed a band called The Analog Revue and we made some amazing music by exchanging files transatlantically. The end result was an EP we called Urban Future Cowboy. The tracks on the EP were all originals (which I will upload in due course) with the exception of this one – a recording of the original German language composition Die Moritat von Mackie Messer by Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill (popularised in English as Mack the Knife). I love the recording and mix Loughlin did with this, especially the crazy guitar strumming pattern. I also have fond memories of doing my best Tom Waits auf Deutsch on vocals, with a towel over my head in my apartment in New York to record the vocals as cleanly as I could. Still sounds fresh to me.
Back in the late 90s, myself and my friend Jakob made some arty little short films together. With a shared interest in German filmmaker Wim Wenders (specifically the film Himmel Uber Berlin) and U2, we set out with a camera to film in the abandoned power plant in Poolbeg in Dublin. I then recorded a slightly pretentious poem that acted as the cacophony of voices the angels could hear. All mixed together with a blast of Zooropa by U2. The end result is actually a pretty nice little film that still looks and sounds good to me.