Missed Connections. New Opportunities

All day yesterday, I kept getting reminders: Trevor Noah – Loud & Clear Tour. Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, IN.

Of course, the show and all the other events scheduled for IDEA week have been canceled. I had even purchased tickets for One Republic (C loves that song Counting Stars and I thought, why not, she’ll have fun). I am sorry that we missed Trevor Noah. I think adding his interpretation of blackness—how it has changed and been challenged since coming to the United States—would have contributed to our class discussions this week in an intriguing way. I am sorry that I did not get to take you all out to dinner before the concert; sit around a table and eat with you and get to know each of you a little more outside of the classroom setting. Sneaking small peaks of your homes has been lovely, but I would have much preferred chatting together over a meal. The Trevor Noah event is just one more addition to the now long list of events canceled because of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

I am not writing this post to lament what we have lost. Yes, I am disappointed about not seeing each of you on campus, about the events that we did not get to attend, about being stuck in the house, but I am also really proud of how this class has been able to adapt to the online version of the course. This blog, our class blog, which started off as a dairy of your readings each week has truly evolved and become more; a point of interaction for each of us as we practice social distancing. Discussing The Commitments today reminded me about the importance of focusing on what we have gained during this difficult and strange moment.

In our conversation today, I wanted to make sure we concentrated on how Doyle frames class in the text. The Irish are “the niggers of Europe,” because of their marginalized class status. The emphasis is not a political declaration of race, but an acknowledgement of their poverty and oppression. Yet as we focused on the economics in the text, we did not get a chance to discuss the music as much as I would have liked to. And this is where our blog has become quite useful: A chance to communicate with each other in-between class meetings. So, between now and our next class on Wednesday, I want you think about the music. The movie gives us a much better way to access the music but there are a couple of other videos that I want us to think about, if we can.

U2. I have yet to meet one person from Ireland that likes this band. I never was a U2 fan. I know many of their songs—they were a very popular band—and a friend took me to see them once in concert (it was weird, the PopMart tour, I think). Yet nearly every person I have met in Ireland has nothing good to say about this band. They are mentioned dismissively in the book only a couple of times. Once here: “It had been a great gig. Hot Press told Jimmy. Dublin needed something like The Commitments, to get U2 out of its system. He’d be doing a review for the next issue. Then he asked for his two pounds back” (111-12). This mention, in particular, reminded me that the most popular band in the world, at the time, was not equally appreciated in their home country. Yet U2, like The Commitments, are very much influenced by black American soul music. Shortly after this book is published, U2 releases a documentary discussing their identity as a band, including their connection to black America and black American music. What are your thoughts? There are some interesting connections between U2, the U2 film, and The Commitments.

a. U2: Rattle and Hum – Trailer The way in which all the American cities listed connects to The Commitments, no?

b. U2: Rattle and Hum This is the only digital version of the film that I can locate. If you are interested, watch the entire video (1 hr 39min). U2 plays with a gospel band in Harlem, they go to Graceland (Elvis’s relationship to the history of black American music of course has to be considered in this scene), they play with BB King, and sing their tribute song to Martin Luther King Jr (some of the facts of King’s death are wrong in that song). Sunday, Bloody Sunday is played as well, which connects to other topics we have discussed. Bono particularly dismisses Irish Americans and their understanding of Irishness when they sing this song.

Phil Lynott. I only discovered Lynott and Thin Lizzy after I lived in Ireland, but I knew some of their music. I just had no idea that the band singing Boys are Back in Town was an Irish rock band and that their lead singer was black. Irish, yes. But a black guy. Jimmy dismisses Phil Lynott as having any influence on The Commitments because he was not soul (67). What do you think? In The Deportees, the story “Home to Harlem” discusses someone like Lynott (and in some ways must be inspired by Lynott’s family). Irish and Black. The story begins, “He couldn’t find himself on the registration form” (179). What box do you tick when you’re black, and Irish, and emigrating to the United States? Declan ends up ticking other. Here’s a link to Thin Lizzy Boys are Back in Town. And just for fun, Thin Lizzy’s version of Whiskey in the Jar is my absolute favorite.

The use of Chain Gang by The Commitments irritated me. Of all the songs that they sing, this song is particularly connected to black American history and culture. What are your thoughts? Here’s the Sam Cooke version.

Any way. Those are some additional thoughts that I had about The Commitments after our conversation today. This book, unlike most of the titles that we have discussed this term, takes place during my lifetime. While I knew nothing of Ireland at the time the book was published, there is one detail listed in the text that connects to my own childhood memories. When Jimmy meets Joey, he is “wearing a Jesse Jackson campaign T-Shirt” (28). I share a picture of myself wearing one of those shirts from the 1980s.