Now here's something I didn't expect...

It is startling to find some of your deepest convictions tested by your equally deep - but either unknown or shadow-bound - passions and prejudices.  Damn!  Last year, after starting to practice for a bunch of St. Patrick's Day gigs around the region, I found myself chaffing over the bold and aggressive "fight" songs of the Irish rebels. Not only did I find them offensive for our contemporary experience of trying to find common ground, but they seemed to nourish the blood-hatred that has already existed for too long and claimed too many innocent lives.  "How can I even get my head around them," I wondered, "let along sing them in public?"

A word of context:  I am Scots-Irish, child of the Lumsdens of Scotland and the Mescalls of Ireland.  My father's people hail from the region near Aberdeen and my mother's folk come from Country Clare.  What's more, my mother's family was a true blending of the Orange and the Green as my poppa Phil was Catholic and my grandma Nickie was a Prod.  Over the years, as I have tried to both understand and embrace these roots, I have come to grieve the abuse, oppression and disgrace my Irish relatives have had to endure at the hands of the English. I have come to celebrate their heroic response to their woes when they immigrated, too and join in their pride as they created a new life in the United States.  Like many Irish in NYC, my poppa was first a cop and then later worked on the railroad while my grandma became a cook in various factories (in addition to raising 7 children!)

Simultaneously, I have come cherish my wildass Scottish kin, too:  James Edmund Lumsden was once Lord Provost of Glassgow - what a shock it was to walk to the top of the city to explore St. Mungo's Cathedral only to find a larger than life statue of my name sake!  And we visited the wee town of Lumsden, too - bought kilts and I mean literally the whole 9 yards - as well as woolen gifts by distant relatives who still spin their own wool on the land. In spirit and blood, I love them both - the Prods and the Catholics - the Irish and the Scots - the Orange and the Green. 

So imagine my horror - and I mean a real visceral kick in the teeth - when I was asked to play some rebel fight songs that championed killing part of the family.  It nearly knocked me on my ass...

... it made me angry, too in ways I would never have expected!  Yeah, let's put the Civil War, the famine and the troubles into a context - let's sing of the Irish rebellion against oppression - and let's honor the martyrs, too.  But it felt wrong - and morally impossible - to do this in a bar room where too much Guinness had already flowed and old wounds were inflamed and even encouraged one more time.  My stomach hurt and my head ached.  And while some of my mates had no problem singing the songs - they grew up with them - so it felt like a family reunion.  But not so for me... they hurt.  They seemed more of the problem than the solution and I wondered if I needed to drop out so that their party might continue.

And then, by way of balance, I did come up with two ways to keep me in the groove last year - and will do them again this weekend.  First, I insisted on wearing me kilts and honoring the presence of St. Andrew alongside dear St. Patrick.  This has got to be a both/and rather than an either/or affair if the music is to be holy for me. 

And, second, I gently insisted that we had to sing some Belfast soul a la Van Morrison along with "The Orange and the Green."

So, we're off to Baba Louie's tonight to do a full blown Irish gig - with a wee bit of Scots fun thrown in, too - along with at least a bit of the "Orange and the Green."  I'll tell a few jokes about both sides of the family - and rejoice that this "Irish" band is made up of a Polish flute player, a Lebanese drummer, an Italian accordion man, an Irish guitar leader and a Scots-Irish bass player.  I've been to Turkey with most of these guys - and played all around the region - and love them like my family.  So this really will be a family reunion in the best possible way for me.

Music isn't incidental to me - something that has no connection to my soul - or my convictions. It is prayer. It is sacred - even in a pub - so it has to resonate with my deepest values or else I feel like I've sold my soul to the Devil.  Who knows, we may even get a little U2 into tonight's mix!  (Hey, who IS that guy next to Bono anyway?!?)


Philomena Ewing said…
Brilliant.It turns out we are related !!
Your mother's family came from Clare where I was born. :-))
Happy Saint Patrick's Day RJ. Have a Guinness on me
Love the kilt too !!
RJ said…
How sweet is that Phil! I hoisted a Guinness tonight and will have a few tomorrow (2 more gigs before the day is over!)

Blessings, my friend.
Black Pete said…
Oh, do I ever relate to that posting and the anguished conflict. I salute your solution with compromise, too, too, James. What do we do when our hearts bump up against the inflamed complexities of this world, indeed?

Maybe we laugh. I was told an old joke where an IRA guy went to his priest for confession. Goes something like this:

IRA: Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

P: What is the nature of yer sin, me boy?

IRA: I blew up a British armoured car, Father.

P: {dead silence}

IRA: And I led a band of mates and we broke into a police station and took all the weapons, Father!

P: {dead silence}

IRA: And what's more, I took a couple of informers, and--Father, are ye listenin' to me?

P: I'm waitin' for ye to stop talkin' politics and get on with yer confession!

I am learning to laugh while crying my eyes out. We all need to.
RJ said…
Oh, Peter... cuts like a knife and yeah I think you are right: laugh while we cry cuz it is always both/and. Love you.

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