Wednesday 24 May 2017

One night in the enchanting, vanishing land of Eurovision

WINNER: Ukraine pipped Australia to take Euro crown. GETTY
WINNER: Ukraine pipped Australia to take Euro crown. GETTY
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the following artistes: Matija Serifovic; Dima Bilan; Alexander Rybak; Lena; Ell and Nikki; Loreen; Emmelie de Forest.

"And who are they?" I hear you say.

Why, they are professional entertainers, all of whom have been winners of the Eurovision Song Contest within the last 10 years. And though I am only speaking for myself here, if you mentioned any of them to me, and asked me who they were, and what they had done, it would take me hours, and perhaps even days, of guessing indiscriminately before I gave you the right answer.

I knew them once, of course, for a very short time, because I always watch the Eurovision. So I am not entirely unfamiliar with their work. Their oeuvre.

And yet as soon as the contest had ended, they were out of my life. Even as they were being hailed as winners of the Grand Prix, garlanded on the great stage, with the credits rolling, they were drifting away from my consciousness. Soon they would be dead to me.

But in a good way.

Ukraine's Jamala celebrates with the trophy after winning the Eurovision Song Contest (AP)
Ukraine's Jamala celebrates with the trophy after winning the Eurovision Song Contest (AP)
US singer Justin Timberlake at the Eurovision Song Contest final in Stockholm (AP)
Joe and Jake perform You're Not Alone during the Eurovision Song Contest final in Stockholm (AP)
Ukraine's Jamala performs the song '1944' during the Eurovision Song Contest final in Stockholm, Sweden, Saturday, May 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Yes, it is good that these wondrous creatures exist for just one night in our lives, before they move on to some other dimension that is unknown to most of us.

It is not bad - it is good.

And I think it was Johnny Logan who clarified this for me, who, perhaps more than any other individual, has defined and indeed refined the essence of the Eurovision in the modern era. I saw him on The Late Late Show one night, speaking sadly but with much gravitas about this Eurovision to which he has given so much, and I realised that he can no longer be regarded as just another entertainer, that he is in fact the kindly but troubled ruler of this magical kingdom that exists every year for one night only - maybe for three nights, if you include the semi-finals.

Though burdened by the great cares of kingship, Logan will continue to appear to speak to the people about the state of the Contest, ideally wearing a white suit in the style of some ethereal figure who appears to us in a dream. And then, by the morning, he will be gone.

There was a time when Eurovision - wrongly, it seems in retrospect - had a certain connection with the vulgarities of everyday life, when the winner would automatically appear on Top of the Pops the next week, with a reasonable chance of getting into the Top 20 and maybe even of selling a load of records all over the world.

Looking back, that now seems like an aberration, a distraction from the true mission of Eurovision, which was to ultimately evolve into this strange illusion that we all enjoy so much every year. This annual visit that we make to a world that does not exist for most of the time, but which is willed into being for these few days in May. A world that was there last night, but had vanished by the dawn.

Essentially it is another Christmas - humourists may call it the gay Christmas - and therein lies its magnetism, the profound nature of its attraction to all men and women, and all variations thereof, its primitive allure. Indeed we may find that Eurovision can be traced back to some ancient pagan festival around this time of year, some kind of singing competition with some weird vein of eccentricity running through it, that made the people laugh.

And they may still be laughing at it thousands of years later, but then they laugh at many of the self-evident absurdities of Christmas, not least the questionable quality of the music and the television programmes, and still it has meaning for them, the nature of which may be obscure, but not so obscure that they will just ignore it.

Last week they were tweeting ferociously about Eurovision, and yet they were watching all of it, every song, just as they have in the past been watching every song of every Contest of every year, consumed by its fantastical nature, by the opportunity to meet with old friends for some kind of party, by the knowledge that three billion people are having this experience simultaneously, or maybe just a billion, or 500 million, or whatever. In a land beyond reason, there are no numbers.

Many viewers were thinking of the ghosts of Eurovision past, of how far they have come since Ireland used to win it every year. They may have been watching a Matija Serifovic or a Dima Bilan or an Alexander Rybak, but they were thinking of the meaning of their own lives.

And so strong is the illusion, it can withstand the most crude attacks from the actual world.

Since their arrival in Euro-land, the countries of the old Eastern bloc have revealed something about the incorrigible nature of their corruption - they don't realise that they're not supposed to do it openly, blatantly, literally on television.

The old countries of Europe have long ago figured out ways of doing these things with a little finesse. These mysterious new lands have so much to learn in that regard.

Thankfully, until next May at least, it doesn't matter.

Sunday Independent

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