Tuesday 25 October 2016

Television review: More to Gaybo than goodness

The Meaning of Life (RTE1)

Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim cogan
Illustration by Jim cogan

Riding along in my automobile, I found myself listening to the sounds of Gay Byrne on his Sunday afternoon show on Lyric FM.

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And I found myself thinking: he's good, isn't he?

Which might not seem a remarkable thought, given that it is generally acknowledged that Gay is indeed good at all that stuff, and yet it felt like something that hadn't occurred to me before.

And that is probably as it should be, where goodness is concerned. A broadcaster or anyone else engaged in the industry of human happiness may have been doing it for a thousand years, but somehow it must have this energy about it, some sense that this is happening in the everlasting now.

He was talking about Brian Friel, who had died that week, and I suppose what struck me about it, was that I had been listening to a lot of other people talking about Brian Friel that week, and it hadn't sounded anything like this.

Mostly the voices of Official Ireland had delivered in routine fashion their lines about the originality of Philadelphia Here I Come with its device of the two actors playing the main character. And they had all mentioned the line in Translations that "confusion is not an ignoble condition", a line that is used so often in relation to Friel you'd think he never wrote another one worth quoting.

So they did their bit of "Philadelphia" and their "ignoble condition" and their work was done. Gaybo too had been greatly impressed by "Philadelphia" and by the two actors playing the different sides of the personality of the main character, and yet he told it in such a way that it was absorbing, like he was seeing it again for the first time, being swept away by the brilliance of it.

I don't know how he did this.

I don't know how he could bring this thing to life, on a slow Sunday afternoon, when all others by comparison were just making noise.

He was a personal friend of Friel's, but I don't think that had much to do with it, because this was not exactly a one-off performance from Gaybo - he's been doing this since the dawn of broadcasting time, and the fact that he still feels the need to do it, must stand as some kind of monument to the pleasure there is to be found in the simple pursuit of excellence.

Perhaps there are clues in his TV programme, The Meaning of Life, in which he spoke last week to the renowned visionary and mystic Ekhart Tolle about the latest developments in the whole visionary and mystic game.

The Power of Now is the title of Ekhart's most famous best-seller, there was much talk about being "present in the moment", and about "energy fields" and suchlike. And though these are esoteric concepts, in listening to Gaybo recreating a mood that he originally experienced when he went to a play one night about 50 years ago, I guess we are in this territory.

In his curiosity about the meaning of life he urges his guests to call upon their own experience of the transcendental, which for him seems to reside largely in the form of jazz music - I get the strong impression that he believes that the "energy fields" and being "present in the moment" and "the power of now" are all excellent things to which we can aspire, but that the person who understands jazz is already there.

His devotion to that music is profound, yet it has been said that Gaybo's own gift is that of the actor. And I can see that in its most positive light.

The way he inhabits that space, the way that he will talk about Brian Friel in such a vivid style, is akin to what an actor does, making his carefully prepared lines sound like a story that is being revealed to him at precisely the same moment as it is being revealed to the audience.

By contrast, most of those who have come after Gaybo, or who have come along at any time, are more like actors in rehearsal, reading the lines fluently enough but not yet feeling them.

However you want to describe him, it is clear that some kind of an artist is at work there. That there is magic in it.

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