Superstar Garth Brooks - Charlie in a cowboy hat
Full disclosure demands I admit buying tickets to Corporate Garth's gig in Croke Park
Published 13/07/2014 | 00:00
Every now and then we go a bit mad. Not in the Brian Cowen sense - where you bet the future of the country on the word of a shower of bankers. Nor in the Enda Kenny sense - where you defer to EU leaders, giggling and twitching for their amusement, and then rush home and tell everyone how you kicked ass.
No, unlike those guys, we don't go completely gaga. We just, you know, now and then, we go a little bit mad.
What happens is an incident arises that's of some interest. A large section of the population becomes obsessed with it. And makes an emotional investment in it. And for a few days or weeks we go a bit doolally.
Moving statues, back in the 1980s, that was one of those times. Roy Keane and Saipan, that was another one. The Garth Brooks melodrama is one of those freak-out moments.
Did the statues really move? Is Roy a man of principle or a prima donna? Will Garth get to heal a broken nation with his loving music?
It's like a good storyline in a TV soap. We're entertained. It makes us cheer and boo. There's an added ingredient when the soap is real. We're angered - because there's enough at stake to make the outcome really matter. We're involved in a real-life drama, full of incident and cliff-hangers.
(In journalism these days you have to give readers "full disclosure", so let me admit that on February 6 I went to some trouble to buy two tickets in the upper Hogan Stand for the Garth gig of Tuesday July 29. No, they weren't for me - I'm a John Prine guy. But, though we Prine fans may not hold much with plastic cowboys, in musical matters we tend to live and let live.)
The tickets say: "Subject to licence". Everyone in the music business knows what that means. Except poor, innocent Garth, and his manager and his agency and his lawyers.
Music gigs at Croke Park are hugely anti-social for the thousands of people who live nearby. It's like living under a security lockdown, while cheerful concert-goers come piss against your front door and vomit on your petunias. And getting an infant to sleep is no fun.
One night of this is appalling. Five is a nightmare.
So, everyone involved in this gig - except poor, innocent Garth, and his manager and his agency and his lawyers - knew there was a potential problem. These things are regulated. Otherwise, fools would stage concerts anywhere and any time they fancy.
And there was an agreement on no more than three evening events a year in Croke Park, and they had already taken place.
Being incredibly obliging, Dublin City Council agreed to two more, for Garth. And those sold out in a nanosecond. So, Garth and his people sold another three.
This is like the guy who builds a house without planning permission. Ah, sure, I've snookered them - didn't I create a few jobs?
Now, Garth is more than a bigtime country star. He's a major corporation. He's a commercially shrewd lad who has sold more albums than the Beatles and harvested millions from albums, concerts and movie-theatre simulcasts and a long-running Las Vegas residency.
And now Garth is moving into digital downloads and staging what could turn out to be the biggest, most-lucrative world tour in the history of showbiz.
When you get that rich, that lauded - well, I suspect Corporate Garth hasn't heard the word "no" since approximately halfway through the third week of September 1991.
The Irish gigs are not part of the world tour. They're a launchpad, a curtain-raiser, a publicity event that's part of a marketing strategy, complete with DVD and documentary. This is big, big money, and Corporate Garth had big, big plans. He played hardball, turning the heat up on politicians.
Five concerts or none - give me what I want or I'll cancel the lot. I'll blame "the system" and you'll have 400,000 angry voters on your back.
Garth explained explicitly, on Thursday, what he wanted done.
The city manager had implemented the law as generously as he could, allowing three concerts. Garth said, yeah, the guy had a job to do. But he wanted "somebody above that gentleman" to say (and here, Garth put his arm around the shoulders of an imaginary city manager): "You've done your job - now I'm telling you we're gonna allow these people to come and sing."
For a moment, Garth was channelling Charlie Haughey.
This country has been plagued by corrupt politicians taking "legitimate political donations" in return for putting their arms around conscientious officials and telling them that lawful decisions taken in the public interest are going to be revised.
Did anyone tell Brooks to take his Haughey impersonation and stuff it up his Stetson? Not one. In particular, not one politician.
Sinn Fein scrambled to impress those 400,000 voters. Fianna Fail drew up emergency legislation, an Oireachtas committee went into emergency session. The Taoiseach made himself available, as his backbenchers finally found an issue on which they could feel strongly.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Christy Burke, wanted Obama involved. And the Mexican ambassador . . .
Is there no pride left in this country? Must we bow and scrape on demand, must we rush so quickly to defer to anyone with enough money or clout?
We were told that the "business community" was upset. No, it wasn't.
People who sell green cowboy hats were upset. People who run pubs and restaurants and hotels were upset. Among them, people who damaged the tourist business by charging big money for small quality. People who jack up their prices when there's a popular event were upset.
Garth Brooks put the heat on politicians by using his adoring fans.
The evidence comes from Brooks's own mouth.
Peter Aiken, the gig promoter, doing his best to walk the tightrope between Brooks and the rest of us, said on July 8: "He [Brooks] said: 'Can we not do matinees in the afternoon?' I mean, he was coming up with ideas."
When Aiken put that to the city council on July 10 the council agreed. Problem solved. By then, Brooks wanted nothing less than unconditional surrender. He rejected matinees, despite having suggested them. Matinees, he said, are "half-assed".
Of course, we need the money. Beggars and choosers, right?
Enda Kenny said five concerts are worth €250m to Dublin. A "quarter of a billion," he said. Where did he get that figure? Like the Anglo bankers, he pulled it out of his backside. Just made it up.
Changed it the next day to fifty million. No explanation. This is the lad who negotiates in Brussels.
The consensus seems to be that five concerts are worth €50m to the economy. That €50m is disposable income. If it's not spent on one thing it will be spent on something else. But, says you, 17.5pc of that €50m will come from overseas tourists. We'll lose about €9m.
Tourists spend more than other concert-goers, so double it, it's still small change, for which we'd be mad to corrupt our regulatory system.
Last week George Lee revealed that in one tax break for inactive farmers, Michael Noonan blew €26m. In the process, he deprived young farmers of a financial boost. Where was the outrage? Where were the angry members of the "hospitality industry"? And the sellers of green cowboy hats?
This isn't about jobs, about the economy or about fans getting to hear their idol singing his greatest hits.
Corporate Garth has a corporate plan for his world tour.
He assigned Ireland a place in that plan. And when the city council said this broke the rules he treated 240,000 fans, who had tickets to the three licensed gigs, as hostages. Do what I say or these lovely, lovely people get it in the neck.
And it's about something that's never far from the surface, in this great little nation - something that's endemic among the political classes. A tendency to bow the knee to wealth and strength.