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Saturday 23 August 2014

Friends In No Places: Babbling Brooks and the theatre of shame

The ship heading towards Ireland contains a deadly consignment of country music. All week a giant flashing stetson was on the radar

DONAL LYNCH

Published 13/07/2014 | 02:30

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Garth Brooks
The fiasco over the Croke Park Garth Brooks concerts is the biggest crisis Peter Aiken has ever faced.
The fiasco over the Croke Park Garth Brooks concerts is the biggest crisis Peter Aiken has ever faced.

In terms of tense international stand-offs, potentially presaging the end of the world, it was up there with the Bay of Pigs.

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Except instead of nuclear warheads the ship heading toward Ireland contained a deadly consignment of country music. And instead of the end of the world we had slight bending of planning laws - which would obviously be unthinkable in Ireland - and potential violation of parking regulations for about one square mile to contend with.

Still the tension was unbearable; the eyes of the world were upon us, and for seven days all other news played second fiddle. Were we actually going to allow the man who brought the joys of clamping to Dublin - City manager Owen Keegan - to spoil the party for the honky tonk saviour and his friends in Hiaces?

All week a giant flashing stetson was clearly visible on the naval radar. It bleeped slowly toward the Irish coast. The thunderclouds and lightening crackling menacingly across Garthbrooks.com. And Culchie-geddon seemed nigh.But before all that, there were the sums to get through. The beginning of the week saw everyone in the country graduate with a first in Garthenomics. Cancellation of the shows would result in a €50m loss to the economy, it was confidently claimed.

Or was that 80m? Certainly this would be much worse than that time we almost brought down the euro. The Yanks would wash their hands of us. And you could say goodbye to the Rugby World Cup. Worst of all, it seemed certain that there was going to a lot of pulped replica pink Stetsons, which is hardly what the country needs at a time like this. By Tuesday it was still off but nobody wanted to believe it. Dublin City council had already said that its decision to rule out five concerts was irreversible and as the Brooks ship inched toward Ireland it seemed a solution needed to be found quickly.

Back at the Dublin ranch embattled promoter Peter Aiken was still doggedly pushing his cart before his horse, while also decrying the "misrepresentation" of Garth Brooks as "ill-informed and . . . scandalous." This was obviously a reference to suspected non-aficionado of country music Joe Costello who said that Brook's determination to have "five or none" smacks of "petulance and arrogance, with scant regard for his paying fans."

 Our "Gareth" obviously disagreed with this analysis. He had already patiently explained that the mooted compromise of three shows instead of five would be like choosing one child over another. So he did what any loving parent would do: he chose no children over some children. Kill them all and let God sort them out. That must how they do it in Nashville. Lord Mayor and full-time camera hog Christy Burke was running with this theme, calling the whole thing "a corpse without a funeral." He would later appear with the man who on Monday had lodged an injunction to stop the Brooks concerts going ahead and then sharply withdrew it, much as a chameleon withdraws its tongue. The injunctions, the man explained, were to "legally chastise the GAA for breaking the law", not against Garth Brooks, whose shows he was injuncting. In an embodiment of the of the fence-jumping schizophrenia the whole country was feeling on the subject he then proceeded to plead for the five concerts to go ahead.

Unbelievably this still did not make him the least sympathetic figure on the residents' side. That award had to go to Eamon O'Brien, who doesn't live near Croke Park, but who appeared on By Wednesday, there was hope again and it seemed talks were still going on behind the scenes. Peter Aiken described being "blindsided" in the planning process and describes as "a nightmare" the cancellation of the concerts, but in a letter sent to him by Garth Brooks, the singer says: "If you think for any reason that the 'powers that be' in Ireland can fix this, then I will faithfully go to the last second."Meanwhile, it was reported that Brooks had watched a meeting of Dublin City Council live on a webcam. This confirmed to many the idea that Brooks is something more sinister than a mere country music singer and possibly in league with the NSA, until we found out that anyone can watch their meetings online.It was reported that having learned of the controversy here the singer was by now no longer "feeling welcome in Ireland", which, given that one-tenth of the country had bought tickets to see him, struck some as a little on the needy and sensitive side.  On Thursday, as most of the country was trying to figure out how to block Brooks-related updates from Facebook, the saga truly reached its silly season highpoint.

Newsreaders could barely contain their giggling as it was reported that a group of Ballybough residents were calling on Barack Obama to take time out from peace in the Middle East and solving his country's debt and healthcare crises, to intervene to persuade Garth Brooks to go ahead and play in Dublin. No? What if we threw in a go on the Viking Splash Tour? C'mon, Clinton solved the peace process, Barry, the least you can do is threaten to nuke Drumcondra residents if they don't capitulate. Don't make us go through Christy Burke to put a call in to the X-Men. We will if we have to. Burke, who was surely putting himself in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize, announced that the Mexican ambassador had offered to intervene "at a diplomatic level" to solve the crisis.

What Mexico has to do with country music was anyone's guess - aren't the Southern good ol' boys in favour of keeping Mexicans out with a fence? - but at this stage it seemed like a good idea to involve as many different heads of state as possible (although some might have wondered where was this level of urgent diplomacy when our debt deal was being cut). The Pope continued to shamefully sit on his hands about the whole debacle. Enda, meanwhile, belatedly held "crisis talks" while also saying that although it was a blow to our economy and international goodwill it wouldn't be right to pass emergency legislation in a case like this. Others suggested that it wouldn't be right for politicians to be seen to interfere in the planning process, particularly given our history. But why should the redneck  messiah Garth Brooks pay for the sins of rezoners past? God be with the days when this whole mess could be solved with a simple brown envelope full of money. Brooks is seriously loaded - he's got to be good for digout or two.

Thursday also brought the suggestion that Garth might try to do a matinee. But the hick-hop homeboy confirmed that this tomorrow would never come. His publicist in Nashville released a statement saying, "To treat 160,000 people differently than all the rest who will be seeing the show the way it was meant and created is wrong. (Garth) does not understand why it is once again put upon him to treat people less than they deserve to be treated and he still returns to why did they allow five shows to be sold and all these people to be disappointed." In his live-streamed press conference, Garth himself later said that a matinee would be "half-assed." Translation: He's not Jedward and this is not panto. He added that, "after a dark week we are hoping that joy will eventually shine." It seemed indicative that there is still a persistent glimmer of hope in the air. If the concerts are well and truly off why were fans not giving refunds yet?All sides seemed to be engaged in a high stakes game of brinkmanship. And hardly anybody mentioned poor old Shane Filan, on his way back from bankruptcy, who must have been expecting a decent pay day in support of Brooks.

You can be guaranteed that Westlife would have done a matinee and sold the popcorn themselves if necessary. Throughout it all, some people struggled to care whether the concerts went ahead or not and even for those who did it became the done thing to refer vaguely to the bigger issues that were being ignored - Labour's Ciaran Cuffe, having gone on RTE to specifically talk about it, began by reassuring everyone that he would much prefer to be talking about Gazza, which confused everyone (what had the troubled Geordie football legend been up to now?) until we realised he meant Gaza.

Others began to wish that the concerts could go ahead merely so that the remaining 4.2m people in the country could move on with their lives. And more still hammered home the point that whatever you think about Garth Brooks the whole debacle is embarrassing us on the international stage - is it bad for Ireland inc? How bad? Now, even Obama and Mexico know: Not only could we not organise a piss up in a brewery but we are really, really into country music.

Sunday Independent

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