Saturday 16 December 2017

Caught between rock'n'roll and The Home Place ...

TELEVISION The East can't grasp our music, says Declan Lynch, but are the Irish dancing to the wrong tune?

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The Secret History of the Eurovision (RTE ONE): To set us up for Dusseldorf, The Secret History of the Eurovision recently made a serious effort to describe the significance of the Eurovision in historical terms. Which is the right thing to do.

While it didn't quite claim that the contest was entirely put together by the CIA to portray the West as a place of singing and dancing and gay merriment, in contrast to the boredom and bleakness of the East, it certainly planted that thought in our heads.

And it is important for broadcasters to raise these issues, because academic historians generally know nothing about anything, except academic history.

So they might not have noticed, for example, that the Eurovision voting patterns of the past decade give us a perfect insight into the broader political culture of Eastern Europe.

Essentially, the citizens of the old communist bloc seem to regard the practice of voting, not as a way of expressing your opinion about some person or some issue, but as an enormous scam.

They never knew an election that wasn't crooked, they never saw a game that wasn't rigged, so they carry that culture into Eurovision. Except now they are not merely wasting their time "electing" a new government, the identity of which has already been decided -- now they have some serious choices to make.

But they have also been demonstrating something about Eurovision which has a profound resonance on a global scale.

They have proved beyond all doubt that there is almost no one east of the United Kingdom who has the slightest understanding of what might loosely be termed rock'n'roll.

There are many people in America and Britain, of course, who understand rock'n'roll, which is, of course, the great art form of the 20th Century.

And even Paddy knows a thing or two about it, mainly because he is situated somewhere between America and Britain, so he has absorbed it somehow -- and in some cases, he has become very good at it.

But the French, the Germans, the Spaniards, and now the Russians, the Croatians and the Moldovans are united by one thing above all others -- they haven't a clue about rock'n'roll.

They simply do not know how it works.

They are lacking in some basic faculty which would allow them to appreciate it, making Eurovision the ultimate "celebration" of Europe's total failure to grasp this monumental achievement of Western culture that is indeed rock'n'roll.

Ireland, almost uniquely, can claim a certain mastery of both rock'n'roll and of Eurovision. And we can take this information with us into the negotiations with our new European overlords

We can remind ourselves that we are taking our orders directly from people who have no idea that, say, Hank Williams is great -- indeed, they don't even know that he's good -- or who have never heard an album by Van Morrison.

And by the way, how is it that the vast powerhouse that is Germany has produced fewer decent bands during the past 50 years than have probably emerged in the past few weeks alone from the borough of Dun Laoghaire?

Hey, we're better than these guys.

I would give a guarded welcome, too, to The Home Place, part of the intrinsically dubious Heartland season.

Always, we must be wary of RTE celebrating rural Ireland, because they are essentially afraid of country people, or at least afraid of offending them.

Which means that they are afraid of telling the truth, favouring a rural supremacist line.

But the fact that The Home Place was directed by Sean O'Mordha added a few extra layers of intelligence to this exploration of the Irish family farm, historically and at present. And it looked terrific.

In fact, it looked sort of different to almost every other programme made about farming in Ireland, as if O'Mordha had found a few strange new angles that had escaped his predecessors, so concerned were they with more pressing matters such as getting back to Donnybrook before dark.

But there is another programme, another series to be made, developing a theme recently voiced by Professor Joe Lee on Horslips' outstanding TG4 series Rotha Mor an tSaoil, when he pointed out that the Irish abroad have been the great urban dwellers.

We are supposed to have farming in the blood, yet we have tended to emigrate in enormous numbers not to "the German mid-west" to devote ourselves to raising cattle, but to the cities of New York and Boston and Chicago, to devote ourselves to raising hell.

I sometimes wonder if this is the source of all our woes -- that by some catastrophic accident, Paddy found himself marooned in Ireland, this land full of ... well ... land, doomed to be making silage and pulling bullocks out of drains, when in his true nature he was really some sharp dude tap-dancing down 42nd Street, or squiring shady ladies to opening nights on Broadway.

So he's out there on the wild side of nowhere, understandably depressed, this "farmer" whose natural territory is not rural Ireland, but the street and the honky-tonk.

Yes, that could explain a lot. That could explain everything.

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