Monday 26 August 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Turning off Eurovision: the ultimate sacrifice?'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

You can never relax in this world. Even the Eurovision is gone now, in terms of relaxation, this event which used to be uniquely relaxing.

Even at its most... shall we say, challenging, it was somehow enjoyable - because if "challenging" is the opposite of "relaxing", then the challenges posed by Eurovision were themselves somehow relaxing. This, indeed, was the secret of its relaxational genius, the fact that even if you really loved music, you could still somehow accept the terrible things that were being done to this thing that you loved, because it was only the Eurovision.

Yes, only the Eurovision - beyond right and wrong, beyond good and evil. It could reach into your head and just switch off all the usual responses you might have when faced with some cruel attack on your sensibilities. Only the Eurovision, lads, only the Eurovision.

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So I have been deeply reluctant to engage with the controversies about Israel's hosting of this year's renewal, because they have entered this place which has been so relaxing for so long - and now all we can hear is the sound that dominates our days in every other respect: stop relaxing… stop relaxing… stop relaxing...

I mean, do we really have to point out that the Eurovision has been held in Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan and no-one shouted stop? Are they really forcing us to make that obvious point, when all we want is another impeccable presentation by Marty Whelan?

And I don't want to have to say this, but increasingly it seems that I have no choice in the matter.

Senator Fintan Warfield of Sinn Fein, who was on Prime Time explaining his party's opposition to the contest being held in Tel Aviv, is a cousin of the Warfields - famed for their membership of what can only be described as The Wolfe Tones.

Now Fintan seems like the sort of chap who would usually be sound on the Eurovision question - he is sound on LGBTQI issues, he is a musician himself, and thus he is sound on music in general.

But he is linked, by birth at least, to The Wolfe Tones - and while some campaigners may have some interesting points to make on Eurovision 2019, I will not take guidance on any matter even vaguely pertaining to music from a man who is linked in any way to the Wolfe Tones - who themselves were perhaps not played as often as they'd have liked on radio or TV, due to lyrics such as "Ooh! Ah! Up The 'RA'!, Say Ooh! Ah! Up The 'RA!"

Fintan is also, of course, linked to Sinn Fein, from which we can draw a line to the aforementioned 'RA, whose chief of staff Sean Russell was very much on the wrong side of the argument during World War II. Very, very, very much on the wrong side there.

So if I was linked to Sinn Fein, I'd be looking at those other links, and I'd be thinking about the Eurovision being held in Israel, and I'd probably be saying to myself: "You know what? I think we'll give that one a swerve."

Because life is complicated, with one thing linked to another thing... until you find some poor devil in his little house in a remote part of Ireland, who never did anyone any harm, trying to relax for one evening of the year looking at the Eurovision, only to be told that in so doing, he is enabling the oppression of the Palestinians.

Even the logic of it - or the lack of logic - is vexatious to the spirit. Eurovision is in Israel this year, not by decree, but mainly due to the votes of the Eurovision hordes. Like Sinn Fein with its abstentionist policy, they could claim that there's a mandate for it.

So really it's just an accident, that will perhaps not be repeated for a generation. If you don't want it to be held in Israel, ideally you would have been protesting for years about Israel being allowed into the Eurovision in the first place, thus opening up the possibility that one night on the big scoreboard, the voting might go the wrong way - but maybe you felt that that protest might have looked a tad unreasonable.

Or maybe you were just too relaxed in your own Eurovision haze.

Anyway, the issues of Israel and Palestine did not need the intervention of the juries in 42 countries to keep them inflamed. On this island we have seen how nationalists and loyalists have adopted the flags of Palestine and Israel respectively, as a source of renewable energy for their own ever-burning hatred of each other.

They seem to think it's quite clever, that instead of Tricolour and Union Jack, they fly the flags of Palestine and Israel. Like they've got this "away" strip that works for them almost as well as the classic "home" colours...

Yes, life is complicated, and that particular complication alone would have persuaded many of us that standing outside RTE with a placard denouncing the Eurovision was not the way to be moving the needle on the Middle East situation.

And anyway, what kind of a sacrifice are they asking for here? To deprive yourself of two semi-finals and a final featuring 42 countries with their flags waving for 42 dodgy songs is almost as relaxing as watching it.

It's win-win.

Something happened to turn off the music

Last week in a Washington suburb, they held the fourth International Planetary Defence Conference, at which 300 astronomers, scientists, engineers and emergency experts discussed the potentially catastrophic scenarios which might ensue if the Earth had to defend itself against an asteroid.

I mention this because something very strange happened to me last week, in the middle of the night, on the road from Dublin to Wicklow. We were coming from the airport in fact, and it was about four in the morning, when this very strange thing came on the car radio.

It was the sound of a lost world.

The radio had been set on RTE Radio 1, but now in the early hours the station had been taken over by RTE Gold, which was playing the sound of this lost world - this vanished civilisation.

It could only have happened in this way, with these sounds coming out of the radio as soon as it was switched on - I would never have sought them out, because I have a dread of nostalgia for this or for any other lost world. And especially in the middle of the night.

Yet it was there, and it went something like this: there was Different Drum by the Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt; and Lido Shuffle by Boz Scaggs; and Let's Groove by Earth, Wind and Fire; and New York State of Mind by Billy Joel; and Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush…

The first two of these, Different Drum and Lido Shuffle, are just gorgeous masterpieces, but they were all contributing to this vision which was starting to form, and to the question: what happened?

Because something happened, at some time roughly after the middle of the 1980s, which caused all this abundance of great pop music to disappear from our daily lives, to be available now only as nostalgia. In the meantime, there would be great moments, great individual contributions, but not this almost incessant outpouring. Are You Ready For Love? by Elton John; How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths; Street Life by The Crusaders...

RTE Gold styles itself "The Greatest Hits of All Time" - but some of these used to be just the greatest hits of the week, maybe even a slow week.

So when I heard about those astronomers meeting last week to figure out what to do when this planet collides with some celestial object, I thought: maybe it's already happened, and we never even noticed.

Something happened out there, to turn off this stuff, that had been so turned on for about 30 years since the middle of the last century.

Something happened…

It takes the luck of the devil... and Lionel Messi

According to his wife Adele in her memoirs, Victor Hugo was not in the best of form when he was writing The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

He acquired "a huge grey knitted shawl, which swathed him from head to foot. He locked his formal clothes away so that he would not be tempted to go out, and entered his novel as if it were a prison. He was very sad."

There's a little bit of Victor Hugo in me, as I try to encapsulate my thoughts on Liverpool's terribly unfortunate defeat by Barcelona. It is 72 hours later, and still I have only been able to get this far. Each sentence, each word, each punctuation mark, brings with it some new feeling of grief.

I have locked my proverbial formal clothes away so that I will not be tempted to go out, and I have entered this part of the Diary as a prison, the one consolation being that this column is a bit shorter than The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

I am very sad.

But I'll tell you the truth: it takes the luck of the devil and Lionel Messi to beat Liverpool these days, and in the return leg on Tuesday, of the two, Barcelona may only have Leo Messi.

Fighting talk from me, there.

And you probably won't believe this either, but as I surveyed the run-in to the Premier League, I felt that Manchester City would be most vulnerable to Leicester, and who are they playing on Monday night?

Only Leicester, that's who.

But even forgetting last night's victory over Newcastle, there is no doubt that regardless of how many points they have at the end of the season, Liverpool have already "won" this league in so many ways. Most right-thinking people have already been celebrating for weeks. Because if it takes the luck of the devil and Lionel Messi to stay ahead of Liverpool in the Champions League, it takes the luck of the devil and billions in "sports-washing" from the UAE to stay ahead of them in the Premier League.

I rest my case. Whatever it is. And I'll see you on the other side.

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