Sunday 25 August 2019

This Man's Life: Gabriel Byrne fought evil, and Emilia Egan ate Taylor Swift's biscuits

Gabriel Byrne
Gabriel Byrne
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

It's not every day I go to see a horror movie at the cinema. But the great Gabriel Byrne was in Hereditary. So I had to see it.

One of the reviews said Exorcist-scary Hereditary. was a "ruthlessly disturbing" supernatural story that is also "an intricate meditation on mourning". Another review cited the poet Anne Carson's answer to the question, Why does tragedy exist? "Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief."

Gabriel is brilliant as a shrink named Steven in a family, as another critic put it, who are unhappy in ways that yer man Tolstoy could never have dreamed of. After the funeral of her mother, Gabriel's wife asks him: "Should I be sadder?"

He has played shrinks before (who can forget the profoundly world-weary Dr Paul Weston in In Treatment) but the archangel Gabriel has also been confronted by supernatural evil before: as a Jesuit priest investigating demonic possession in Stigmata, and even as Satan himself in the apocalyptic End Of Days.

Slightly apropos of which, I remember Gabriel discussing Mephistopheles a good few years ago in New York one night...

Gabriel recalled how he once rented a property opposite Marlon Brando's in LA "a very modest house next to Jack Nicholson. Brando was very articulate about what fame does to people and how dangerous it is and he talks about Mephistopheles and the pact that you make with the devil at your own peril".

"If you are not a strong person, it will destroy you," Gabriel added. "You can list off the people in film or music that fame has destroyed.

"What happens is not that you change so much as people's perceptions of you change and that changes," Gabriel said, adding that the values his father Dan Byrne passed on to his son - family, love, friendship, loyalty - have protected him throughout his years in Hollywood, where treachery is on a Shakespearean scale.

Shakespeare reappeared in the conversation when I asked him how he viewed fallen giants like Charles J Haughey. He immediately cited King Lear.

Before I had a chance to blather about a mad Lear raging naked on a stormy heath, Gabriel said that Shakespeare always went for what was "essentially the humanity of the hero or the anti-hero".

He then elaborated: "Charlie Haughey isn't just an Irish character, he is a Shakespearean protagonist, and he is a man of enormous hubris who loses it all. I think he must be a man in a lot of pain.

"On the other hand, it is hard to feel sympathy with the actions that he committed at that time when the country was going under.

"The Charlie Haughey story is about power, about sex, about loyalty, about friendship. It is about ethics, and it is about history, mortality, and the fleeting and mercurial nature of the personal and the political."

*******

"They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one," Taylor Swift sang, on I Did Something Bad, last weekend in Croke Park.

It is not for nothing that Taylor's lyrics are dissected by critics as though they are the Dead Sea Scrolls of post-and-pre-teen angst.

Judging by the reactions from the post-and-pre-teens in the audience, Taylor Swift's words are the Dead Sea Scrolls set to pop anthems and sung in a sparkly chariot with snakes giving chase.

Before the show last Friday, my three-and-a-half year-old daughter, (who is dressing up as a witch this Halloween), my wife Aoife and I were invited backstage to meet Taylor Swift.

It was an hour before the biggest female star in the world was due on stage. Yet there was no rush about Ms Taylor.

She was happy to chat. And unlike most famous people, her favourite subject wasn't herself.

She wanted to chat to my daughter - who was happy to eat Ms Taylor's biscuits and watch Peppa Pig on my phone. This was Emilia's first concert. She had been fascinated by a video of Taylor dancing in the rain before we went into her dressing room and as such was concerned that Taylor might get "wet and be cold".

Taylor found Emilia's concern for her really cute. Reciprocating Emilia's concern with her own, Taylor asked one of her management team to get some noise-blocking earphones for Emilia to wear at the show.

Despite the ultra-stardom, Taylor has still more than a touch of the girl-next-door about her, not least because she goes to the trouble of getting a young child earphones for her own show.

When Taylor - over six foot tall in the boots she was about to walk on stage in - gave the child a goodbye hug, Emilia burst into tears and said, "I want to go home!"

Taylor roared with laughter and said she felt the same.

As it turned out, Emilia didn't want to go home at all and danced on her seat to Taylor Swift until way past her bedtime.

When Emilia woke up last Sunday morning, her first words were: "I was at my friend Taylor's big concert last night. I don't like snakes, daddy!"

Nor does Taylor Swift, Emilia, but she has re-imagined snakes as a form of fourth-wave feminism, female empowerment in the shared struggle against global misogyny, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

One day when she is older, Emilia will understand what the concert was about.

As will I.

Sunday Independent

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