I’ve blogged a lot about Tommy Makem since his death two weeks ago, including a lengthy post explaining what he meant to me. But they say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and in this case, an audio clip is worth about a million of ‘em. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Brendan Loy, at 3 years old, singing about moonshine:
The song is “The Hills of Connemara,” and I know it’s probably bad form to call myself “cute,” but good lord, is there anything more adorable than hearing a 3-year-old sing, “Run like the devil from the excise man”? :) I had no idea what any of it meant, of course; I just thought it was a fun song. But there you go: if you thought maybe I was exaggerating when I told those stories about singing rowdy Irish songs in my early childhood, now you know I wasn’t. (And if you ever wondered why I took such a liking to “Rocky Top,” maybe that question too is answered: apparently I just like songs about concealing illegal alcohol from the authorities!)
The audio clip comes from an old cassette tape, recently dug up by my mom, of my parents and I performing Irish music in our living room for my Grandma and Grandpa Loomer and my Papa Loy — all now deceased — and my Uncle Robert, sometime in 1985. You can hear a lot of Grandpa in that clip; he’s the one who played an “A” for my mom before the song, who commented “the show’s getting better, Robert,” and who cheered loudly at the end. In this later clip from the same concert, of “Place in the Choir,” you can hear Grandpa again at the end, and also Papa Loy saying “This is good, I want to hear the rest of it” when I abruptly interrupted the song to comment on our previous performance. (Hey, what do you want, I was three!) Entirely aside from the nostalgia of the music, and of hearing myself as a little kid, it’s also really cool to hear my grandfathers’ voices again. :) Anyway…
Judging by my parents’ comments, it seems that that was the first time I ever sang along with them on “Place in the Choir.” Which is pretty funny, because it soon became one of my all-time favorites, and has always remained so — to the point where, when my mom busted out the guitar last week in the Adirondacks so we could sing a few songs in Makem’s honor, it was one of the first songs I suggested. We had some trouble remembering the verses, but here it is: the same song, by the same singers, 22 years later…
P.S. It’s possible I was 4 years old, not 3. The tape is labeled “1985,” so I’m assuming I was 3, since I didn’t turn 4 until October 30 of that year. But it could have been late 1985, in which case I would have been 4. It’s also possible the label is wrong. But in any event, I was really young.
Tommy Makem’s funeral is later today in Dover, New Hampshire. A large crowd of mourners is expected.
Rumor has it that my mom was planning to bring her guitar to the cabin in the Adirondacks where we’re meeting up tomorrow. If that happens, I suspect we may sing a few songs in Tommy’s honor.
P.S. Here is the Irish Echo article about Makem’s passing.
Just wait till I have one of my own to indoctrinate… :)
Speaking of which, Becky is 19 weeks pregnant as of yesterday, which means that little Baby Loy now “measures 6 inches, head to bottom Ã¢â‚¬â€ about the length of a small zucchini.” From A(vocado) to Z(ucchini) in just three weeks! And if all goes well with the ultrasound next Monday, hopefully we’ll find out whether he’s a male zucchini or a female zucchini!
Funeral arrangements for Tommy Makem have been announced:
Relatives and friends are invited to call Monday from 7 to 9 p.m., Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., and Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., at the Tasker Funeral Home, 621 Central Ave., Dover. [Yes, but will there be booze at the wake? -ed.]
A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Thursday at St. Mary Church, corner of Chestnut and Third Streets, with Rev. Fritz Cerullo, O.S.A. Pastor as celebrant. Burial will follow in St. Mary New Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, it is requested that memorials in his name be made to a fund being started in the name of Tommy & Mary Makem Fund, c/o Attorney William H. Shaheen, P.O. Box 977, Dover, NH 03821-0977.
Also, according to Makem.com, “Condolences and Mass Cards can be sent to PO Box 336, Dover, NH 03821-0336.”
P.S. There will be a tribute to Makem on Sunday at the Dublin Irish Festival in Dublin, OH. Makem was originally scheduled to appear at the festival.
As long as I’m posting old Makem and Clancy clips… here’s a funny one from the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem about the whole Catholic-Protestant conflict. The joke the precedes that the song (told by the late great Tommy Makem, in fine form as usual) might be the best part, but the song (The Old Orange Flute) is pretty funny too.
WARNING: This is a long post, but darn it, I want it all above the jump. If you’d like to skip over the family stuff, and go straight to where I make fun of the Associated Press, click here.
Readers who didn’t catch my Tuesday post about Tommy Makem may be wondering why I’m making such a fuss over his death, especially with so much else happening in the news. Indeed, a friend texted me this evening, “I’m embarrassed to ask, but I don’t know who he is!”
Well, the AP obituary gives the basic gist of the answer to that question, as does the NPR audio story. But the bottom line is this: there’s a good reason they call him the “Godfather of Irish Music.” Tommy Makem was a great Irish folk singer, but more than that, he was an extraordinary musician and storyteller who played a huge part in popularizing Irish folk music here in America — real Irish folk music, not the sort of maudlin stuff that Bing Crosby sang. I’m talking songs of rebellion, booze and love: songs like “Roddy McCorley,” “The Irish Rover,” and “The Leaving of Liverpool,” to name a tiny handful of the many, many awesome songs that he and the Clancy Brothers performed over the years.
Makem, along with his former bandmates the Clancys, lent pop-culture credibility to Ireland’s traditional songs, injecting them with a unique style and weaving them into the folk-music revolution of the 1960s. (To give you an idea, the boys were close with Bob Dylan, among others. Indeed, the very last joint performance by Makem and the Clancys occurred in 1992, when they sang together at the televised 30th Anniversary Concert for Dylan.) Makem also enhanced those traditions with his own wonderful compositions, such as the tender “Red Is the Rose” and the poignant, militant “Four Green Fields” (about which I’ll have much more to say below).
The Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen puts Makem’s success in a broader cultural context, writing that his “music inspired a phenomenon sociologists call ‘third generation return,’ in which the grandchildren of immigrants discover and embrace their roots. Tommy Makem sang to the Irish diaspora, some 70 million of them, songs that gave some context to the colonization and subjugation of Ireland that explained why you were listening to the song in Boston, Bristol or Brisbane.”
Well, that doesn’t quite apply to me, nor to the Loy family’s original Makem fanatic, my dad. We’re considerably more than three generations removed from our Irish roots: my paternal grandmother, Helen McNamara Loy, was 100% Irish, but she was already several generations (we’re not sure exactly how many) removed from the McNamaras who immigrated. My dad is 50% Irish, and I’m just 25%. Still, I don’t think there’s any doubt that consciousness of our Irish heritage made each of us, in turn, more likely to enjoy and embrace Makem’s music.
Anyway, a bit of history is in order here. Papa & Nana Loy liked the Bing Crosby-type Irish music, not the rowdier fare sung by the lads in white sweaters on Ed Sullivan in 1961 (when my dad was 13), so Makem and the Clancys never made their way into the Loy household when my dad was growing up. Thus, although he was a teenager throughout much of their glory years, my dad wasn’t actually exposed to their music until he arrived at Georgetown in the fall of 1966. His interest was piqued by a roommate’s vinyl record of the band, and before long, a lifelong pastime was born.
My dad attended his first Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem concert in November 1967 at Lisner Auditorium on the George Washington campus. After the concert, he went to a nearby Irish pub with his then-girlfriend. Liam Clancy was at the pub, too, with two lovely ladies — both of whom he left at his table to walk over and flirt with my dad’s girlfriend. Heh. (Liam was always something of a ladies’ man, what with his mountain of women and all.)
In 1969, Makem left the Clancy Brothers to pursue a solo career but in 1975, he reunited with Liam — and so it was that my parents’ first date, on April 24, 1976, was a Makem & Clancy concert at The Bushnell in Hartford. So, in the Marty McFly/Enchantment Under the Sea sense, it’s entirely possible that if it weren’t for Tommy Makem, I wouldn’t be here.
My parents got married in May 1977, and I was born in October 1981. By that point, they had built up an impressive collection of Clancy Brothers and Makem & Clancy records, and I grew up listening to those records. While other kids were singing about mulberry bushes, twinkling stars, and row, row, rowing boats, I was learning sea chanteys like “Haul Away Joe,” rebel anthems like “The Rising of the Moon,” and drinking songs like “The Moonshiner.” By age three, I could recite most of “Will You Go Lassie Go” verbatim, and not long after, I was intoning whole verses of “Four Green Fields” and — most infamously — “Drink Up The Cider,” the one about knocking the milkmaids over and rolling them in the clover. ;) In other words, I grew up listening to this stuff, singing it, and loving it. Irish music, as sung by Makem and the Clancys, became part of my identity from a very early age… so much so that, as I said on Tuesday, the songs “comprise a substantial portion of my lifeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s soundtrack.”
I’m not certain whether I ever attended a Tommy Makem concert as a kid. My mom thinks we all went to a Makem & somebody concert in Shelton, Connecticut at some point, probably in the very late ’80s or very early ’90s, but I’m not certain about that. I remember going to an Irish music concert in Massachusetts during roughly that same time frame, but I believe that was the Clancy Brothers in some combination, without Makem. I know my parents saw Makem in Newington in 1994, when I was 12, but it so happened I was out of town that week, visiting Wisconsin with my uncle and aunt and cousins. I also know I saw Liam Clancy with my parents at Mystic in 2001, but that was looong after his 1988 breakup with Makem.
Regardless, I feel very lucky that I was able to see Makem twice in the last two years of his life, both times at Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. The first time was on September 30, 2005; regular readers might remember me blogging about the unique sequence of events that began with a prayer for serenity at the Grotto (this was shortly after Sarah LeFoll’s death) and ended with me remembering, at almost literally the last minute, that Makem was on campus that night, snatching a ticket just as the doors were closing, and having an absolutely fantastic time. The only downside was that, because I forgot about the concert until just before showtime, I wasn’t able to drag Becky along. But almost a year later, on September 15, 2006, I did just that when Makem returned to campus, and Becky — who is not easily impressed — declared Makem “an utterly enchanting performer.” I’m so glad I was able to share him with her before he died.
I want to harken back, though, to the 2005 concert for a moment. Whereas Makem’s opening act in ‘06 was the middling local Irish band Kennedy’s Kitchen (Becky thinks they’re awful; I think they’re OK, but not great), his opening act in ‘05 was the Makem & Spain Brothers — his own sons Shane, Conor and Rory, plus Mickey and Liam Spain — and they were very good. Moreover, Tommy himself was excellent in 2005. Not that he wasn’t good in 2006 too, but by then he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer, and you could tell he’d lost just a little of the spring in his step and the robustness in his voice. In 2005, though, the Bard of Armagh was still just about 100% on top of his game, particularly in the concert-ending encore performance that I’ll remember as long as I live, of Makem’s own “Four Green Fields.” Before I describe it, those who don’t know the song should probably listen to it:
Here are the song’s lyrics. As you can tell, it’s a potent anthem for the Irish republican cause. Well… I presume you can tell that. If you can, that puts you a step ahead of Associated Press writer David Tirrell-Wysocki, who, in a hilariously clueless spasm of ignorant literalism, said Makem “brought audiences to tears with ‘Four Green Fields,’ about a woman whose sons died trying to prevent strangers from taking her fields.” That’s kind of like saying that George Orwell enthralled readers with his children’s story about talking pigs. “Four Green Fields” isn’t about a woman and her fields, it’s about Ireland (personified as an “old woman”) and its four provinces (represented by “green fields”), one of which remains occupied (”taken”) by the British (the “strangers”) despite the best efforts of the Irish people (her “sons”). How anyone could be allowed to write the official AP obituary of Tommy Makem without understanding that basic bit of fairly straightforward symbolism in his most famous song, I have no idea.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the ‘05 concert at Notre Dame and its grand finale, Makem’s rousing performance of “Four Green Fields.” Now then, before I continue, I should probably pause to say that just because I love the song doesn’t necessarily mean I endorse everything it arguably espouses (although it doesn’t explicitly endorse violence, it can certainly be interpreted that way). I love the song not because of its political message, but because it’s a beautiful, poignant, powerful song, and because when Makem was on the microphone, it was always beautifully, poignantly, and powerfully sung — never moreso than on that September night in 2005, when the then-72-year-old Bard of Armagh belted out every note with so much flair and vigor that you’d have thought he was still 28 and fresh off his white-sweatered debut on Ed Sullivan. In my mind’s ear, I can almost still hear his wonderfully warbling baritone, decrying the “plundering and pillage” and mourning the starvation of the Irish people “by mountain, valley and sea.” To borrow a turn of phrase: his voice shook the very heavens. (In the process, it apparently shook down the thunder from the sky, considering he was at Notre Dame on the eve of the Purdue game, and his appearance had been advertised by flyers asking, “Can this man help us beat Purdue?” Answer: yes!)
But the grand finale’s grand finale came in the third and final verse when — as Tommy took a breath after singing “I have four green fields / One of them’s in bondage / In stranger’s hands / Who tried to take it from me” — his sons, the Makem Brothers, emerged from the shadows (they and the Spain Brothers had been quietly doing background vocals and instrumentals throughout the song) and sang the next line along with him: “But my sons have sons / As brave as were their fathers!” Then the sons stepped back into the shadows, and the father finished the song: “My fourth green field / Will bloom once again, said she!” It was an exquisitely powerful musical moment, one that words can’t do justice, nor could a video or audio recording, if I had it (which I don’t). I daresay it’s right up there with Great Big Sea’s a capella rendition of “Old Brown’s Daughter” as the most memorable single musical performances I’ve ever seen. And, especially now that Makem’s gone, I know I’ll cherish that memory forever.
Anyway… I think that’s just about all I have to say about Makem (finally, right?). But before I sign off, here’s a bit more of what the Globe’s Kevin Cullen had to say:
Like all great troubadours, Tommy Makem isn’t dead. His body is lifeless, having finally succumbed to the lung cancer that ate away at him the last few years.
But Tommy Makem was an Irish soul singer, and souls don’t die. His music is preserved, on the old vinyl LPs he made with his pals, the Clancy brothers, more recently on CDs, more intimately in memory, in the hard drive of any brain that heard his basso profundo voice.
To hear Tommy Makem sing “Four Green Fields” was to hear Enrico Caruso sing “Vesti la giubba,” or James Brown sing “I Feel Good.” He was for Irish traditional music a great ambassador, and a consummate performer.
But anyone who met Tommy Makem - and I met him several times - will tell you that he had that Clintonesque ability of making you feel like you were the only one in the room with him, that whatever you had to say was more important than what he had to sing.
Anyway… how to end this post? Not with another “Rest in Peace” or “Thanks for the memories”… I mean those things, but I’ve already said them. I’ve also done the whole irreverent tribute thing. So I guess perhaps the best conclusion is to post one final Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem video clip. And it’s a good one: Rocky Road to Dublin, back when the boys were all together. Enjoy:
My parents won’t want to miss this video: it shows a very hippieish-looking Tommy Makem — with sideburns! — singing The Leaving of Liverpool on a rather psychedelic stage in 1973:
I’ll Tell Me Ma:
A classic Makem story/joke, followed by The Ballad Of William Bloat:
And for anyone who missed it in Tuesday’s post, here again is Brennan on the Moor, which I think is my favorite of the YouTube clips I’ve found so far:
Here is the official Makem.com thread on the Bard’s passing. More here. I can’t even access The Mudcat, presumably because they’re overwhelmed with traffic from Makem mourners. [UPDATE: Here’s the Mudcat thread about Makem.] There are lots of tributes over on LiamClancy.com, too, including this post by Liam himself:
Good friends - I just got the word from the family that Tommy passed away at about 6.45PM in Dover NH. As you all probably know he has been ill for quite a while. His suffering at last is over.
He was a friend and partner-in-song for over fifty years. We shared a great hunk of our lives together. We were a hell of a team. Tommy was a man of high integrity, honesty, and, at the end, courage. Our paths diverged at times but our friendship never waned. He was my brother every bit as much as my blood brothers.
His death has left a void that cannot be filled. A great entertainer has left us.
All our thoughts and prayers go out now to his family - Katey, Shane, Conor, Rory, Molly and all those close to him.
But perhaps the most fitting tribute comes from a Makem.com poster, Kevin Tunstill, who quoted “The Parting Glass” in its entirety. Here’s an audio recording of that lovely, and appropriate, song:
While I’m sure Makem would appreciate that send-off, I also think he’d probably enjoy something a bit more upbeat. After all, the Irish are renowned for their rowdy wakes, based on the notion that we should celebrate the life of the deceased rather than merely mourning his death — and in Makem’s case, there’s certainly a long and wonderful life to celebrate. Moreover, while Makem’s death is a sad blow to those of us left here on Earth with a sudden musical void in our hearts, I don’t doubt that he’s looking down from Heaven and getting a kick out of all the commotion that’s being made, and will continue to be made in the coming days, over his passing. To that end, and in honor of this great man, I offer the following rough transcription of Makem’s own thoughts from beyond the grave:
Heck, he’s probably singing that, or some other similarly irreverent song about death (”Finnegan’s Wake,” perhaps?) with Tom and Paddy right now. I’m sure God and the angels are enjoying the show. I bet even King Billy is tapping his feet.
I’ll have more to say about Makem’s passing in the coming hours and days. For now, all I can say is, Rest in Peace, Tommy Makem. Thanks for all the wonderful music and memories. You’ll be sorely missed.
Here’s another wonderful old Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem clip, showing the boys in concert singing The Irish Rover, one of my favorites as kid. (Sean and others can attest that I used to sing it during recess when I was in elementary school.)
And here’s a clip from a BBC documentary showing, among other things, Makem and the Clancys performing for President Kennedy:
I know I said this in yesterday’s post about Tommy Makem’s declining health, but since it was after the jump and thus most readers probably missed it, I’ll say it again: if anybody is reading this from South Bend, would you mind lighting a candle for him at the Grotto for me? Thanks!
I recently learned, much to my dismay, that the great Tommy Makem is battling cancer. The “Godfather of Irish Music,” whose songs comprise a substantial portion of my life’s soundtrack, was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2006, and the folk-music discussion site Mudcat.org reported last week that the cancer has now spread to his liver. Blogger Ron Olesko says Makem is “receiving hospital treatment.” [CORRECTION: In a later Mudcat post, a guest identified as “The Makem family” writes, “His cancer has not spread to his liver and right now he is resting comfortably.”] [UPDATE, 8/4/07: Sadly, Tommy Makem has passed away. More below.]
Makem was “too ill” to attend the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Nova Scotia a month ago, and he has cancelled his scheduled appearance at this weekend’s Dublin Irish Festival in Dublin, Ohio. His official schedule still includes upcoming performances at Irish Fest Milwaukee (Aug. 17-19) and the Newport Irish Festival (Sept. 2), but I don’t know if that’s a solid plan or just a hope. Information on his current condition is rather sketchy.
In any event, the sad news of Makem’s worsening health has given me occasion to reminisce about the importance of his music — as well as that of the Clancy Brothers, with whom Makem performed in various combinations and incarnations through the years — to my life. I feel very much like Olesko, who wrote, “For many of us, Tommy Makem has been a huge part of our lives and the music we love. Thank you Tommy for all you have shared with us.”
Here’s a video clip of Makem singing one of my favorites, Roddy McCorley:
Much more, including more videos, after the jump.
I’m not sure where Becky and I will be in mid-August — we have ambitions of possibly travelling overseas after the bar exam, depending on how our budget looks — but if we’re in the States, I fully intend to drag our butts to Milwaukee from August 17-19 for the Milwaukee Irish Fest. Because, man, look at the list of performers! Not only does it include both Tommy Makem and the Barra MacNeils, two of my all-time favorites, but there are just a ton of other big names there too, like Leahy, Aoife Clancy, Gaelic Storm, etc. Totally awesome. (If only Great Big Sea wasn’t going to be in Scotland that weekend, maybe they’d be coming too!) Seriously, if you live anywhere near Milwaukee and you enjoy Irish/Celtic/folk music, mark those dates on your calendar and plan on going, because it should be an amazing festival!!
Becky and I are at DPAC for the Tommy Makem show. Woohoo!
UPDATE: The show was good… not quite as good as last year’s, IMHO, but good. Toward the end, he sang “Will Ye Go Lassie Go” — which, if my childhood had a soundtrack, would be on the album for sure — so that was a thrill. Oh, and “Waltzing With Bears.” Teehee.
The greater South Bend/Granger metro area will be buzzing, nay rocking, with good music tonight. Brooke has the scoop on the Surreal McCoys, a band of NDLS grads who will be performing in Granger at 10pm or thereabouts. Visit her site for all the details.
I wish I could see the McCoys, but taking priority tonight for me is the Bard of Armagh, Tommy Makem, who is performing at DPAC at 8:30. I love Makem, and this time Becky and I will both be there. You can be too — tickets are still available!
Regular readers may remember a previous post in which I sung the praises of the country band Sugarland, and lamented that they weren’t touring anywhere near Phoenix over the summer. So you can imagine I was delighted to discover that they’re playing this Friday in Milwaukee, which is close enough to South Bend that I can plausibly call it “driving distance.” Yeah, it’s a long way to go for a concert — but hey, it’s a holiday weekend (although, don’t tell the law school schedulers that!), the tickets were only $15 a pop, and the concert features both Sugarland and Brooks & Dunn! So, what the heck? Why not? Maybe we can make a day of it, and tour the Miller Brewery before heading back on Saturday. :) (Seriously, anyone with suggestions about things to do in Milwaukee, leave ‘em in comments!)
Even better than that, though, was my discovery on Friday that Tommy Makem is coming back to Notre Dame! He’s playing at the DPAC on the Friday before the Michigan game. Makem has been a lifelong favorite (of my dad’s, and subsequently, of mine too), and last fall I had an awesome time at a Makem concert at DPAC — but the plan was so last-minute that I was unable to drag Becky along. This time, I’m prepared, and tomorrow I plan to call the box office and order two tickets. I’ve also added the concert to my list of countdown dates at left.
Alas, the timing of the Makem concert means I won’t be able to see the Surreal McCoys in their return visit to South Bend, at Club 22/JT’s Sports Bar and Grill that same night (opening act from 7-10, McCoys “to follow”). And another “alas” for the timing of the Barra MacNeils’ visit to Chicago the next day, which conflicts directly with the ND-Michigan game. (The concert is from 1:50 to ~3:00 EDT, the game starts at 3:30 EDT, and it takes 2 hours, on a non-football day, to get from Chicago to South Bend.) I’m really bummed about that, since the Barras — unlike my other favorite Maritime Canadian band, Great Big Sea — so rarely tour in the States. But I ain’t missing the Michigan game!!
Still, I’m really excited about Sugarland, Brooks & Dunn and Makem. It’s going to be a fun few weeks of music!