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Finnegan’s Wake, a Glance at Irish Mysticism through Lyrical Satire

 

Finnegan’s Wake is amongst my favorite traditional Irish songs and it has been a staple of the Irish balladeer’s repertoire since the middle of the 19th century. Over the past several decades it has been covered by great and legendary Irish bands like The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, the Pogues, and most recently the Massachusetts-based Dropkick Murphys.  However, like much of Irish lyrical tradition stretching back to the ancient bards “Finnegan’s Wake” is in reality a work of deep esoteric value cleverly disguised as a silly drinking song that only the initiated were likely to fully comprehend.

At Face Value

The story tells of Tim Finnegan, a poor construction worker with a love for the liquor who drank a bit too much before work one morning, fell from a ladder, broke his skull and died. Upon the eve of his wake his friends and relatives arrive at his home to mourn him.  Biddy O’Brien begins crying loudly and is essentially told to shut up by one Paddy McGee.

Once Maggie O’Connor gets involved in the exchange telling Biddy she’s wrong, Biddy punches her in the mouth, leaving her ‘sprawling on the floor.”  Then all Hell breaks loose as the entire house becomes engaged in a brawl “woman to woman and man to man,” brandishing their shillelaghs, the classical Irish club.

A bottle of whiskey is thrown across the room, just barely missing Mickey Maloney, and instead landing on Tim Finnegan’s bed with the whiskey scattering all over his body. At that point Tim revives and “rises from the bed,” and delivers the punch line of the ballad; “Whittle your whiskey around like blazes, Thanum an Dhul![1] Do you think I’m dead?”

 

The Mystery Unveiled

While this ballad is typically considered a comical drinking song, it actually gives us a glimpse into an old Irish and western mystical tradition.

Tim Finnegan is a construction-worker. Although this was a common vocation amongst Irishmen throughout the 19th century, there is much more being said here than meets the eye, or ear.  As the lyrics clearly tell us “to rise in the world he carried a hod.” A hod is a tool used for carrying bricks and mortar, telling us that Mr. Finnegan was, in fact a mason. Since no later than 1717 AD the repository for esoteric wisdom in Western countries has been the order of Free and Accepted Masons who trace their historic origins to the medieval stone masons guilds, and from there symbolically to the ancient builders of Greek, Egyptian and Israelite temples.

Let us also take note that Tim Finnegan carries his hod “to rise in the world.” In Freemasonry, it is said that a candidate is “raised” to the degree of a Master Mason. Freemasonry also makes use of the symbolism of death and resurrection through the allegory of the architect Hiram Abiff.

Architecture, construction work and craftsmanship have been metaphors for mystical knowledge going back thousands of years. In ancient Irish mythology the three brothers Luchta, Goibniu, and Credne are known as the Trí Dée Dána (the three gods of art).  Each represented the respective trades of carpentry, blacksmithing, and silver-smithing, and they crafted the weapons which the Tuatha Dé Danann (Irish ancestor gods) used to conquer the Fomorians (Irish beings of chaos and darkness).

In ancient Egypt, the god Ptah was the patron of craftsmen and architects, and he was closely associated as an aspect of the dying and resurrecting god Osiris.  Both of these deities were incorporated by the Greeks into the god Dionysus, well known as a patron of wine and spirits.  It is more than coincidence that Jesus of Nazareth, perhaps the most well-known dying and resurrecting god is often cited as having been a carpenter before he began his spiritual mission and he, much like his forebears also had an affinity toward life-giving and preserving drink.

A further look at the lyrics of this ballad reveals that at the wake of Finnegan they placed a gallon of whiskey at his feet and a barrel of porter at his head. This sentiment is echoed in the Irish ballad “Jug of Punch” in which the balladeer requests upon his death “just lay me down in my native peat with a jug of punch at my head and feet.”  This is a particularly Irish rendition of the tradition found amongst the world’s cultures of making sacramental offerings to the dead.  The making and pouring of libations is well documented in European traditions.

As mentioned previously, Jesus, Osiris and Dionysus are not only associated with death and resurrection, they are all three also closely associated with drinking rituals. Amongst other things, Dionysus is a god of wine. Osiris is said to have taught the world the art of brewing.  Jesus turned water into wine. Similarly, the Irish craftsman-god Goibniu also brewed the beer of immortality.

The English word whiskey is derived from the Irish Gaelic uisce beatha which translates as “the waters of life.” So when the whiskey scatters across the corpse of Tim Finnegan, it literally, magically and sacramentally imbues him with life; a spiritual conception which stretches back through centuries of esoteric tradition.

Conclusion

The dying and resurrecting god is not just a rhetorical device for dramatic affect. To ancient civilizations death and rebirth are symbolic of the annual cycle, the dying and rebirth of the summertime, the growing season and of the sun, so often symbolic of divinity. This symbolism has been revised, reincorporated and redistributed as a multitude of myths, legends and doctrines throughout the world in order to teach each civilization or cult’s particular perspective on the meaning of creation.

A creator god’s primary attribute is creativity, and this trait has been imitated through the creative works of humans whom are believed to be made in the divine image. Art, music, agriculture and most especially architecture has long been associated metaphorically if not literally with godliness, and enlightenment.
Finnegan’s Wake is far more than just another drinking song. It is a humorous retelling of an ancient initiation myth.  Tim Finnegan is not just a drunk construction worker who died and came back to life.  He is the personification of the mystery of the dying and resurrecting god represented in the form of Irish lyrical satire.

[1]d’anam ‘on Diabhal. a common curse: your soul to the Devil, from the Irish D’anam don Diabhal

Mento Music: Reggae’s Granddaddy

Mento music is a little known style of folk music and dance native to the island of Jamaica that saw its commercial peak in the 1950s.  Sometimes called Jamaican Calypso, it is closely related to that Trinidadian musical form.

Mento bands usually consist of small groups of musicians. Acoustic guitar, fifes, maracas, and the rumba box are all typical elements in the musical production. Banjo however, seems to be central in traditional Mento. Particularly rural groups often featured hand-made instruments such as the bamboo clarinet and saxophone.

A unique style of music, mento is the lineal forebear of reggae, and like blues it is a blend of European folk musics, especially of British Isles and Spanish influence along with many elements of traditional West African music.  For reasons that are more intricate than this blog-post is prepared to delve into, Trinidadian Calypso was more marketable than Jamaican Mento, and by the middle of the 20th century it had become the music of the Caribbean.

After Calypso lost its commercial appeal record companies decided to make jazz the new music of the Caribbean and began importing jazz musicians into the islands.  Jazz didn’t take root like they had hoped but this injection of fresh blood mixed with the rootsy sound of the Jamaican shanty towns and the new sounds coming from the United States over short-wave radio resulted in the creation of Ska.

Ska was an upbeat dancehall style of music comparable to America’s old rock and roll, recognizable for the guitar skank rhythm style.  With the heavy injection of ganja culture, ska superstars such as the Wailers began slowing down their tempos creating the short-lived style rocksteady – best thought of as what I think it really is: a small bridge between ska and reggae.

Reggae emerges with the dominance of Rastafarian philosophy in the previous style, with typically even slower, more intricate rhythms, lyrics with deep spiritual and socio-political messages. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Toots and the Maytals all played defining moments in ska, rocksteady, and reggae, but none of them would have been as significant without Mento.

Below is my cover of “Miss Constance,” a traditional Mento tune available for download here.

Katy Perry’s New Music Video for “Chained to the Rhythm” Gave Me PTSD

I just watched Katy Perry’s new video “Chained to the Rhythm.” And I think it just gave me PTSD.


I suppose there’s a bit of a message in this video. It seems to be a commentary on American excess and distraction with entertainment and I guess how that’s killing us.

In the end it just made me think about dying by being launched from medieval siege weaponry. Watch the video below for the full story.




Tyla J. Pallas, One Creative Dog

Few artists have had as much of an influence on me as Tyla J. Pallas.  It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that I learned to sing by listening to this man.

I first discovered Tyla when I saw an ad for his band the Dog’s D’Amour and their album release In the Dynamite Jet Saloon in Hit Parader Magazine in 1988.  I acquired the album through some means after that, and was fairly pleased by the record.  Though you couldn’t tell by looking at the album cover, the Dogs D’Amour were doing something in strong contrast to all the other hard rock bands that were making a name in the mid and late 80s.  The songwriting was a striking and refreshing twist on the blues-infused rock and roll pioneered by classic bands such like the Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith.

On top of guitarist Jo Dog’s phenomenal slide guitar work on In the Dynamite Jet Saloon, Tyla’s gritty, bourbon-wrecked vocals defined the sound and personality of the Dogs D’Amour.  His fluctuation between growling, mumbling, and quirky melodic deliveries helped create a dynamic and distinct sound.  As the primary songwriter, Tyla’s lyrical approach was infused with the dark poeticism of Charles Bukoski, romantic and desperate.  It was quite a departure from the party-anthem bands that defined the decade.  Tunes like the ballad “How Come It Never Rains” and the acoustic “Billy Two Rivers” stand out the most.

While Dynamite Jet Saloon is a great album, it was only a couple years later when a friend moved to my hometown from England and brought with him the follow up and mostly acoustic albums Errol Flynn and A Graveyard of Empty Bottles that I really became the die-hard fan I still am to this day.  These albums were amazingly written. Everything that was good about Dynamite Jest Saloon was doubled-down on and made great. To me, these albums are what the Dogs D’Amour were all about.

The Dog’s D’Amour, A Graveyard of Empty Bottles, 1989


Each song on those records is so good it’s difficult to shine a light on any of them over the others, but “Comfort of the Devil” and “Ballad of Jack” probably stand out the most. Both exemplify the mixed styles of blues-rock and country with a distinctly recognizable English interpretation that defined the Dogs.  Not only did these acoustically dominated albums convince me of the viability of the approach in an era defined by electric guitar, it reacquainted me with my native County and Western music and put a mark on my musical delivery that is still with me to this day.

Second to the music, or course were the album covers featuring Tyla’s distinctive artwork, mostly paintings.  They were personal interpretations of the band in a style that was a mix of naïve and almost comic art, and expressionism.  As an aspiring singer and visual artist myself, I found this approach inspiring..

Over the years since these early Dog days, Tyla has produced a host of solo projects and collaborations, while his artistic abilities have developed into a well-crafted, distinct and recognizable style that is the natural visual counterpart to the wicked western blues rock that is Tyla’s legacy.

The Dog’s D’Amour, Errol Flynn, 1989


Pub Songs on Palafox by Lojah

Pub Songs on Palafox is a four song, lo-fi EP recorded in the raw as a live-air production that captures the energy and sound of a Lojah solo performance while busking downtown Pensacola, Florida in competition with the various sounds of a bustling city street.

Lojah begins with a rowdy Irish pub tune, Dicey Reilly, about a lush of a woman who spends her life crawling from pub to pub; a sailor’s favorite. The Black Velvet Band is another classic Irish ballad about infatuation, deceit and injustice which takes us out of the pub and away from the Emerald Isle to a penal colony in Australia. Following up is Looks Like Jesus, a rockabilly-blues styled piece and a Lojah original tells the story illustrating the conflict between despair and ambition, shroud with esoteric imagery, set in the Southern atmosphere he calls home. Miss Constance concludes the record, a naughty Caribbean-styled tune about the perils of younger women.
Lojah’s Creolized Roots Music is a style deeply influenced by Caribbean rhythms, Celtic melodies, and blues.



Download Pub Songs on Palfox here.


Yuletide Greeting from Lojah 2016

Hey folks,

I almost can’t believe another year has gone by and so much has changed, but it feels really good to be moving forward into the next phase of life.

I have a couple 2017 shows booked already and a few more tentative dates coming up. If you’re in the Pensacola area you should come hang out.

2017 Dates

Jan 6, Twelfth Night at the Back Porch Bar and Grill

March 17, St. Patrick’s Day at the Back Porch Bar and Grill

Check Lojah.com for details.



In the spirit of the season you can swing by the Moody View and read my most recent post on the Yuletide and the Real Reason for the Season.  After that there are some interesting subjects on Eight Christmas Characters Most Americans Don’t Know, and Wassailing, the Roots of a Christmas Tradition.

I wish you all a great Yuletide season and I look forward to seeing you in the coming year.

Until Next time,

Lojah

Lojah.com
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Dee Snider’s Powerful New Video in Honor of Standing Rock

dee

Dee Snyder rose to fame in the early 1980s as the front man of the Heavy Metal shock rock group Twisted Sister.  He has never been shy about championing justice whether in his lyrics or in Washington, D.C.

In 1985, Snider along with acid rocker Frank Zappa and folk legend John Denver took on the censorship efforts of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and testified before Congress in opposition to their attempts to legislate morality and creativity in music.  Throughout the 80’s, 90’s and on to today, Dee Snider has been the sort of unofficial spokesman for rock and roll.



Recently he has been disturbed by the events taking place around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.  The Morton County Sheriff’s Department and Energy Transfer Partners (owners of the infamous Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL) have actively engaged in numerous human rights abuses against peaceful demonstrators representing the Standing Rock community’s struggle to protect their sacred places and their fresh water supply.  When DAPL workers were confronted while actively destroying Sioux grave sites and spiritual centers their hired mercenaries attacked peaceful demonstrators with dogs and teargas.  The Morton County Sheriff’s Department has done as much and more by shooting unarmed and nonthreatening protectors with rubber bullets and water cannons in below freezing temperatures.  There have been clear attacks on the First Amendment as officers from North Dakota and Morton County have tried to create an atmosphere of intimidation in order to suppress the people’s right to assembly, and by specifically targeting members of the press for arrest in order to prevent news of the human rights abuses from coming to light.

Now in the face of the Standing Rock efforts to protect their cultural resources and their clean drinking water from an inevitable oil leak by the infamous Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Snider along with other celebrities have begun to put their media resources to work in support of the #NoDAPL water protectors.



Snider has released his new video “So What” entirely produced with footage from the Standing Rock #NoDAPL protection effort as a testament to the people putting their bodies on the line to protect the few remaining cultural and ecological resources of the Sioux Nation which once dominated the Northern Plains.

Aggressively solemn (if that’s not too much of a contradiction), “So What” is indicative of a much more mature and introspective Snider, but still carries the thunder of I would expect to hear from the mind that gave us such classic rebellious anthems as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” over thirty years ago. “So What,” is less about youthful rebellion however, and more directly about defiance in the face of tyranny.




The Irish Wake: Music Presented By McGuire’s Irish Pub

The Irish Wake, McGuire's Irish Pub

Death is a popular theme in Irish Music. Emblematic of this is the Irish Wake, an often rowdy gathering of mourners around the body of the departed, traditionally held in a family member’s home. McGuire’s Irish Pub and Rich McDuff have drawn upon this theme in the production of The Irish Wake, CD of popular Irish tunes.

Proclaimed as “music for and about an Irish Wake that includes solemn to lighthearted and humorous tunes,” the Irish Wake delivers upon its promise. These are high-quality musical arrangements making use of traditional Irish instruments, and with a few tunes characterized by layers of vocal harmonies. This is most noticeably heard on “Amazing Grace,” sung by Molly McGuire, making for a creatively unique and interesting rendition of the song. Some of the other highlights include “Rosin the Beau,” and “Isn’t it Grand Boys” (featuring the Boston Boys, a group of young McGuire’s patrons), and the title track – a Rich McDuff original.
This is a somber disk containing 14 tracks, each one another variation on the theme of death, and in some cases resurrection. Packaged in the standard CD jewel case, the cover photo is quite fitting for the music on this disk; an old Irish cemetery marked by generations-old Celtic crosses enduring the turn of the centuries, reaching grimly toward a grey sky.

Produced by Rich McDuff, and featuring Molly McGuire, the McGuire’s Pipe Band, and many local singers and musicians who frequent the pub, The Irish Wake is a great choice for fans of Irish music looking for a mellower listening experience. Entitled to compliment the Irish Wake, a green, rum-based drink popularized by McGuire’s Irish Pub, this CD is a clever bit of marketing as well as a pleasant journey through Irish music. A patron can enjoy an Irish Wake at the bar or in the restaurant, and before exiting the pub, stop in the gift shop and pick up a copy of this disk to remember his experience at McGuire’s.
It can also be ordered here.

9 Top Irish Drinking Songs

The Irish have produced some of the best drinking songs ever written. Characterized by their catchy melodies, comical lyrics, and their tendency toward tragic endings; a good night of pub-singing is a communal activity with much crowd interaction and participation. The following is a list of my top nine Irish Drinking Songs, in no particular order. Why nine? If you must ask, perhaps you need to learn more about the Irish.

1- Beer, Beer, Beer

This is a straight forward song in praise of the fictionalized inventor of beer, Charlie Mopps. The name is meant to rhyme with barley and hops. The lyrics mostly describe how beer is made, where it is sold and how much better life is now that it has been invented. As far as creativity is concerned, lyrically this song is not the best. But it’s a great sing along tune the best thing about this song is its catchiness for group singing.

Jay_Dun_Aengus2011

2- Waxies Dargle

The singer tells us of his woman and his friend’s woman going about

trying to get money in order to go to the “Waxies Dargle,” a popular vacation spot on the bank of the River Dargle. Like so many other Irish drinking songs, the two women go about selling personal possessions, even some belonging to the singer himself in order to afford drinking money. The catchy hooks ends each round with the words “”What’ll ye have? Will ye have a pint? I’ll have a pint with you, sir. And if one of us doesn’t order soon we’ll be thrown out of the boozer.”

3- Whiskey You’re the Devil

A bit of a counterpart to “Whisky in the Jar,” this song is about the hazards of drinking heavy spirits. “Whiskey You’re the Devil” contains one of the wittiest verses in Irish drinking music; “Said the mother ‘Do not wrong me. Don’t take me daughter from me. For if you do I will torment you and after death, me ghost will haunt you.’” The chorus of this tune is the kind that just urges one to sing along.

4- Finnegan’s Wake

Tim Finnegan was a construction worker who had a bit of a drinking problem. He had a drink every morning before going to work. One day he had a bit too much and fell off a ladder and broke his skull. After everyone arrived at his wake, Finnegan’s widow served lunch followed by whisky punch. In short order some one said the wrong thing to another and a fight breaks out. Bottles of whisky are hurled through the air until the liquor platters over Tim’s corps. The whiskey magically revives him. Tim Finnegan stands up from the bed cursing the waste of good liquor and asking if they really thought he was dead.

5- All For Me Grog

Grog is a combination of liquors popular especially amongst sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries. Essentially it was a mixture of whatever was left over. The lyrics of this song tell us of what appears to be a pirate coming ashore with his plunder. He spends all his money on wild nights with gin drinking women. The poor fellow parties his way through several days until he is “sick in the head” and “full of pains and aches.” He eventually sells everything from his boots to his shirt for money to buy beer and tobacco and decides to head back out to sea in order to get away from all the trouble he has caused for himself in port.

6- Jug of Punch

Whiskey Punch is made with sugar, lemon, and water … and of course whiskey. This song begins with a man sitting peacefully in his room. Before long he is overcome with the desire to go out and have a drink. We next meet him in the pub with a “pretty wench” on his knee, but before long he finds himself in a bad way. The song traditionally ends with the singer proclaiming that upon his death; “just lay me down in my native peat with a jug of punch at my head and feet.”

7- Dicey Riley

One of the catchiest tunes in the Irish Drinking repertoire; Dicey Riley is about one hard drinking woman. She starts each day with a few drinks and continues on throughout the rest of the day. Each night she closes down the pubs, trashed and if she doesn’t have a friend to see her safely home she’ll sleep off her drink on a local park bench, only to do it all again the next day.

8- Whiskey in the Jar

Perhaps one of the most over played Irish drinking tunes, this one is a standard that has even been performed by the heavy metal band Metallica. The song is really about a robbery. The singer tells how he encounters one Captain Farrell in the mountains and demands his money at the point of pistol and rapier. He is eventually betrayed by his beloved Jenny, arrested and taken away by the very same Captain Farrell.

9- The Wild Rover

Actually a song written for the Temperance Movement, it is ironic that this song has been so lovingly embraced as a drinking tune. Simply put, the song is about a roving man who has decided to repent of his rambling and drinking ways. Along with “Whiskey in the Jar,” “The Wild Rover” is one of the most well known Irish drinking songs, so when it is played it is sure to get some crowd interaction.

The Handlebar, Pensacola

handlebar

The Handlebar is a hub of the Pensacola music scene.  Located at 319 N. Tarragona St. the Handlebar has had a reputation for being a heavy metal and punk rock hangout.  Due to the implications in the name, it has often been mistaken for a biker bar.  The truth is that the Handlebar is a melting pot of styles and genre, with musical features which naturally include heavy metal and punk rock, but pop, folk and even country as well.

Ever since the bar first opened, the Handlebar has provided a stage for local and touring bands to perform and promote themselves.  Some of the better known acts that have performed at the Handlebar include Run DMC, Black Flag and TSoL.

The Handlebar serves beer and wine in a single community room with plenty of open space providing a clear view of the stage.  It’s a simple brick and mortar design splashed with black graffiti, decorated with vintage photos hanging crookedly on the walls.  At the north end of the bar, opposite the stage sits a piano I’ve never seen played ornamented with a Pet Rose Plaque and a skull in voodoo fashion, capped with a bud light sign.

There is a single billiard table and jukebox that plays when there are no bands onstage.  Typical selections include anything from the Dead Kennedy’s or Led Zeppelin to Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.

The back courtyard of the Handlebar makes for great escape sometimes from the volume and activity inside.  With two tables outside, patrons of the handlebar can enjoy their drinks, company and the fresh air of the mild Pensacola climate.

The Handlebar is a required stop in Pensacola if you enjoy the atmosphere and music of an underground music scene.  It has been an active part of the Pensacola music scene for so long that anybody playing original music locally inevitably plays many shows at the Handlebar.  It’s been one of my regular hangouts for years.

If you want to know more about the Handlebar, check out their webpage here.