Sunday 6 January 2008

Tear down your auld life, here comes your new

I met Ian through Ann.

Ann was a native New Yorker I met one evening in a house in Carrickmines, south dublin, a week away from its demolishing by order of Dublin County Council. It was a house that had been constructed from the rubble of Blackrock castle. Dublin County Council was a week away from sending in their demolition trucks to tear the house down to make way for a motorway that was going to solve Dublin's traffic problems. Dublin's traffic problems have only thrived since then, of course.

Over the course of the building of that motorway, a number of public forests were threatened with destruction, and ultimately destroyed, and people went to live in those forests, up the trees, as a protest against their destruction, and really the only way they could be sure of saving the trees. they lived their for years. A community was built in those trees. They were not forcibly removed by the authorities, but negotiated with. As cars passed them from the road below, they tooted their solidarity, a somewhat ironic gesture maybe, but fuck it you know, life isn't perfect and consistent. This Carrickmines house was old school, old style, old money. They weren't about to squat. The house was large and solid, in the Georgian style, 250 years old. Orchards and wildish woods all around. Classic, magnificent Georgian country house.

It was mid September, 2001. I was at the house at the invitation of a minor Dublin rockstar producer who I had met at a gallery opening in the Guinness Storehouse the night before. He was making some folk song recording for a charity record, and I had just come back from a big trip through America, full of stories. I told him I was a singer and he asked me to come and record some stuff the next day. So I did. He had his studio in the attic of this Georgian house in Carrickmines, so he, his girlfriend, and me went out there on the bus that sunday morning, and I spent the day there, making take after take of an English folk song, and riffing around it, and playing with it, until he had about ten tracks of my voice singing the same melody in slight and somewhat variations.

The people who owned the house had moved out weeks prior to the demolition deadline, to avoid the chaos. The house had been in their family since it had been built, and they were not happy about moving. The woods were older than the house, and left wildish, you could feel their ancience. The house itself was just magnificently built on four floors in a circular Georgian style, with a library, high ceilings, wooden floors, and an old range that heated the whole house through. Gorgeous. The house itself was 250 years old, but it had been made with bricks that were triple that in age. The atmosphere in the house, even at that empty, doomed stage of its existence, was potent.

So the only person that was left living in the house was the youngest son, who was the rockstar's engineer, and somewhat peculiarly, a kind of errand-boy in his own house, to this man who acted as though he was the Lord of the manor. Strange old coot, that rockstar. Tried to molest me down in the woods by the light of the silvery moon, but I ran and ran and ran away from his weirdy advances. We made some very beautiful recordings, though, as I recall, which he replayed to me all at once, all the tracks laid on top of each other, my voice in ten parts. Babel, he murmered. And then we went downstairs. Turns out it was the engineer's birthday, and this would probably be the last party that this house would ever see, and the party was the rockstar, the rockstar's girlfriend, the engineer and me. And there was Ann.

Ann was from Staten Island. She was so New York it was incredibly exotic to find her in Dublin. She came from New York Irish working class stock: her uncles had all made a killing (financially) in the unions. When we met, that evening in Carrickmines, the fires were still raging in downtown Manhattan, and her father, a lawyer, had an office that was visible in the photographs of the site after the towers fell. She had studied in some Ivy League business school, worked for a hugely high profile charity in Manhattan, and a bank, and then decided the whole thing was a load of bollocks and she needed to just pack it all in and go and study English in Trinity College, Dublin. After that, she got a job working as a project manager for a multimedia company, where Ian was the set designer.

She was the engineer's date for his birthday and sort of surprised by that, she told me later. She had assumed that it was going to be a bigger party. It was an odd little gathering in the midst of this lovely old doomed house. I had fallen in love with New York just a couple of weeks earlier, at the end of a long trip through the jazz cities of America, and I knew I needed to go back.

This was the trip that began in Nashville, Tennessee, continued on to Memphis, before plunging south in the depths of summer to the depths of the swamp magnetism of New Orleans, where I stuck around sticking around for a while longer than I had planned. I was there over a month, and had sort of pleasurably surrendered any notion of going anywhere else (ie. north) when I watched a Jimi Hendrix documentary one evening, in the house on Prytania street where I was living.

In one scene, there were two high fro'd dudes in kaftans, sitting in some park, who had been friends of Jimi before he died, and they were riffing about alpha waves and how Jimi was still around, man. And as their fros leaned gently forward in the breeze, my friend Kerry turned to me and said, "Oh! That's Washington Square Park, Lucy! That place you're always talking about.." and I looked at Kerry, and I looked at the brothers, and I took a deep breath, and said, shite lads, that's it. I've got to go to New York city. I can't get out of this country without having gone to New York city. Blast. I'm heading north. How the hell am I going to do that?" And my friend Nicholle said, "I'm going to St. Louis on Tuesday. Wanna come with me?"

Nicholle had been living in Florida and one day she and her little gay boyfriend Chad woke up and decided that it was time for them to fulfil their dreams and take their stationwagon to California, where Nicholle would be an actress and the sun would bleach their lives golden. The car busted out in Baton Rouge, and they got towed into New Orleans, where they both spent a year bartending and saving their tips. They were part of the scene in the house on Prytania street when I met them. Nicholle had family in St. Louis and there was a wedding, so she was going north for that. And that was how I left New Orleans.

When I got back to Dublin after St. Louis and Chicago and New York and Memphis again and Nashville again, I was looking around for interesting people to spend some time with, and really very open to spending time with just about whoever I met, and so it was probably inevitable that I would run into Ian sooner or later. I'm glad I did. In some ways, Ian was instrumental in a hugely key moment in my life, on the phone while I was in New York, a couple of years after I first met him. He could be a right selfish pain in the arse but I'd still relish the prospect of a chat around the fire with him.

Ian looked a lot older than his age and acted a lot younger, which could get him into bizarre situations. He was combustible and flexible, which made him a lot of fun to hang out with but kind of shite to live with, as I discovered later on an extended weekend that turned into two months living on Church Avenue. He had these epic parties, around the time he turned forty. Burning stuff off. He lived in a Georgian townhouse on Church Avenue in Rathmines, in Dublin, and he attracted exotica of every Dublin variety there. His company was somehow electric. A couple of years after I met him for the first time, I lived in the house on Church avenue for a couple of months, with Emma, an amazing woman who lived in the house for a while, while Ian was off fucking around in Connemara with his spooky gothic French girlfriend who had worked with Madonna and had just turned down a million euros to work with Levi's, in favour of arsing around the Irish countryside with Ian.

At one of Ian's parties, I met a brother of a boy I had felt oppressed and dismissed by in college, and this dude looked so much like him and acted so much like him I said to him, "man, you look exactly like a bloke I used to know in college". He said, "what was his name?" I said, "Tom F-". He said, "That's my brother". And we were both a bit wowed out by the connection, and spent about an hour chatting in each other's company and it was kind of soothing actually, in a strange kind of way.

The brother had felt oppressed and dismissed by Tom F aswell. In fairness, it turns out that the brother is definitely the wild one of the family, being, as he was, a fancy people's drug dealer and general misfit, while his brother had developed some kind of a successful acting career in Britain. But he said that he had never in his life been told that he had anything in common with his brother before, so to have this connection drawn so randomly, in a party on Church Avenue, well, that was kind of amazing. It was nice for us to chat about how we felt about this guy, and actually what came out was not all about what a lousy bastard his brother was, by a long shot. I know it sounds new agey, but it felt kind of healing, actually, to share what we felt.

Anyway, that was my first party at Ian's. I also learned something pretty crucial about Sicilians at that party, which was to give as good as you get (in THEIR way of giving it) IF you want them to respect you.

Ann hated that party, the first one she brought me to. She was really looking to make much more intimate connections with people than were really accommodated in a setting like that. And she was looking for a soulmate, and she was finding Ireland to be unhinged in that regard. What she was finding was men who were willing to get drunk and fall into bed with her but scared shitless about anything more real than that. Disturbing and depressing, but true. And she was probably just experiencing what was going around, and what has probably only gotten worse. But one evening after we had had a guinness in Mulligans, she popped into Hogans and I scootered home, and the second she walked in the door, she found herself locked into the gaze of a man at the bar, and together they fell into some kind of instantaneous rapture. The last I heard, they were still in it, but I haven't heard from Ann in a while.

The last time I saw the rockstar was at another free booze shindig, and he was rat-arsed drunk and unpleasant, but that was a long time ago now. Nicholle got to California, a couple of years after she first set out on that exodus from Florida, and the last I heard, she was working in a car dealership, making good money. Chad, the sweetheart, was working the long morning shift in a disco gaybar in the Quarter, and had recently become the first person in his family ever to have health insurance. When I was last talking with Nicholle, she hadn't heard from him in a while, either.

And the last time I saw Ian was three years ago in the house on Church Avenue, right after a kind of epic showdown there at the end of a couple of months I had been living in the house. More to tell about that, for sure. He had just kitted out a minivan as a living space, with the idea to fart around France for an indefinite period, with his chick. Ian re-introduced me to the simple concept of white toast with butter and honey. The revolution was really the re-introduction of butter into my life, and that revolution is still rocking my world, right now as I make toast to go with my soup. He was on a kind of spiritual adventure at that period of his life, and at some bend in the road, we met, had a boogie, lit a fire, and parted ways.

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