Damien Dempsey, Stockholm Pop, and Declining Record Sales

Damien Dempsey 2-2


That is a link that talks about how popular music is driven by how much you hear it, and not by the quality.    The more you hear something the more you are likely to like it.  This is due to the way people’s brains function.  It compares the modern pop world to the Stockholm Syndrome.  Corporations are cramming this nonsense down people’s throats.  


This is an article about how album sales are at an all-time low.  I realize that technology has had an effect, but if one compares todays popular music with popular music in the past, one can’t help but feel quality of the things that are getting the most exposure is also at an all-time low.  

In closing, I will quote part of Damien Dempsey’s song Patience:

Well I’ve exchanged the spear and the sword
For words and melody
Oh what a felony
How the record company pushes this McDonalds music
An aural lobotomy
For those who choose it
Corporations pumpin all this money into pop
To keep the real singers far away from the top
So folks are never told what these corporations do
Fuckin up the planet, exploiting me and you

P.S.  I love the term McDonalds music!  


Rising Above the Tribe

While I was listening to Irish singers I thought that I would also post one by Damien Dempsey. This is the title track from his Almighty Love album.  (I am reading Borstal Boys by Brendan Behan which has me diving back into Irish music.) Damien Dempsey and Sinead O’Connor have also sung together on numerous occasions. I love their new single Woe to the Holy Vow about the Catholic Church scandal if you haven’t heard it. Dempsey has been one that has never been afraid to stand up for the rights of the downtrodden. On his early albums he predominately sang about the Irish poor and working class. I remember reading someone say, before the last album came out, that he hoped that Dempsey could rise about his tribe and speak for all of the oppressed. When I heard this song I realized that he had made that jump.

One of the biggest problems that we have in politics is getting people to see outside of their tribe. People often cling to their tribe because it creates a sense of identity. But in forming an identity through a group of people, you end up creating “the other”. Too often “the other” might be someone that, despite coming from different cultures, you may have a great deal in common with politically. They have been dividing poor whites and poor blacks in the South forever. Enjoy and learn from your heritage, your tribe, your clan, but don’t let it define you.

10 Great Political Recording Artists

I’ve been thinking a lot about political music lately.  Great political music, especially in this day and age, is pretty rare.  Not only is it hard to do right, there is a big difference between Blowing in the Wind and Eve of Destruction, but it pretty much seems to be missing from our mainstream airwaves.  The pop star machine that is the modern recording industry has marginalized a great deal of true artists, even ones who have changed the game.  I thought I would list ten great political artists if this kind of thing interests you.  I left out obvious ones like Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and John Lennon.  I don’t need to tell you about them.  Also, this list is not a top ten or anything like that.  It is simply a list of ten artists you should check out if you are politically inclined.


  1. Larry Kirwan of Black 47 –  Kirwan is also a novelist, memoirist, and a play write, so therefore it is no surprise that he can write.  His lyrics are intelligent, but his songs never lack passion for all of the intellect involved.  Black 47’s music is hard to identify, although there is a strong Irish influence in everything they do and it is rooted in rock.  Most of the band is from NYC, but Kirwan is actually from Ireland.  Their very first album of the same name, although it features some dated production due to some pretty cheap drum machine effects, is a great place to start.  The song James Connolly kills me every time.  Kirwan can also wrestle out great humor in party songs like Funky CeiliBankers and Gangsters is an album that deals with New York after the wars and the financial crisis of the first decade of this century.  The album Elvis Murphy’s Green Suede Shoes features some of the band’s best songs and definitely their best production values.  I would start with their self titled album or the last one that I mentioned. His biography is also one of the best musical biographies ever.
  2. Damien Dempsey – You are going to see quite a few Irish singers on this list.  The Irish just have a thing for writing amazing political songs that are also highly emotional.  Damien Dempsey is a singer songwriter that is a former boxer and has an incredibly passionate tenor.  Dempsey is probably the most overtly political singer on this list, as his music rarely diverges from songs that are either overtly political or are at least sketches of the downtrodden.  My favorite album of his is probably Shots.  However, his bid for mainstream success, Almighty Love, is also where Dempsey leaves behind the tribe to some degree and starts writing political songs on a more universal level.
  3. Buffy Sainte-Marie – Sainte-Marie is one of my absolute heroes.  Her music caused such a stir in the 60’s that she was personally black-balled by President Johnson.  She is not only a political singer, but an activist as well.  She is Native American and fought for Native American causes with great vigor.  However, she is another one that acknowledges her identity, while still rising above her tribe to take on all manner of social justice causes.  I will admit that her singing is probably the most idiosyncratic on this list, though Kirwan comes close, and she is definitely an acquired taste.  She is also highly experimental.  Just because you love one period of her music does not mean that you will love all or even another.  I love it all, but I would definitely go through her albums and see what sounds good to you.  She has balls bigger than King Kong.  A truly fearless artist.
  4. Jimmy Cliff – I know that Jimmy Cliff is pretty popular, but is nowhere near as recognized as Bob Marley outside the reggae world.  If you get his new album Rebirth, you simply will not believe how good it is on a musical level, nor believe how direct and fearless his lyrics are.  It’s a record whose music and politics stand outside of time.  He also has an excellent double disc anthology that is simply top notch.  This is true soul music that will leave you feeling like nothing can stop you.
  5. Chuck D of Public Enemy – Public Enemy is pretty well known as well, and this may be the most obvious entry as they have been consistently political.  They created some of the most incendiary influential rap of all time and Chuck D is the soul of the band.  They are in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.  However, what most people don’t know is that they have continued making absolutely essential albums long after their acknowledged prime.  Their last two albums, Most of My Heroes Don’t Appear on No Stamp and The Evil Empire of Everything are tough as nails and enough to start a mass protest anywhere that they are played.
  6. Sinead O’Connor – Ever since she tore up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night live she has been relegated to the sidelines.  Too bad she was dead right.  If you remember she was protesting the Catholic Church’s abuse of children.  People just had their heads in the sand.  Although none of her albums are completely political, she has continued throughout her entire career to sing songs of justice.  Black Boys on Mopeds, This is a Rebel Song, and V.I.P. are three of many amazing political songs that she has written.  One of my favorite albums, period, of the last few years is her How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
  7. Luke Kelly – The great Irish folk singer that sang with the Dubliners is another hero of mine.  With songs like The Town I Loved So Well and School Days Over, he has sung some of the best political songs of all time.  The first is about returning to the town of Derry after the troubles began and noticing the destruction that war has brought.  The second is a song about a young boy in a mining town facing a life full of toil.  Get his album Working Class Hero.  It is an absolutely essential listen.
  8. The Angelic Upstarts – This is a 2nd wave British punk band that were erroneously or not considered part of the Oi! Movement.  They came directly from the British working class and their songs represent the concerns of working class kids.  They sing about workers rights, socialism, unions, the divide between rich and poor, and police brutality among other topics.  Some people love their early punk stuff the best, but I prefer their middle period.  I would listen to their stuff online and decide what you like best.  At some point I want to post a mix I made of them for my brother as I must shamelessly admit it is pretty good!
  9. The O’Jays – Philadelphia soul act the O’Jays released a lot of great political music.  Although their stuff was written by Gamble and Huff, as well as some other songwriters, their albums were the pinnacles of socially conscious soul music in the 70’s.  An album like Ship Ahoy truly is music with a message.  The musicianship and singing is simply outstanding.  Also, definitely check out their song Rich Get Richer.  It will blow your mind.
  10. Thomas Mapfumo – Thomas Mapfumo is the one artist on here whose music is not in English.  He is from Zimbabwe and records what is known as Chimurenga music.  His music is so politically volatile that he was actually thrown in prison for singing his songs. He now has been forced to live in exile in the United States.  His music can often be some of the most joyous stuff ever captured on record.  Despite not understanding a word of it, I like to him imagine him singing the most politically defiant lyrics ever over music of pure ecstatic joy.  Maybe at times it is only in my imagination, but such things make me smile!  I love the guitars that try to sound like marimbas on his album Gwindingwi Rine Shumba.  However, if you are going to get one song, the song Nherera gives me chills every time.  In fact the album that is on, Chimurenga Explosion, is probably his most accessible and sounds the most like what you picture African music to sound like.

Again, this list is only a partial list of many amazing artists that aren’t afraid to speak their mind.  I simply tried to pick ones that either weren’t widely known or had sort of fallen from the public eye.  I could go on and on about such things, but this is enough for now.  Enjoy!

The Absurdity and Importance of Music

Bruce Springsteen once said something along the lines of music being the most ridiculous thing in the world and the most important.  To me this rings very true.  Nothing is more absurd than grown men arguing about a tambourine part in the studio.  At the same time music has kept me sane.  It is the closest thing I have to an organized religion. 

There are so many things in the music business that are completely absurd and utterly ridiculous.  First of all there are many musicians whose egos have them acting like they are the pharaoh of Egypt.  You are just a guitar player dude!  I recently heard about a musician who fired anyone in his band that was better looking than him. 

One of my favorite drinking albums of all time is Highwayman 2.  This is the band that featured Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.  There is a song on it called American Remains where they sing about being heroes of the homeland.  While drinking one night a friend of mine declared that, “They are acting like American heroes, but they are really just a bunch of old stoners!” 

There is the absurdity of the experiences associated with the music business too.  Many musicians can tell you stories about playing sold out clubs only to be eating a gas station burrito by yourself an hour later.  I remember one time Shinyribs played Threadgill’s.  There were roughly about 300 people in the audience at this particular show.  I wanted to have a late night party at my house to celebrate.  However, by the time I was done loading out the crowd had dispersed.  My late night party consisted of me drunk eating a block of cheese like a candy bar while watching Doctor Who! 

There is also the absurdity of perception.  I can’t tell you how many times a lawyer or a doctor, or someone else that has a beautiful home, a loving wife, and a successful career, has told me they would give anything to do what I do.  I always think, “Do you know what I make a year? Because if you did, I would highly fucking doubt it!”  That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate such sentiments, I actually genuinely do, but I also am able to keep in mind the absurdity between the reality and the perception.  When you come to a show in a place like New York City you see the party, the fun.  You didn’t see me hanging out in the van for six hours because we didn’t want to lose our parking space. 

Then there are just the little moments of ridiculousness that crop up here and there, but remain constants.  I mentioned grown men arguing about the minutia of a tambourine part.  I’ve done it and seen it done.  There are so many times when little things that are of no importance to the real world, that are fought over like the border between East and West during the Cold War.  If you brought a camera into every recording studio, there would definitely times of tedium, but there would also be a comic documentary to be made.  I recently watched a documentary on the making of a Stevie Nicks album and it played like a Christopher Guest movie, but for real. 

But music is also important.  To me it is my job, and my hobby, and my passion.  I listen to music every waking hour that I can.  It has allowed me to connect with people that I otherwise wouldn’t have met.  All those people that said that they would give anything to do what I do, I wouldn’t have even met if not for music.  It has allowed me to bond and have fun with love ones and friends.  Certain concerts are among some of the best memories of my life.  It is the fuel that keeps me going when I need it. 

It has also lifted my spirit when I was down.  Often if I am depressed I will go on a walk with my headphones.  Often the comic opera of someone like Morrissey, or the dark humor of Lou Reed can have me smiling in no time.  I remember one particular walk listening to Damien Dempsey’s You’re Not on Your Own Tonight and coming to the realization that in suffering we are not alone.  Everyone suffers at times and it allows us to empathize with one another.  “If you feel real bad then you’re not on your own tonight.” 

Music has also allowed me to see mystery and wonder in the world.  I remember traveling to Vienna with my family when I was at a young impressionable age.  The entire trip I walked around with U2’s Achtung Baby on my headphones.  That soundtrack combined with the images in front of me made the world seem mystical.  Music, at the right time and place, can enhance the human experience and take us out of the daily suffering of our lives.  It can reach the level of the spiritual. 

I think to keep your ego in check it is absolutely key to keep part of your mind aware of the ridiculousness and absurdity that is going on around you.  That really goes for any profession.  But, at least speaking for myself and I imagine others, one must realize the transcendent power that music and art has in life.  Sometimes I wonder if I could bare this world without it. 

More Thoughts on The Auld Triangle

I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I’m going to mention it again anyway: The song The Auld Triangle is one of my favorite songs of all time.  I especially love the version by The Dubliners and the version by Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard.  I know it will be received as blasphemy in some quarters, but I listen to the Dempsey and Hansard version the most.  I love both Luke Kelly and Damien Dempsey.  I was jogging yesterday, while listening to this song on my headphones.  Every time I hear it, it fills me with joy.

The triangle in the song is a reference to a triangle that hung in a Mountjoy Prison in Ireland and woke the prisoners each day.  No one is quite sure who wrote the song, but many attribute it to Dominic Behan.  He was the brother of the famous writer Brendan Behan.  Brendan used the song in his play The Quare Fellow, a play about the prison on a day that an inmate is going to be executed.

How can a song that is about such a dark topic bring one joy?  First of all the melody is carved from stone.  It seems like it always was.  Listening to the song, I’m reminded of the Anthony Newley quote at the beginning of Morrissey’s Maladjusted album:  “On this glorious occasion, of the splendid defeat.”  The lyrics are infused with a sly humor.  The lyrics, along with the cast iron melody, make the song seem defiant.  The characters are unbowed in the face of defeat.  It is particularly the last verse that lets me know life is worth living, even under the worst of circumstances.  We always have our dreams.  From the Dempsey, Hansard version:

Up in the female prison
There are seventy-five women
And it is amongst them
I wish that I did dwell


Sing All Our Cares Away

Mary loves the grouse, hides the bottles round the house,
Watches chatshows and the soaps, broken-hearted but she copes,
Michael’s out of work, feels he’s sinking in the murk,
He’s unshaven and a mess, finds it hard some days to dress
Stevie smashed the delf, cos he can’t express himself,
He’s consumed by rage, like his Father at his age
Rita’s little child, has a lovely little smile,
This means nothing to her father, because he’s never even seen her
We sing, sing all our cares away
We’ll live, to fight another day
Joey’s off the gear, he’s been clean for half a year,
He gets bored out of his mind, but he’s tryin to toe the line
Maggie’s in a chair, twas joyriding put her there,
She puts the kettle on the boil, and she’s always got a smile
We sing, sing all our cares away,
We’ll live, to love another day
We grow strong, from it all
We grow strong, or we fall

Sing All Our Cares Away by Damien Dempsey.  Damo is one of my favorite newer artists.  I say newer with a bit of knowing ignorance, as his first single came out in 1997.  Oh how the time does pass.  My favorite album of his, of which this is the opening number, is Shots.  I have and love all of his work however.  I mention him quite a bit here because I still hope that someday he has crossover success in the US, although given his penchant for writing overtly political material and singing with an Irish accent, this is probably wishful thinking.  I want him to succeed here because he deserves it, but even more selfishly because I hope that he will tour here more and I wish to see him live.  Even though the lyrics of this song read as something of a downer, every time I hear it I can feel my spirits lifting.


The Auld Triangle

A hungry feeling, came o’er me stealing
And the mice were squealing in my prison cell
And the auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal

To begin the morning, a screw was bawling
Get up you bowsie, and clean up your cell
And the auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal

The lags were sleeping, humpy Gussy was creeping
As I lay there weeping for my girl Sal
And the auld triangle, went jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal

Up in the female prison, there are seventy five women
`Tis among them I wish I did dwell
Then the auld triangle, could go jingle jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal
All along the banks of the Royal Canal

The lyrics are from The Auld Triangle, one of my favorite songs of all time.  I prefer the version by the Dubliners or the more modern version by Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard.  This Irish classic was written by Dominic Behan for his brother Brendan’s play, The Quare Fellow. 

Three gigs and a general disregard for sleep has sapped me of what little intelligence I normally possess this weekend, hence the lack of posts.  Hopefully by tomorrow I will be back in the ring.