Friday, April 18, 2014

Stayng Alive, Praying Alive!

I’ve been praying a lot lately. It might be because it’s Holy Week, but all this praying has made me reflect on all the times I converse with the Man Upstairs and what prompts me to lift the eyes to the heavens nowadays. 
I haven’t darkened the door of a confessional in many moons and though my soul is probably blacker than a raisin on a lunar eclipse as a result, I pray for forgiveness nonetheless. Take this past Friday around lunchtime, for instance. I gazed upwards and mouth the words “I’m sorry” right after I spit  “OH F*CK! It’s a Lent!” through a mouthful of corned beef reuben. Mindful of this spiritual faux pas, I raise my gaze yet again to say  an Act of Contrition for making “the F word” part of my prayer. 
Heyyy! I got yer back, bro! 
I call my mother, the penultimate church lady, to find time on her busy calendar for a wee visit. HA! Good luck! It’s the week leading up to Easter and don’t I know how the date book is chock full of Holy Thursday feet washings and Stations of the Cross this time of year?  That brings back a memory of the Stations. How I dreaded them in grade school! The kneeling! The genuflecting! The empty fasting Lenten stomach that churned louder than a gas generator during a blackout! “He died for your sins and this is the LEAST you can do for him,” mom would hiss to deflect our incessant complaining in the pew. “He fell hard on the stone road carrying that cross for your sins through Jerusalem--he would have killed to have the cushion on that kneeler yer knees are on, so be grateful!” As the sun sets on this Friday, I nod my head and thank Jesus for shouldering my burden as I motor on past the church and drive through McDonalds for the Lenten penance that is a filet o’fish sandwich.
The clock struck midnight a few hours later and I find myself on the horseshoe in front of the high school. I’ve just loaded my daughter’s stuffed backpack into the shuttle van. A knot of worry tightens my stomach and I want to throw up as I give her a hug and send her off to JFK Airport on her Environmental Club trip to Costa Rica. I look up at the night sky with moistening eyes and beg the Lord to take over . I am scarcely able to be with the vulnerability that it takes to entrust anyone, even my own Maker, with the task of keeping my baby safe when she’s so far away.  
A few weeks ago I reported in these very pages that I took up meditating with mixed results. It took a while to get the hang of it, but now, as they say in Tuam, “I’m flyin’ it, like!” I start this past Saturday morning by lighting the candle and closing my eyes. Perhaps it is because of the leftover Baltimore Catechism binding that’s stitched in my DNA from 13 years of Catholic school, but I can’t seem to bring myself to use the Buddhist chants the yoga instructor recommended. She encouraged me to say anything mindless, so I chose the Hail Mary instead. Yes, like you, I read what I just wrote and felt sad that all of that mechanical recitation over the years has rendered this sacred prayer empty and meaningless to me. Yet I can report that the image of the Blessed Mother’s face never fails to bring the peace and tranquility during these meditative sessions. 
I shake off the dream like state and check my voicemail, alarmed by the sense of alarm in a friend’s voice. I call him back and discover that a dear friend and mentor that we shared lost her overnight battle with sudden heart failure. A thick syrup of shock drizzles through my skull as I hold my head in my hands, praying that St. Peter is greeting this kind soul with open arms at the top of the elevator that empties out in front of the Pearly Gates. 
I run to the barber shop for a shave and a haircut and soon discover that my long-time sylist died of a massive stroke the night before. I’m stunned with shock yet again! A cloud passes by and I can almost see the barrel-chested and Mike riding it, hair dryer in hand. I squint and notice his heavily inked arms are crossed. Uh-oh! It seems the dead know and see all, so he awaits my apology for years of hypnotic gazes I made in the direction of his buxom daughter’s bountiful gifts while she bent over me to shampoo my cares away with those deliciously long nails. I shrug, whisper “I’m sorry” sheepishly, and pray for his soul. 
The clock now says 1:57AM...the weekend is over, we are now into Monday, and I am racing to make a 9AM deadline for this column. I will click “send” now, just in case I don’t wake up after this piece of potential blasphemy. 
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep....

Monday, March 31, 2014

Meditating: Clearing a Brain on Shamrocks

“Interested?”
This was the text I got from my wife, along with a web link to a beginners’ meditation class that our local parks and recreation branch was hosting. I read all about the benefits of meditation on the class website: clearer thinking and less emotional turmoil, lower blood pressure, greater intimacy with friends and family members, and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. But was it for me? I couldn’t think of one person in my family who meditated and looked at the idea with a mixture of suspicion and interest. 
“Believe me, it will be good for you--you need this,” I was told by my better half. I didn’t need much convincing.  I have felt woefully unbalanced these last few months as I have attempted to absorb an ocean of information that comes with taking on a new job. My mind often wanders upstairs lately to fuss over a bottomless inbox in my home office as I am sitting downstairs at the family dinner table. I am months behind where I should be in my new writing project. If the lobes of my brain were canned cling peaches, any creative spark would be drowned in the syrupy sludge of deadlines and commitments before it connected to the gray matter. Maybe this would be just what the doctor ordered, I tried to tell myself. 
Nah. 
I should have known that my brain on shamrocks would have none of it. 
For those of you unfamiliar with this affliction, I submit a brief explanation. We all have that little voice inside our head that judges, assesses, and guides us through life: some call it a conscience. If you are of Irish descent, that inner voice has a brogue and sounds remarkably like one or both of your parents. 
The drum beat of blood coursing through my tense veins began to quiet a bit as we drove through Monmouth Country’s majestic horse farms en route to the recreation center. A wispy woman in wrinkled hemp clothing had dimmed the lights of the room before lighting candles and incense to create the right environment. The brain on shamrocks went into overdrive once it got the first whiff of pungent incense. 
“Jaysis, what kind of hippy-trippy nonsense have ye gotten yerself into? a voice sounding remarkably like my father’s whispered in my ear. “What’s next? Shavin’ yer head and passing out prayer cards in airports? For the love of God.”
“Incense--remember that smell?” remarked a voice sounding like Mom’s in my other ear. “You first smelled that in a church. IN. A. CHURCH. A CATHOLIC one, might I add. One that looks remarkably like the one you drove past to get here. I’ll be quiet now and let’s hear what yer wan over there is sellin’.” 
I squinted my eyes hard as the instructor encouraged us to focus those internal thoughts on an image of a silver garbage can on a hill. She asked us in slow, pulse-reducing tones to tilt our head to the right, shaking any thoughts we had into the garbage can so that we could clear our mind. That worked for a little while; I could feel the tension lift from the base of my neck and shoulders. Then the instructor had to open her big fat trap and reveal how long stretches of meditation can get us in touch with our soul at the level of self, which allows for a new access to the mysteries of our spirituality.
That wasn’t my stomach growling; that was my mother’s voice grumbling in the other ear. 
“Access to the ‘mystery of spirituality: did yeh hear that?” she said incredulously. “I’ll tell yeh where to find the mysteries yer lookin’ for: in the decades of the Rosary! Joyful, sorrowful, they’re all in the beads, luv. Ye’d remember that if you darkened the door of the church once in a while, the Lord save us and guard us!”
“You can put yourself in that special place anytime you want,” the instructor cooed. “There are plenty of meditation apps on your phone that can help. They play nature sounds like the wind blowing that can really help refresh your soul.”
“That’s the sound of wasted money, whistlin’ through the auld trees,” my father’s voice snickered in my ear. My mother’s voice giggled in the other. 
“Your soul benefits from this singular focus on the present,” whispered the instructor as we closed our eyes for another round. “Focus on the here and now. Right now.”
“Yerra, I could have told you that,” my dad’s voice whispered in disgust. “Ye’d be better off focusing on the present. Any eejit knows that. There’s incredible healing powers when yeh take a roller full of paint and go back and forth on those scuffed walls at home--‘twould be a better use of time on a Sunday than this nonsense.” 
The class ended and my wife strode hand in hand into the brilliant sunshine. 
“I feel like a new woman,” my wife sighed. “Good for you,” I mumbled back. 
According to Endocrinologist and self-help author Eckhart Tolle  “ Compulsive thinking has become a collective disease”.  My wife is cured, so I’ll roll up the ol’ yoga mat and head over to the sick bay known as my local pub...whiskey is a disinfectant, isn’t it?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fall "50 Shades o' Green" Book Tour Dates for 2013

It's looking a lot greener this autumn with a series of fun book signing dates!

9/14   Jersey Shore Irish Festival, Sea Girt, NJ 10-4. I'll read from the main stage at some point and spend most of the time hanging in the literature/culture tent http://www.njshoreirishfestival.com

9/17   1/2 Way to St. Patrick's Day Bash with Patrick Clifford, Irish dancers, and more! All to raise awareness for "Love, Hope, Strength," a rockin' organization that bolsters the National Bone Marrow Database.http://blackthornpub.com 7PM-??

9/20   Booktowne, 171 Main Street Manasquan, NJ 7-9 http://www.booktowne.com

9/28  Jersey City Irish Festival, Jersey City, NJ details TBA

10/9  Rock and Read with Seamus Kelleher, Women of Irish Heritage Night at Doolan's Shore Club, Spring Lake Hts, NJ 7-9 PM




Monday, April 22, 2013

Postcards from Tinseltown: A "Shamrockin'" Parody


A Shamrockin' Parody: Postcards from Tinseltown 
Penny Marshall

We follow the the little green book “This is Your Brain on Shamrocks2: 50 Shades o’Green as he opens his little black book with sights set on making himself into a movie! 

Day1: a rough one. Ran into Penny Marshall, who promptly told me to f*%k off when I asked for a picture. Then I realized I was the only thing keeping her from molesting yet another Kraft food service table and the bad attitude began to make sense.

Weird Al  
Day 2: caved into the avalanche of Tweets from Weird Al begging me to work with him. We sat on the piano stool, eyeball to eyeball, and hashed out a new song. Look for a Cee Lo Green parody called "Shuck You" to make its debut at the Cape Cod Seafood Festival this summer. Sting cornered me at the bar at Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills and asked if my pages were made out of rainforest trees. My turn to tell someone to f*%k off! 













David Koz
Day 3: TMZ snagged me leaving "50 Shades of Grey's" house at 2AM. She asked for my bookmark..who was I to say no?

Butch Patrick 
Day 4: Awkward moment. Child star Jerry Mathers, after cracking  jokes about last night's "Grey" conquest that has now played out all over both Extra and ET by now, begged to play Mike Farragher in the movie version of "50 Shades o'Green." Dude. You're 64. The author Mike Farragher's, like, 46. You look okay for your age, but you're no Sally Field! I didn't have the heart to tell him that Butch "Eddie Munster" Patrick got the call-back for that role last night. Butch could use the break--he hasn't been the same ever since Grandpa Munster took the long dirt nap and couldn't wake from the dead the way his character did. 

Jack McGee
Day 5: brunched with old friend and jazz great Dave Koz over at Shutters in Santa Monica. He played his ideas for a soundtrack to my movie concept on the lobby piano. He calls it "Kind of Green," which is kinda catchy and sets off a deep discussion about Miles Davis. I excuse myself as I feel my pages itching---did "Grey" give me crabs?

Day 6: Caught Jack McGee coming out of the gym at Shutters. I asked this chief on "Rescue Me" to broker a meeting with Denis Leary. He says he'll see what he can do and promises to do lunch when we're both back in New York. He's a decent actor but I can tell he's lying on both counts. Ran into Dennis "the principal" Haskins in the lobby at check-out. Says he wants to cast me in the "Saved by the Bell" reunion show as a textbook, providing they can get Mario Lopez back to the bargaining table. Not holding my breath. 
Groupies! 

Day7: ran into some groupies at LAX,sweet talked our way into the United President's Club Lounge and proceeded to drink the place dry. They bent my pages and cracked my binding but It was worth it now that I'm officially in the mile-high club. Fly the friendly skies, indeed. #bonus! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

50 Shades o' Green Rock and Read Spring Tour Dates


We are rocking and reading this Spring! See you on tour. 

Saturday, March 16, Booktowne, 171 Main Street, Manasquan, NJ 3-5PM with Tom Johnston  http://www.booktowne.com/Welcome.htm

Sunday March 17: CBS Channel 2 NYC 8:30-ish! http://newyork.cbslocal.com

Sunday March 17: A Hudson County Homecoming in Hoboken! Joining Icewagon Flu at their homecoming show at Maxwell’s 6:30 PM http://maxwellsnj.com/shows.php

Saturday March 23 7PM: Tachair Bookshoppe, 7PM-?? with the jazz stylings of Dalmar James. http://www.tachairjcybooks.com

Saturday April 6 Beal Bocht with Jameson’s Revenge W 238th St @Greystone NYC http://www.anbealbochtcafe.com

Saturday April 13 a “Rock and Read” with Celtic Cross at Ulysses Folk House 8PM-?? 95 Pearl Street NYC http://ulyssesfolkhouse.com

August 2-4 Dublin OH Irish Festival Author’s Tent http://dublinirishfestival.org



Saturday, December 29, 2012

Out with the Old and in with the New Year with the NJ Irish American Writers and Artists!


The New Jersey Chapter of the Irish American Writers and Artists had their last salon for the year recently at the Irish American Cultural Institute in Morristown. It was the best-attended event of the year, with a handful of audience members cheering on our performers over tea, adult beverages, and a mighty craic! 
Congratulations to Patrick Clifford, who landed himself on the “best of 2012” list for The Irish Voice and IrishCentral.com with his album “Chance of a Start.” His mixture of original tunes and re-imagined traditional ditties is like chicken soup for the soul on this cold evening! Clifford’s website can be found here: http://patrickclifford.bandcamp.com/album/chance-of-a-start

Mike Farragher recently told a story of receiving 2 requests from friends to read manuscript; one was a collection of beautiful poems and the other were essays about grievances from a cranky Italian American. Farragher swirled chocolate and peanut butter together in the literary sense and read his “Screw U Haikus” from his upcoming book, This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks2: 50 Shades o’ Green, out this February. For more information, log onto www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com

Thomas Johnston tinkered with tunes from his upcoming release, Highway Signs and Highway Lines,” a record that promises to be rich in classic Irish American storytelling. One of the tracks I know you’ll love is “Heading to Bundoran,” with the lyrics "Gliding along on the N15...Donegal shoreline, as I had seen it in a dream...Maybe this one time, life will be more than fair...I'm heading to Bundoran, taking a chance you'll be there."  
This will be a busy year for Johnston, who also plans on launching his own label, Tabhair Records, with his stone Stephen. 

Perhaps the highlight of the evening (in an evening full of highlights) came when the poetry of George Marano met the poetic step dancing of Kerri Smith, the principal teacher The Kerri Smith Academy. The New Jersey County of Hudson has been a hotbed of Irish immigration and culture many decades ago and it is indeed heartening to see someone so young keep the Irish dancing legacy alive on soil so rich in our history (check out her website at  
www.ksmithacademy.com). As Kerri stepped, George read “Irish Dancer’s Pledge,” which went something like this: 
Dance, till your heart is rent  
dance, till your toes are bent
and gnarled and purple
as the crushed grape spent
Dance, till your hips [dysplay]
dance, till ankles crack away
till bones and tendons chip and fray
till tired thighs chafe and splay
Point, your toes on out
don’t, want to hear you pout
nor complain as you get on
with your dance and train.
Block, out best the pain
block, for each step to gain
the podium’s highest step up
to taste sweet victory at the winner’s cup.

Because of the holiday, the NJ Irish American Writers and Artist Salon did not meet on the last Thursday of December. We will make up for it by meeting twice in January; the next meeting is Thursday January 4, followed by Thursday, January 31. Start time is 7PM. Two of our writers, Mike Farragher and John Liam Shea, have released two new books recently and we will be coming together to celebrate these milestones at upcoming salons! 
The Salon takes place at The Irish American Cultural Institute, One Lackawanna Place, Morristown, NJ 07960
Phone: 973-605-1991 www.iaci-usa.org Email Mike Farragher at irishwriter@optonline.net to reserve your space on our roster! To join the Irish American Writers and Artists, click here: http://www.i-am-wa.org

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Holiday Music Guide



Ashley Davis





It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which must mean a fresh new assortment of Irish holiday music is heading for your stockings (as long as you’re not deserving a fresh delivery of coal)!

The lasses from Celtic Woman have recorded a new collection of holiday goodies called Home for Christmas. After selling over six million albums there is little incentive to change the formula, and there is little in the way of artistic growth from A Christmas Celebration, their last holiday collection, that was released in 2006. 

Of course, going to Celtic Woman for culture is like going for a meal at Olive Garden when you’re strolling through Little Italy, yet there is something heartwarming about how the voices of Chloë Agnew, Lisa Lambe and Méav Ní Mhaolchatha coalesce with the violin stylings of Máiréad Nesbitt to warm the heart. 

The lasses will be taking a break from their Celtic Christmas Symphony tour to perform songs from Home for Christmas on QVC on December 5 at noon.  They will offer an exclusive bundle of their holiday album with a special six-track bonus CD.

If your record collection won’t be complete without yet another version of “Winter Wonderland,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and the Christmas classic “Silent Night,” then this is the collection for you!

If you’re looking for a Celtic woman that is less airbrushed and more earthy, Ashley Davis is your girl.  She has a great disc called Songs of the Celtic Winter.

“Lean into me gently/So I might remember/How this dance felt love/Until next our next winter,” Davis sings on “Winter Jig,” and truer words were never spoken. 

I was high on this album when I reviewed it earlier this year and forgot about it until I was unpacking the Christmas decorations from the attic and found it in a box. I’ve been playing it around the house ever since. 

Davis made it a point to emphasize that this was not a Christmas album when I spoke with her upon the album’s release, which explains why there are no overt references to Santa or his suit. 

There are, however, plenty of chilled imagery in her beautiful poetry, which is set atop a warm blanket of Celtic harp, acoustic instruments and brushed percussion. 

“Winter is the time of the year when nature takes her rest and we have our shortest days,” she explained during our interview on the album release. “I tried to bring this sense of quiet with the anticipation of rebirth on the horizon to this album. 

“Certainly in many of the Celtic regions there were areas that were quite isolated once winter set in and the nights grew longer. This is when the stories and songs of the Celtic culture became a necessity to pass these dark times. Many long nights were spent around the fire with the promise of spring around the corner.”
For more information on Ashley Davis, visit www.daisyrings.com.  Davis lends her song “Nollaig Moon” to Together For Christmas: A Contemporary Celtic Christmas Collection, a compilation assembled by promoter Anita Daly. 

Daly has worked with everyone from the Pogues to Black 47 and opened her little black book to create an unparalleled look at contemporary Celtic sounds. 

If your tastes veer toward the traditional, you will delight at the sounds of the “Deck the Halls” Christmas melody from Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies.  The Celtic Tenors offer a spine-tingling read of “Silent Night,” while tough guy Damien Dempsey offers a surprisingly touching rendition of “Oh, Holy Night.”

The voices of Irish women are well represented here with the neo-operatic Emma Kate Tobia covering the song “Walking in the Air,” from the movie The Snowman. Born in Scotland, Tobia is a classically trained soprano who melds her pure lyrical voice with the timeless melodies of her Irish heritage. 

Her debut CD is Aisling na nGael (An Irish Dream). The CD is a combination of classical and traditional tunes sung “as Gaeilge” or in Gaelic. 

You even have a sparkling rendition of “Fairytale of New York” – our generation’s, “White Christmas”  after a wicked hangover in the drunk tank– performed by Tobia and George Murphy, an Irish musician who hails from the north Dublin suburb of Beaumont. 

Murphy had never performed as a singer before his audition and subsequent rise to fame on the Irish TV show You’re a Star, chosen as a stand out by Irish composer Phil Coulter. He is definitely one of those young voices you want to be paying attention to as the years go on--he has that X factor!

Dave Browne’s Temple Bar Band pulls no punches on their cover of the Pretenders “2000 Miles,” adding an Irish choir and a fury of flutes and fiddles for some Dublin-esque trimmings to this modern rock classic. 

Ashley Davis joins Black 47’s Larry Kirwan for a John Lennon remake.

“I can’t even remember why I recorded John Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ – probably to protest the Iraq invasion,” Kirwan explains. 

“Well, thankfully, that war is history, but the song and its treatment add a little something different to a Christmas collection.” 

Daly’s collection is so much more than a run-through of shopworn classics. It is a showcase for new voices with new things to say about the holidays.  

It has arrived in one magnificent, eclectic bundle, showcasing the many sides of Celtic music. Celtic rock is represented with the first tune, “Christmas Day” by the Elders, along with Kyf Brewer of Barleyjuice singing his original “Whiskey for Christmas.” 

“I like the ringing bells and the spirits as well as any Christian can/my love says she’s given up whiskey for Christmas/my favorite thing about whiskey for Christmas is finding someone to give it away,” sneers Brewer over a slippery burlesque arrangement with fiddling accoutrements. It calls to mind the quirky pop of mid-1960s Kinks, delivered by a Barleyjuice-dipped deviled egg! 

Tara O’Grady ends the collection on a jazzy note, with a flirty fiddle dancing with her during a sultry read of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” 

I’ve come to know Tara in my association with the Irish American Writers and Artists group, and she is a tour de force of talent. 

Daly is hosting a CD launch party at Connolly's Klub 45 (121 West 45th Street, New York), on Thursday, December 13.

Doors open 8:30 p.m., with $20 admission at the door going to  benefit Hurricane Sandy relief. Visit
www.togetherforchristmas.com/about.html. The CD is available on iTunes and directly on the album’s website.