Friday, September 30, 2011

A Farrell Trip Through Ireland - Introduction and Day One

Family vacations in exotic states and countries have been documented through film for decades. Whether it’s a cranky Jimmy Stewart escaping his family to lament the merits of War and Peace from a beach chair in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, or an overzealous Chevy Chase venturing among fill-in Griswald children and questionable shower advertisements in National Lampoon’s European Vacation, we’ve been treated to the zany, secondhand experiences of families gone wild in a foreign environment many, many times.

The one constant in these accounts has been that, at the end of the projected story, the family featured ends their travels transformed—for better or for worse. Stewart’s Hobbs family leaves their trip oddly united by their dysfunction. As for the Griswalds, well, I have no clue how they left Europe. It’s an awful movie, and I really only brought it up because it’s set in Europe, thus aiding my forthcoming storyline. (Still, I’ll assume the movie clung to that simple story rule of concluding with a family lesson learned, a evident transformation, or with Chase’s Clark pissing off a Frenchman with his American crassness. And, scene.)

In the case of the extended Farrell family and our associates’ August trip to Ireland to witness the marriage of my sister, Mary Farrell to one Brendan Cullinane, Hollywood ending rules applied as well. On a 10-day jaunt that featured one spectacular wedding, two milked cows, united families, new friends, makeshift bar crawls, a pony named Billy, a bartender named Hughes, suicidal transportation adventures, six Irish breakfasts, and enough Guinness to flood Doc Sullivan’s in South Buffalo, all left the gorgeous green country transformed. As for the details of that transformation, I’ll do my best to relay the specifics through my own eyes and notes in Farrell Street Blog form over the coming days. Though the primary characters in the following story will be me and my wife, Christina, there are plenty of secondary and tertiary characters to fill in the moments. So, without further hesitation, let me walk you through the days and nights of a trip not soon to be forgotten by those who stepped foot on the sweet rocky soil of the land of Eire.

Here is the account of Day #1:

Monday, August 15th

If you plan on venturing to Ireland in the near future, I’d recommend you take a direct flight through Aer Lingus or another airline. If you decide to save a few bucks because you, for instance, quit your three jobs in Boston and moved to no job in Buffalo before enduring moving costs and appreciated roles in four weddings over a span of three weeks, well, you’ll enjoy the disjointed trajectory my wife and I traveled. We made it to Dublin via the rarely-booked Boston to D.C. to London to Dublin flight, which was as delightful as lying awake on a coffee shop bench during an eight-hour layover at Heathrow in the middle of the night can be. But, once within the sweet domain of Dublin, we only had to endure a 30-minute bus ride, a three-hour train ride, and a 35-minute cab ride to find our Quiet Man-style cottage in Cordal, just outside of Castleisland in Ireland’s southwest corner of County Kerry.

(Blog note: If you’ve never seen the movie The Quiet Man, immediately stop reading this post and start questioning whether your heart is still beating. My guess is that, if it is, it’s black.)

The white 18th century Cottage Mary Rose, with a thatched roof and set off a narrow road across from an old cemetery, would serve as our family’s Kerry staging area for the next five days. Aside from the two of us, the place would house my parents, Dennis and Jeanne; both my sisters, Katie and bride-to-be Mary; my brother-in-law, Vince; and my singing nephew, Declan. Since the now one-year-old kid can’t say anything but “baba” and “dada”, he just sings “la, la, la” all the time. Why? I don’t know, but his baby crooning would go on to provide our only in-house tunes not exhaled by Jack Johnson. Declan’s father is frighteningly addicted to the smooth beach melodies of the unthreatening J.J., so his driftwood-fire classics would be the only numbers to steal young tenor Dec’s thunder the entire week.

Once most of us were settled in the house for our first afternoon together, we were informed that my father had gone off with my soon-to-be brother-in-law Brendan to climb the Co. Mayo mountain known as Croagh Patrick. Two things came to my mind when this information was relayed: One, I wasn’t aware of my father ever climbing a hill, let alone a mountain; and, if they actually tried to climb this infamous stretch, there wouldn’t be a wedding without a search party. Thankfully, all fears were squelched once the pair of eventual in-laws returned with a tale that included “walking about 100 yards up the mountain,” and “heading back down when they saw an open pub sitting below them.”

Thankfully, the first open pub we saw from our cottage was about 100 yards away and right across the street. Hughes Bar, stone-fronted and inconspicuous, rests next to the Church of the Immaculate Conception and would prove convenient for required after-wedding pints that were poured later in the week. Until then, it stood as convenient for us when we needed our first “welcome to Ireland,” “I just spent countless hours traveling,” or any other excuse for a stout we cooked up through our time in Cordal. Bartender and proprietor Sean Hughes made this happen on Monday, as he welcomed us before he poured drinks for my sisters, Christina, and Vince, then snapped our picture as we stood behind his bar. He was very accommodating and friendly. But, in comparison to the familial hospitality we’d experience at our evening’s dinner with the extended Cullinane clan, Sean was a stone-cold bastard.

Sheila (Costello) and Ted Ring live in the middle of the Kerry countryside, at the bottom of a steep dirt driveway and set back from their town’s narrow road. Their house is also a construction of rustic architectural beauty, with a granite façade contrasting another more traditional external material that I could identify if I knew anything about home construction. I don’t, so you’ll just have to trust that their place is tremendous. Inside their place, they welcomed us to a kitchen table filled with French fries, hamburgers, bread, green peas, red wine, and Heineken. Since Christina or I had never spoken to Sheila, Ted, or any other of Brendan’s family who were in attendance, you’d be forgiven to assume our exchanges experienced some periods of awkwardness. Fortunately for us, we didn’t. Sheila’s parents and brother, Morris joined our crew from Hughes Bar, as well as my mother, Declan, my aunt Clara Bowman, and uncle Scott Bowman to inhale the kitchen’s seemingly unending stream of food and drink, laughter and stories. If this scene sounds too clichéd or Irish-centric, I’m sorry. Also, apologies if you think I’m laying it on thick to satisfy the same stereotypes accentuated by Amy Adams movies or overweight, Guinness top hat-wearing Italians on St. Patrick’s Day. I can only tell you what I witnessed and experienced, and what I sat through on that first night in Kerry was the kind of genuine, sincere hospitality I’ve only experienced a handful of other times in my young life.

Unfortunately, Christina and I could only enjoy this scene for so long. Since we were rolling forward on nothing but scant hours of airport, train and bus sleep over a 48-hour period, we were bound to crash through Sheila and Ted’s kitchen table with any odd slug of red wine or beer. As for me, I started unintentionally nodding off between sips of my second or third Heineken. (I think I may have actually been asleep for a good minute at one point.) Thankfully, we were whisked out of there before I was face-down in a puddle of my own drool.

Our departure took us back to the Cottage Mary Rose, and once in the door, I somehow found the energy to join my sister and mountain-scaling father for a pint of Murphy’s in our living room. When our glasses were empty, I joined Christina to open our couch bed and collapse into deep, motionless slumber. Monday was finally—and mercifully—over.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nevermind the Past

Now that it’s 20 years after the fact, I have a scathing confession: When Nirvana’s Nevermind was unleashed on the world in 1991, I couldn’t have cared less.

This is a statement that will draw disgusted looks from my eventual children, the kind of scowls I directed at my father when he told me he never listened to Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin in his late teens and early twenties. This is a statement that, when simply blurted out amongst grunge enthusiasts or anyone that rolled through their own puberty in the early 1990s, may seem sacrilegious. The record’s release and accompanying buzz surrounding Nirvana was a major, culture-shifting event. The album’s searing guitar riffs provided a soundtrack for teenagers to part their greasy hair down the middle, wear long-sleeved t-shirts under short-sleeved tees, and, in many cases, hate their parents. It was a big, freaking, sweaty deal—and I didn’t care that much about it.

Do I have a defense for this past transgression? Excuses? Sure, just like my father probably has excuses for not finding Hendrix enlightening or Zeppelin hypnotic. When I go over explanations in my head, they all make a certain amount of sense. But, regardless of their validity, when I listen to the remastered Nevermind (released yesterday) scorch forth today, I’m still embarrassed.

I didn’t take to Nirvana—or to their breakout release—as quickly as I should’ve for a multitude of reasons. This isn’t to say I wasn’t aware of them. As a 13-year-old boy at St. Mary of the Lake elementary school, the only things I cared about were basketball, the Buffalo Bills, girls, and MTV—probably in that order. In the fall of 1991, MTV started playing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video about as regularly as they broadcast Teen Mom marathons today. It was seemingly on every hour and, since I spent endless hours watching the station’s after-school programming, I saw Kurt Cobain’s flopping blonde hair and green-striped t-shirt inside a televised gymnasium on a daily basis. I watched a young Dave Grohl violently attack his drum kit; Krist Novoselic drunkenly sway back and forth with his bass. Anarchist cheerleaders thumped and gyrated around them, while an audience of greasy teens waited in front of them as contents of a veritable powder keg of rebellious angst.

The scene was the most accessible representation of pure evil I’d ever seen and, as a brown-eyed Catholic school kid who was then-dazzled by Queen’s re-released “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to abandon basketball camps for all-ages shows, and I wasn’t ready embrace the anger that comes with being a frustrated, suburban teenager. Unfortunately, when those days arrived, I adopted an anti-Nirvana stance to accompany my rebellion.

By 1993, I had spent two years knee-deep in classic rock patronage, surrounding myself with Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Beatles cassette tapes. I stopped listening to Monday Night Football on the radio as I fell asleep and, instead, listened to Axis: Bold As Love and Led Zeppelin III as I laid in bed and stared at my bedroom ceiling. I borrowed every one of my father’s Beatles records, and tried to educate uninformed friends of mine why the gibberish-laden and nonsensical “I Am The Walrus” was such a great song.

From this musical entry, I leap-frogged Nirvana and, instead, inhaled their grunge contemporaries and overlooked forefathers of the newly-coined alternative rock scene. After wearing out Pearl Jam’s Ten and Vs., I found albums by Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies, Ned’s Automic Dustbin, and Sonic Youth. After listening to this quartet of underappreciated bands, I started to rail against Nirvana for getting so much credit for popularizing a style of music already mastered by others. I was an argumentative teenager eager to take an unconventional stance, so I decided to degrade Nirvana to anyone who would listen. As I saw it, it was as if they were anointed as innovators because MTV and an entire generation needed their defining act; their Rolling Stones or Beatles or Led Zeppelin. But Nirvana wasn’t the Stones or Zeppelin. And, they certainly weren’t the Beatles.

But, on the days following April 5th, 1994, media outlets made sure Kurt Cobain became Generation X’s answer to John Lennon. After the frontman was found dead inside his Seattle-area home from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head, hoards of fans and television hosts compared the impact of Cobain’s death to that of Lennon’s. This made me hate Nirvana even more, and augmented my already fervent belief that their historical relevance was media-driven. Compare a guy who selfishly blew his head off to a guy who, after transforming pop culture, rock music, and his own life over a 20-year period, was senselessly gunned down on his way home from work by a deranged lunatic? Such comparison should’ve been viewed as patently ridiculous, but it was genuinely adopted and regurgitated by magazines like Rolling Stone and People.

I was two years old when Lennon died in 1980. Even today, his death still makes me sad. I was inside my grandparents’ apartment in Greensboro, North Carolina when Cobain was announced dead. I barely flinched when I heard the news.

So what changed my stance? Compassion, maturity and eventual connection. Months after Cobain’s death, the band released their MTV Unplugged album, which provided an opportunity for people like myself to digest Nirvana’s material much differently. Cobain’s somber vocals and delicate strumming on the record serves as the band’s unintentional requiem. It was an emotional performance released so soon after the band’s leader perished, and I connected with material delivered by a guy I'd never connected with before. (If you’re not moved by Cobain’s rendition of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” you’re most likely dead inside.)

As I grew older in the years that followed the Unplugged album, I went back to Bleach, Nevermind and In Utero. (I now own all of these albums.) Now past the pubescent pressures of conforming to cultural trends—and away from the omnipresent media reminder of what’s supposedly relevant—I’ve been able to appreciate pieces of each work for their lyrics, instrumentation, or raw, unhinged tenacity. Gone is my ardent stance against the band’s anointed relevance (although I still believe Ned’s Automic Dustbin is unforgivably overlooked), and gone is my lack of acceptance of the band’s material as epic.

With Nevermind in particular, the album should be understood as nothing less than a rock standard. Its contents set a decade in motion by infusing punk rock presentation with layered texture and raw emotion. The jarring “Teen Spirit” is followed by the gnarling, yet innocent head-bob beat of “In Bloom”; the dark “Come As You Are” slows things down before “Breed” steps on the gas again; “Lithium” and “Polly” stands you still before “Territorial Pissings” sends you flying head-first through a plate-glass window. “Lounge Act”, “Stay Away” and “On A Plain” extend this destructive pace until “Something In The Way” brings you to a somber halt. It’s an album, not a collection of iTunes tracks. It’s a mood established by a band who helped establish the ethos of an entire decade.

I accept this now. Do I have the luxury of reminiscing about my own youth altered by this album? No. But, I understand why this album was so transformative for many who came of age amidst my youth. I now officially care about Nevermind, albeit 20 years after its release.

Better late than never.

Authors note: This entry was completed while listening to Nirvana's Nevermind . . . over and over and over again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Introduction to Contradiction

I hate blogs.

Why? Well, I’ve never understood their functionality. At their inception, they provided outlets for individuals who are not trained writers to masquerade as actual writers. People whose opinions were previously shackled to a barstool or supermarket aisle were now out there for all to see, scatting across computer keypads and zinging previously untouchable entities.

Have an opinion about the Democrats, Charlie Sheen or the New York Yankees? Blog about it. Do you like peanut butter, kittens or kayaking? Delicious; get your words out there, dammit. Let your voice be heard through terrible spelling, syntax and story progression. Who cares if you end every sentence with an exclamation point? You’ve got gripes that need to be broadcast on the worldwide Web, baby!

But, things have changed a bit since the first blogger huddled in his basement, flanked by a bottle of Mr. Pibb and a tub of cheese balls. Blogging has become a viable form of reporting and publishing. Experienced reporters, authors and poets now forward their work through blogs. They broadcast factual information or edited storylines for discriminating eyes, and this professional progression has given the often vain exhale of blogging a vein of legitimacy.

With this entry, I hope to join this aforementioned march of authenticity. I’m ready to write detailed, informed pieces about things I’m qualified to report on like music, sports or fiction. If not, I may just post a bunch of nonsensical, rolling stories about the city of Buffalo and Notre Dame football, or one 275-page argument against the historical distortion of the once-great career of Phil Collins. Either way, I’m an out-of-work writer with nowhere to go. I need this blog, and it will now exist as my home.

If you’re concerned about my credibility, be not afraid. Though I may miss a typo or sentence fragment from time to time, I have a BA in Journalism and an MFA in Creative Writing; I’ve been employed as an editor, newspaper reporter, proposal writer or copywriter for the greater part of nine years; I’ve published one rambling, fictional glorification of Buffalo (Running with Buffalo), and have another novel on the way. As I sit here and type this humble introduction, I am dressed in swarthy, worn-out clothing purchased with writer money. I’ve lived this life for a while, so please trust that I’ll post writing that doesn’t absolutely waste your time. (Note: The word “absolutely” should be understood as subjective.)

Over the coming years, I’ll have some stories to tell. I’ve recently returned to the beloved home (Buffalo, NY) I left 11 years ago, so this should provide fodder for a variety of entries. I also returned amidst one of our fine country’s worst economic downturns—without a job. This should also provide some material, albeit much more vulgar in nature. Mixed in with these tales will be reports on the eventual publication of my second novel, entitled When the Lights Go Out, as well as a controlled diatribe on music, travel, sports, and general barstool concerns.

With each submission into the crowded blogosphere, I hope to inform while giving you, the reader, a voice to relate to. If I can do that, maybe I can entertain individuals like you—and change the pessimistic perceptions of people like me.

Stay tuned for the results. Until then, thank you for stopping by the Farrell Street blog.

Author’s note: This entry was completed while listening to the Rolling Stones' "Torn and Frayed" and Bob Dylan’s “Abandoned Love”:

Won’t you descend from the throne from where you sit

Let me feel your love one more time

Before I abandon it