Declan Lynch: ‘Can we get back to just normal bad things?’


Declan Lynch: ‘Can we get back to just normal bad things?’

Michael Cohen said of himself that “I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man”.

He had been speaking for most of the day to the House Oversight Committee about all the bad things done by himself and by others who may themselves believe that they are not bad men – though in truth they probably are.

And this is where we are now. This is the burden that falls upon us most mornings when we turn on the radio, this fine distinction we must make between the doing of bad things, and badness itself.

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You hear Joe Little, RTE’s Religious Affairs Correspondent, describing the career of a defrocked cardinal and it sounds like the life and times of a major figure in organised crime, with sexual abuse being the recurring offence, rather than racketeering. And these bad things were being done by men who probably did not believe that they were bad, and who were openly professing themselves to be good – their racket, if you like, was goodness.

So they are bad in a special way, both in the things that they did, and the men that they are. Certainly we must conclude that they are worse in every way than Michael Cohen, though again, we would prefer not to be presented with such choices, so early in the day.

Brexit, of course, is bad from the perspective of any person who is vaguely concerned not just with personal goodness but with the common good – and clearly some of its advocates are prepared to do bad things on a scale recognisable by a Michael Cohen or a Donald Trump. But are they bad people?

Yes, I think they are, in that they are irredeemable. Cohen at least was able to suggest with some validity that he had embarked on a process of change, that all the bad things he did with and for Trump, including the intimidation of approximately 500 people on Trump’s behalf, were now being transformed into a good thing, by his speaking of them in public.

By contrast, I can’t think of a single Tory Eurosceptic “bastard” who has ever had the rudimentary level of decency required to admit that it might all be a terrible mistake – these people have been doing their bad thing for decades, they were doing it long before John Major called them the “bastards”, they are incorrigible and they are insatiable.

But is theirs just a political point of view like any other, albeit one that is guaranteed to cause great harm to others, not least in their own party?

Well, the clue is in there, in the fact that the Brexiteering spirit has been eating away at the Tory Party and its leadership for so long, it is clearly too bad even for them – yes, even an organisation which has a history so rich in badness, it probably invented certain varieties of it, will shake its head sadly at its own “Eurosceptics”, and it will say, “that stuff is just too bad, even by our standards. It is unforgivably appalling in every conceivable respect. It is pure poison”.

Of course they have never had the minimal amount of good energy needed to drive that poison out, perhaps because it inspires them in some perverse way – and because it makes them feel that as long as the “bastards” are there, everyone else can claim that they may have done bad things, but they are not bad people. Not the worst anyway.

Trump provides that service for the whole human race, in particular for men who do bad things, or who are bad men, or both. If there is goodness in him, it is in his badness – he is a “great conman”, a man who, in the words of Michael Moore is “lying all the time and telling the truth all the time, which is what makes him such a great performance artist”.

Yet in demonstrating how fragile is this thing we call “normality”, how far you can push things by connecting with your worst self, he and his kind are also forcing the normal people to respond in the manner of Elijah Cummings, chairman of the Oversight Committee – and a good man, it seems.

Speaking at the end of a day in which so many bad things had been said, albeit some of them for good reasons, Elijah, son of former sharecroppers who were “basically slaves”, spoke in biblical style of these “normal” things, about the need to “get back to normal”.

It was an extraordinarily graceful performance, because it had the classic theme that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing, yet somehow it did not seem judgmental. “When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?” said Elijah, in tones that were at once sorrowful and encouraging.

Though he was effectively saying that things have got so bad, democracy itself is in grave danger, there was also something reassuring about his vision of a return to normal things – even normal bad things, without this sense that the baddest men in the world have all come together to make their stand.

That’s what we long for, just the normal bad things.

Eric, Ernie and the immortal ‘Andrew Preview’

Every obituary of Andre Previn mentioned the fact that for all his distinction as a musician, he would probably be remembered above all, for his appearance on Morecambe & Wise, trying to conduct the orchestra in a performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

It was mentioned with much affection, but as one of those strange accidents that can happen to a great artist, a bit like Leonard Cohen finally hitting the big time when Hallelujah made it to the soundtrack of Shrek, or JS Bach being the guy who wrote the music for the ‘Happiness Is A Cigar Called Hamlet’ ads.

But a case can also be made that that the Morecambe & Wise sketch was not just Previn’s most popular piece of work, it may also have been his finest – I am not familiar enough with the rest of his oeuvre to know this for sure, but I do know that unless he has been involved in the creation of other flawless masterpieces, then it has to be up there.

It is probably the most perfect eight minutes of TV comedy ever made. It is beautifully constructed and written, but it is also beautifully performed, and this is “Mr Preview’s” triumph as much as it is Eric and Ernie’s. It seems that they knew from the first line he delivered that he was going to nail it, that he had this deep understanding that the straighter he played it, the funnier it would be.

They wanted the actual Andre Previn, not Andre Previn on a night off, trying to be funny – and he delivered himself as such unto Morecambe and Wise, just as he would have done if he was conducting someone who could actually play the piano.

The challenge for them all was to demonstrate how two total eejits can bring a serious man and an entire orchestra down to their own level – convinced as all eejits are of their own rightness, freed from all doubt by their lack of introspection, putting these superior people in their place with the terrible power that derives from this pure eejitry, and more eejitry, and yet more eejitry from that seemingly inexhaustible source, all the way down to Eric’s line: “I am playing all the right notes… but not necessarily in the right order.”

Andre Previn’s music was always admired. But on this night he became immortal.

The Greatest Living Irishmen? No doubt

Apparently at some stage of my life, I wrote of Horslips that they “took the constituent parts of being Irish and put them back together again in a way that wasn’t crap”.

I was reminded of this by some fans of theirs on Twitter styling themselves Thiefdom Of Horslips – and I would add that “to be a young person in rural Ireland at a certain time, and to find yourself at your first Horslips gig, was an experience not unlike what Howard Carter must have felt, on gazing into the tomb of Tutankhamun”.

Recently there was a fine documentary on the making of Phil Lynott’s Old Town, and there are regular celebrations of the life and work of Rory Gallagher, but Horslips – who were a crucial part of that troika which saved Ireland – are all still knocking around, and doing good work. Eamon Carr has actually been writing for this newspaper group for years.

And last weekend at the Irish Arts Centre in New York City, Barry Devlin, Jim Lockhart and Johnny Fean did that thing they do, in a performance of the poet Paul Muldoon’s version of The Lament of Art O’Leary. Other contributors included Ruth Smith and Lisa Dwan, now famed for her astonishing performances of Beckett – she also brings me back to ancient times, because the first time I was ever in a theatre, it was the Dean Crowe Hall in Athlone, where I saw her father Liam Dwan being brilliant as the Pedlar in the Athlone Musical Society’s version of Oklahoma!

No doubt all these things are connected, or not as the case may be.

What is beyond doubt is that we need to appreciate the fact that Horslips, these mythical creatures from the Golden Age of Rock, are still, so to speak, rocking. Because what is equally beyond doubt is that they are the Greatest Living Irishmen.

Sunday Independent


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