Memory steals every moment: Sharon van Etten and the songs we love

Sharon van Etten

THIS MUCH we know: Music will never, ever sound as good again as it did when you were 16. It will never be as powerful, moving, all-enveloping, or seem as important as it did when you were a prisoner of your parents and your own hormones.

But that’s not to say we can’t be reminded of those grand old days of acne and the Velvet Underground (I’m speaking for myself here) from time to time.

It’s been a while since a song took me back to my days beneath an Andy Warhol poster; maybe the last time was my first encounter with Crying In The Streets, by George Perkins and the Silver Stars. (Disclaimer: I had absolutely no involvement with the struggle for black civil rights in 1960s USA.) Continue reading

Second Chance Saloon

Still from Hooley In The Sun music video

DECLAN NERNEY IS a man who inspires devotion. A flick through the visitors’ book on his website reveals a degree of approval usually reserved for younger men. “Oh me o my u make me sigh!!!” is one entry. “I think your wonderful, love ur songs and i listen to them everyday, in my car, at home and even at work” is fairly typical. “Lots of hugs and kisses XXX”, “You have never forgot me”. Not bad for a man in his middle years whose own passion is for vintage agricultural tractors.

“These bands are making a comeback,” one middle-aged woman tells me at Taylor’s Three Rock Hotel. “They’re making a comeback because in the old days, if you were widowed, you stayed at home and wore black. Now, you go out.” She is sitting at a table with two other ladies of a similar vintage, who are anxious I should not use their names. “I’m divorced. She’s widowed,” one says, and turns to the last. “Are you divorced, or just separated?”

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Dessie Wisley, candle seller

THE ROAD LEADING up the hill to Desmond Wisley’s warehouse is fringed by the usual detritus of the recession. There are scrubby construction lots, and a cluster of unoccupied apartment complexes. The centre of the development is a big new supermarket with a cavernous underground car park, from which gleaming escalators hum emptily up to the store: at eleven o’clock on a Monday morning, there isn’t a single car.

But for Desmond, known to most as Dessie, business is good. He runs Wisley Ecclesiastical Supplies, a business that sells religious essentials to churches. Their biggest movers are prayer candles: the ones you light as you wish a trouble away. Continue reading

Eating at Supermac’s

Taco cheese fries

THERE IS A long basin of steaming liquid, brown and glistening. It ripples and swills under the fluorescent light as a young man in a baseball cap dips a long ladle in. Expertly catching the drips, he dollops two glutinous spoonfuls over the contents of a thin cardboard box in his other hand and turns back to the counter, placing the dish gently next to the cash register before ringing up the sale. In the Supermac’s on Galway’s Eyre Square, just before twelve o’clock on a showery Monday morning, another portion of curry chips is ready to go.

Supermac’s is an Irish institution. It dished up chips when the country was an economic backwater, flipped burgers through the boom; and as we flounder through the recession like flies in ketchup, it’s still going strong. The chain has 92 branches nationwide, each one showcasing its combination of the hyper-branding of international fast food – burgers are cooked on a SuperGrill; diners may Go Large for 75c – with uniquely Irish delicacies like garlic-cheese fries and the Snack Box. In many towns, the Supermac’s is the first place to open in the mornings and the last still dishing out nourishment to stragglers from the pubs.

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Men of the Slow Jam

First published in Mongrel in 2007 (the heyday of the slow jam)

Real talk: R Kelly

THE SLOW JAM is a weird branch of the musical tree. It’s usually a combination of crooning vocals with smoothed-out hip hop beats. Bendy synth sounds are frequently prominent. Prime movers of the slowjamming scene have been Usher, Ginuwine, R Kelly and recent arrivals T-Pain and The Dream; and slow jams are, almost exclusively, about knocking the socks off women. Which is to say, they’re all about being a particular kind of man.

The position of the Slow Jam Man is a curious one. On the one hand, you’re the undiluted essence of male: a master seducer driven by the urge to sexual conquest. On the other, that conquest is generally achieved by such doctrinally effeminate methods as the gyration of hips, the murmuring of sweet nothings, and the hitting of climactic high notes. For a genre obsessed with notions of masculinity, this is the elephant in the room. How do you reconcile being an unreconstructed player with – let’s face it – singing and dancing, like a girl?

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