iBAM! I thought it might be a tribute to Emeril Lagasse as construed by Apple. Aside from Fred Flintstone’s son-in-law, who the hell bams?
Turns out, though, that my Saturday at the Irish Books Authors and Musicians event at the Irish American Heritage Center actually was tied to food – specifically potatoes.
If you’re Irish you should know that potatoes – or the blight on and subsequent lack thereof – are the major reason most of us of Irish ancestry are here, there, and everywhere but Ireland.
Tim Pat Coogan was honored Saturday night at iBAM! for his contribution to Irish literature, and the first panel I walked into that afternoon included him discussing the Great Famine and his 2012 book, “The Famine Plot.”
The Victorian English felt the famine was something feckless, Catholic Ireland deserved. Even as the English took other food from Ireland, hey, the free market meant that was just too damn bad.
After all, Ireland was a nation that had seen its share of invaders. Plus, the famine cleared out the country so the English landlords could consolidate their land holdings.
Coogan and others on the panel said what the English did – and didn’t do – amounted to no less than genocide.
How many actually died remains unclear, but it was at least 1 million, while 2 million fled, and now Ireland holds less people than it did in 1845, when the blight started.
The unintended consequence: Those who left, well, they are us. So, thank you England for being heartless bastards, which unleashed us on the world to impact the culture here, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. For one piece of evidence, all I had to do later that day was look at JFK’s profile on the half dollar back in change I got from buying pumpkin raisin scones from the Galway Bakery.
Sure, England messed with a nation – and a good many others – leaving Ireland to this very day with what Coogan said is a collective case of learned helplessness. Sure, it took until 1997 for anyone in power in Britain to apologize for this travesty.
In the meantime, the Irish took the English language and turned in on its ass, with the likes of Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett and those who followed.
For better – but mostly worst – the Irish currently even top the pop music charts with One Direction. But you can even blame the Brits for that as the evil genius behind this ear confection/infection is Simon Cowell.
With that in mind, I wandered from the Erin Ballroom at the top of the Center back to the first floor for what I am calling the Banners of Beckett exhibit. Courtesy of the Cultural Division of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the tall, graphics laden banners offered a biographical look at the Nobel winner’s life.
I learned that in 1938, the influential author and playwright was stabbed by a pimp for no apparent reason. If Beckett were around today, that would give him street cred, so he could be a hip-hop artist.
Next, I caught truncated version of Joanna Rush’s one-woman show, loosely based on her own life, about a naive, young Irish-American Catholic woman who moves to New York, makes the Rockettes, winds up getting raped, suffers post traumatic stress disorder, has a best friend who dies of AIDS, heads to a new age retreat in Arizona, almost gets raped again on the way back East, and winds up becoming a nondenominational priest.
At this point, I needed a beer and some famine relief of my own, and they had hamburgers for $1 and Guinness for $5. Then I heard the band near the bar playing “Danny Boy.” I looked out the window. It was drizzling.
I texted best fest buddy Tom, suggesting that my day be called The Irish Gloom (And Why They Drink).
He topped it – Stairway to Alcoholism.
That deserved a reward, so I was gonna get him an autograph from one of the honorees at the night’s banquet. I changed clothes, and a nice woman even tucked in the tag on my sweater vest for me – because I am too much of a guy for my own good sometimes, and am not used to wearing anything resembling dress clothing.
All gussied up to eat, a pre-dinner appetizer inspired what is now my latest insult to use – Irish sausage puff.
Once the proceedings started, my Godot turned out to be Brendan Gleeson, who was scheduled to be there to pick up his Belleek vase honoring him for his contribution to performing arts.
I wanted to learn what it was like to be in a Harry Potter movie, and if he found out in Bruges if what they say about Colin Farrell is true.
But the big ginger is off in New York working on a Ron Howard film, a version of the real life story that inspired Melville to pen Moby Dick. So a burly Irish guy is in a movie about a sperm whale that wrecks a ship – the jokes just write themselves, don’t they?
Disappointed though I was, the night and its award-winners offered further evidence of what English imperialism has inadvertently meant for the good of the rest of the planet.
There was emcee Mike Flannery of FOX Chicago News who has uncovered the nefarious doings that are embedded in Illinois politics; artist Bobby Ballagh, known for his murals, sets for “Riverdance” and “Endgame,” stamp designs and arts activism; Father Jack Wall who turned around Old St. Patrick’s parish on Chicago’s near West Side and who works to help all the city’s poor; and the Black Family, who brought Irish music to a global audience.
Bringing it back to the day’s theme, the Blacks ended the evening with an a cappella version of “Colcannon,” a song about the tasty potato dish.
Before everybody left, I learned that “Glee” and Celtic Thunder buddy Damian McGinty will have an album coming out soon and is heading to somewhere in Louisiana next month to work on an indie movie called “Sam’s Son,” which should not be confused with Son of Sam or Samson.
I know this because McGinty ostensibly was trying to put the moves on a friend of mine’s daughter.
As a bald guy watching this, I marveled at the architecture and engineering behind McGinty’s pop star hair and that of his buddy and fellow frothy pop star Ben Kelly who had a 50s thing happening, which made me want to get some Bazooka bubble gum.
As such, I noted that whatever the English, the Irish, the Americans or anyone from any country does, some things are universal and really never change.