I hate being the one singled out in a crowd. On my recent seven-day trip to Dublin I felt like the outsider in a place where I also felt quite at home. I spent most of the night in two pubs: the tiny rustic “Celt” and the 800-year-old “Brazen Head.” Both places had some of the greatest music I have ever heard. Not only were the musicians some of the best players I had ever heard, but the people of the pub were also amazing singers. This leads to my first theory: every Irishman can sing, especially with a Guinness inside him.The atmosphere in these pubs made anybody who walked in feel at home. The players were funny, accomplished musicians who mixed the sets between jigs, reels, folk songs, and modern cover songs. The songs were packed full of history, love, whiskey, and death. One minute you are stomping your foot to a fast-paced reel (it’s my second theory that Irish reels are the blueprints for blue grass and hoe downs), the next you are teary-eyed, listening to a man sing about the death of his lover.
Of the four bands I saw, I found out the names of only two: The Brazen Hussies and South Side. The people in the bands ranged in age from their mid-20s all the way to their 60s. But no matter what the age of the player, there was a passion in the playing that is lacking in most American music. Which brings me to my third theory: American music doesn’t exist.
I know that the Violent Femmes sang “I love American music,” and I too would sing along and agree that I also loved American music. But there is no true American music. Rock and Roll? No, sorry, England has it too. Crappy teen pop? Nope, that too is all around the world. We have no American sound to our music. And as a music critic I find that sad.
In closing I will leave you with my fourth theory: America has no national pride. Especially after the events that have passed recently, no one is truly proud to be an American. We don’t relish in our history nor do we have national heroes that appear in popular songs. I noticed this at the end of the gig at the Celt. As the band of 20-somethings ended their set I got ready to go until the lead singer said, “Now before you go stand up, we are going to close with our national anthem.”
I thought he was joking, so I stayed seated until the band started to play and everyone in the place stood and sang along. They sang along to their national anthem and they meant every word that they sang. You’d be hard pressed to find that in America. I doubt anyone is in the mood to sing for us now.