Flaherty’s Honeymoon Blues

When Fingers Flaherty got married, his (few) friends sadly shook their heads and whispered that the marriage would never last. As his battered car smoked away into the dusky distance, carrying the slightly happy couple to their new life together, his (few) friends wiped away the tears and prepared themselves for the inevitable catastrophe.

Flaherty wiped the cobwebs off his camera, determined to prove his (few) friends wrong.

He would create a photo album of the honeymoon, capturing the ecstatic promise of his first few days with his new (slightly damaged) wife.

The photo album was recently discovered in an abandoned attic.

 

Flaherty didn’t invite his (few) friends to his second wedding. Or his third wedding.

Out now: Talkin’ Squirrel Blues

Crazy Blues

Fingers Flaherty wasn’t the first disgruntled lover to sing the blues!

People have been battling with the blues – or the “blue devils” as they once were known – ever since they started falling in love with each other back in those dark caves. They discovered that fire could keep away the prehistoric chill. And love could warm the prehistoric heart.

Time and time again, Saturday night’s raucous parties have given way to Sunday morning’s aching regrets. An intoxicating haze burns away in the harsh clarity of bloodshot eyes. And a heart that tingled with the promise of forbidden moonlit love is left battered and alone on the dusty floor as the unforgiving sun rises.

In the corner, a melancholy guitar waits.

Blues songs began to emerge from the dark night during the early years of the twentieth century. The form had been evolving orally for many years, but now damaged souls were being laid bare on sheet music. In 1908, “I Got the Blues” introduced this new genre to a wider audience. And in 1920, one of the first blues songs was recorded when Mamie Smith sang “Crazy Blues”.

Born in 1883, Smith was a dancer and vaudeville actress. In 1920, she recorded her first songs with her Jazz Hounds, going on to record many songs during the 1920s. “Crazy Blues” was the first commercially released blues record, and would sell 75,000 copies within a month. The song clearly struck a dark chord with people at the dawning of the Jazz Age.

 

The song opens with a familiar late-night blues scenario: insomnia and a lovelorn heart. The physical unrest mirrors the mental disturbance:

I can’t sleep at night,
I can’t eat a bite,
‘Cause the man I love
He don’t treat me right.

A common theme in blues music is that sense of overwhelming sadness as the lover tries (and usually fails) to come to terms with heartache. Left alone, the singer feels almost paralysed by despair:

He makes me feel so blue,
I don’t know what to do.
Sometime I sit and sigh
And then begin to cry.

Lost in her sadness, the singer feels the world outside merrily pass her by, indifferent to her plight. Everything else moves on, leaving her behind with her memories.

There’s a change in the ocean,
Change in the deep blue sea, my baby.
I’ll tell you, folks, there ain’t no change in me.
My love for that man will always be.

Although not the most uplifting of genres, the blues often does have a hint of gallows humour and comic surrealism. In this song, the singer’s sad plight arouses concern in others, but she dismisses their help. She believes she beyond all healing.

Now the doctor’s gonna do all that he can
But what you’re gonna need is an undertaker man.

Although “Crazy Blues” doesn’t follow the familiar AAB structure of most blues songs, its themes of lovesick despair and loneliness would be picked up and elaborated on (sometimes to gleeful extremes) by countless blues singers over the following decades. Like Mamie Smith, these singers would report “nothin’ but bad news”.

Out now: Talkin’ Squirrel Blues

Wintry watery blues

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Life is an ocean, so the philosophers think.
Life’s an ocean, them dusty philosophers think.
Well, the storm’s a-brewin’, my boat’s startin’ to sink.
Fingers Flaherty

There’s a light, a certain kind of light, that pours over the landscape on a winter afternoon, enveloping the mountains in a languid melancholy, making the sea contemplate the ebbs and flows of its transient life. The birds have long since flown away, leaving behind their silent sad song. Summer seems but a distant memory. Spring is some vague promise from a casual friend. A promise you certainly wouldn’t bet your farm on. Anyway your farm has already been repossessed. By her new husband.

It’s Fingers Flaherty’s favourite time of the day…

Blue skies, blue eyes

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There ain’t nothing new to see under God’s blue skies.
I tell ya, nothing new to see under them blue and shiverin’ skies,
‘Specially when ya look at them through bloodshot alcoholic eyes.
Fingers Flaherty

This photo was taken earlier this month in Omeath, County Louth, overlooking the sublime serenity of Carlingford Lough towards the stern majesty of the Mourne mountains. On a crisp autumn day here, you can feel the eternal spirit of nature vibrate in the depths of your soul. You feel insignificant and blessed in the same timeless instant.

What would Fingers Flaherty think if he were standing here? What would he see when he looked at this view?

Fingers would probably say the rain isn’t far off. He’d complain about the grey chill. And he’d start wondering where the next drink is going to come from…

#talkinsquirrelblues

Christmas lights

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Christmas is comin’, the goose is gettin’ fat,
Christmas is a-comin’, baby, that goose is gettin’ fat!
But Santa won’t come near me, kitten. I’ve been a dirty rat.
Fingers Flaherty

Flaherty lookin’ for salvation

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(c) Padraig Hanratty 2015

 

Jesus, lift me up, I feel like I’ve been cursed!
Help me up, Jesus. I feel low down and cursed!
Jesus said, “Ya gotta stop hangin’ out with the devil first.”
Fingers Flaherty

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues now available in paperback!

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues is now available in paperback from Amazon!

Buy Now

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Also available:

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Cover Image v3

The story behind a squirrel

My article about the genesis of Talkin’ Squirrel Blues was recently published in Writing & Me. You can find out where the idea for the Floyd the squirrel originated by reading the article here.

Photo cropped

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues ebook is currently available on Amazon.

Paperback available in November 2015!

Print

Some Talkin’ Squirrel Blues for the Weekend

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues ebook is now available from Amazon here.

However, you can now view a sample chapter from the book!

Just click this blue link.

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues sample

Enjoy!

Talkin' Squirrel Blues

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues

Time Ain’t Gonna Wait

So it’s finally time to launch the blog. Can’t put it off any longer. Time and tide wait for no blogger…

Quips ‘n’ Chords is all about songs. Specifically, song lyrics. And the influence they can have on us. It will be focusing on (not exclusively, though) blues music. Because in blues lyrics you can find almost every human emotion, battered and stretched to its bone-breaking point.   

But this blog ain’t about lingering in the past. It’s also gonna keep a finger on the pulse of these ever-changing times… Actually, it isn’t.  Because times are always changing. And, let’s face it, always have been. You can’t keep up with them.

Over the last 40 years or so, every time some momentous world event has shuddered our foundations, a headline writer somewhere has inevitably referenced Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin’”. The Berlin Wall came down? Because the times, they were a-changin’. A man apparently landed on the moon? Because the times they were a-changin’, of course. And that whole Arab Spring thing? Well, you see, the times were a-changin’ because of social media.

People always believe that they are caught up in changing times. This was brought home to me when I was working on my recent ebook, A Blanket of Blues. To get myself more in touch with the fraught mind of Fingers Flaherty, I found myself listening to a lot of blues music. One of my favourite blues songs is “James Alley Blues”, performed by the wonderfully monikered Richard “Rabbit” Brown. (Sadly, he didn’t live long enough to get to perform with Willie Hutch…)

The melodic guitar playing and Brown’s sweet singing voice make “James Alley Blues” one of the more accessible early blues songs. It was one of just six songs that Brown recorded in New Orleans back in March 1927, when he was forty-seven. And guess what was on his mind:

Times ain’t now nothin’ like they used to be,
No, times ain’t now nothin’ like they used to be,
And I’m tellin’ you all the truth, oh take it from me.

So the times were a-changin’ back then in 1927 too.

Of course, when times are changing, it’s often heralded as a good thing, a throwing off of the dusty old winter blanket in favour of bright spring threads. Maybe it’s just some unexpectedly resilient optimism deep within us that makes us believe that we’re on the cusp of a brighter future, that things are going to change for the better.

Sarah Palin may have dismissed it as “that hopey changey stuff”. But sometimes we can’t help clinging to the belief that, in the future, things will change and dreams will come true. No matter how unattainable those dreams are. This is what spurred on Jay Gatsby in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsy:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…

Other times, the future isn’t quite so orgiastic. Everything changes in time, but change isn’t always welcome. It’s a sign that we’re getting older. Brown is brusquely accepting about the unwelcome changes that life has delivered to him:  

I done seen better days, but I’m puttin’ up with these.

Maybe it’s not the times outside that have changed, but Brown’s own domestic life. His relationship with his woman is clearly in a state of traumatic transition. In one of the most devastating verses in the blues canon, he sings with frightening conviction:

Sometimes I think that you’re too sweet to die,

Sometimes I think that you’re too sweet to die,

And another time I think you oughta be buried alive.

Melting ice

Everything changes in time
(Image copyright: Padraig Hanratty)

When people look back to simpler times, they’re often just looking back to a time when their own lives seemed simpler, when things seemed to make sense. Raging against change is sometimes nothing more than a sentimental yearning for lost youth. The revolutionary troubadours of yesterday in time start to perform on the nostalgia circuit.

Many singers over the years have warned about the deceptive glow of nostalgia. Billy Joel, for example, in “Keeping the Faith”:

You can get just so much from a good thing,
You can linger too long in your dreams.
Say goodbye to the “Oldies But Goodies”,
Cause the good ole days weren’t always good,
And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.

Billy Joel is no stranger to the nostalgia circuit himself. But when he performed in Russia in the 1980s, guess which song he included in his sets. Yes, “The Times, The Are A-Changin’”.

Which brings us back to Bob Dylan. He of course was aware of “James Alley Blues”. He performed it at a party in Minnesota in 1961, and again in New York in 1962. Ever the songwriting magpie, he called out to James Alley in one of his own songs.  Brown, in a pique of classic blues defiance, asserts his independence from his woman:

I’ve been givin’ you sugar for sugar, let you get salt for salt,

I’ll give you sugar for sugar, let you get salt for salt,

And if you can’t get ‘long with me, well it’s your own fault.

Dylan, not surprisingly, is a tad more apocalyptic in “Down in the Flood”:

Well, it’s sugar for sugar, and it’s salt for salt,

If you go down in the flood, it’s gonna be your fault.

Time and tide (and floods) wait for no one. But are times changing a bit faster these days? Maybe even a bit too fast?