The radio is a funny place. While I was driving, a guy called in to a Friday night request show, and asked for a Thin Lizzy song, because Phil Lynott died today. And I was suddenly confused, because I thought he’d died in the 80’s, but it still tripped off a whole thought process. (He did, indeed, die in 1986, but on January 4 – so he died today, just 33 years ago…)
But I started thinking about my connection to Thin Lizzy – which is an odd sentence to write. Because, of course, I have no ACTUAL connection to Phil Lynott or the band – after all, I was 10 when the band broke up. To be honest, I had only recently (and with much shame) changed my clock radio from my mom’s WSSH Easy Listening to WHTT, because I was afraid that any potential friends would come over, turn on my radio, and then not become my friends because no one cool has ever listened to Barbara Streisand. And, while I vaguely remember hearing “The Boys are Back In Town” a few times back then, if I was connecting to anyone in 1983, it was Michael Jackson and Annie Lennox.
But I’m still connected. Not because people kept insisting that, as a freckly redhead, I had to be Irish. Not because I dig 2-guitar bands. But because of theater.
To be more specific, because of one particular show. A play of Sebastian Barry’s, called The Pride of Parnell Street. This was much more recently – in 2011, for a director named Harriet Power, and the story of the play sprung from the events of the Irish loss in the World Cup quarterfinals of 1990. But its characters were adults then – and we learn that their courtship was birthed to the sound Thin Lizzy on their radios. And since my approach to design tends to start with research, off I went on a music-buying spree.
(Ok – before I go further, I have to admit something. Before I started my research, I thought there were 2 bands with oddly similar names back then – I thought there was a “Tin Lizzie” and a “Thin Lizzie” because – well – because every Irish person I’ve ever met pronounced the latter without the “h”… and lots of DJ’s followed suit. Embarrassing non-record-store-dude admission over)
So – I bought a bunch of CDs – and because I was thinking, at the time, that I’d be using this music to score the play, I went into the re-releases, the instrumental-only studio tracks, all the deep dive music research that makes this job so much fun.
And I started taking it apart – not from a theory/analysis point of view, but in a way that is, I think, fairly unique to sound designers, producers and music supervisors – finding phrases that might loop, hearing the repeats and the evolutions, getting a sense of the pacing, figuring out how I could sit in one section for as long as I needed and still smash into an upshift at just the right moment. It’s vaguely related to how you get to know a song when you’re learning it by ear, but it tends to focus on the larger catalog – less “oh, that’s an Am G Em” and more “Oh, this is the way their songs are built.”
Now – I’m certainly not a Thin Lizzy expert – I don’t pretend I suddenly became the grandmaster of Johnny the Fox or Philomena – I just – I dunno – connected to the band. In the same way that I get to connect to so many artists. Early DMX when I was working on a piece that cried out for West Coast Gansta. Delibe when Lakme connected to a play that seemed to be about a world as melodramatic and beautiful as an opera. Fela.
And what struck me as I drove tonight is that working on Parnell Street gave me a chance to connect to a dead stranger without ever actually knowing him.
Lynott was truly a poet – he was the visionary behind their music, Thin Lizzy’s lyricist and lead artist. He poured all kinds of love into his music, and one of the great things about the band, from my POV, was that it seems like he didn’t micromanage the guitars – he was a singer and a bassist, and my best guess is that he would come in with a tune and an idea and some lyrics, and, as a band, they would build their songs. I think this is part of why they were actually a really exciting band – because all of the musicians were making art together. I felt that I began to know something of his life – not his biography, but his impulses, his imagination, his flights of fancy and digressions, distractions and passions.
And I figured this all out not by reading about the band, or talking to fans – I figured it out because I really had no choice but to listen closely to his music. I got to connect to a Irish bassist 25 years after he’d died, while working on a play about a couple that fell apart.
And it got me thinking about how the distances between people are maybe more artificial than real. Everyone has a song in them – every life is a work of art. And, with the right focus, we can truly connect to that – artist to artist. Human to human. Being an artist isn’t a unique calling, on this level. Being an artist, within the context of fundamental human interconnection, is a role available to all of us, if we are open to it. And if I stop working as a sound designer tomorrow, I hope I’ll keep reaching out by listening, by reaching in.
Now – I know there are some people who have are evil – who have embraced some white supremacist bullshit, or terrible misogyny, or just outright thuggish madness. I’m not saying everyone should be friends, or any other tra-la-la. That every behavior needs to be embraced or every douchenozzling asshat deserves our loving care.
But I am saying that maybe there’s a whole lot less space between us than we make out. That when we meet someone that we really don’t know, there is still the potential for this level of intimacy. We can avail ourselves of it if we just take take the time to actually pay attention.