Discovering O’Casey—and Parnell (February 9, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I’m a lit guy. I’ve taught it for 35 years. But as I learned when I hung out a bit with my college professors, you can’t read everything.

Finally, yesterday, I arrived at Sean O’Casey. Talk about roundabout! I’d first heard his name, oddly enough, when researching a wonderful reference to a Joyce story in Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying. An Irish playwright. Had written about Parnell. Didn’t know who he was. But I was too busy to keep my nose to the trail. Then O’Casey’s name came up again a few years later when I was reading up on Shane MacGowan and The Pogues’ Irish influences; the title of their LP Red Roses for Me is clipped from O’Casey’s work, and their politics and portrayal of proles owe much to the playwright’s own vision. Finally, earlier this year, as I read Sam Stephenson’s Gene Smith’s Sink (yeah, I know, could I please shut up about that book?–but it is the epitome of a gift that keeps on giving), I learned that among the more than 20,000 LPs that Smith left behind when he died, among his two very favorites was a Caedmon Records release of O’Casey reading excerpts from his work. Apparently, Smith listened to the record with near-religious devotion.

My kind of record!

It was time. I browsed to Discogs, located a copy, ordered it, and it arrived early this week. Sat down and listened to it yesterday: wow! Side A features passages Juno and the Paycock and Inishfallen, Fare Thee Well–O’Casey’s accent is so thick that I will have to have the texts in front of me eventually, but it is so musical and beguiling a text is really required. Side B, from Pictures in the Hallway, is easier to follow, particularly a conversation between two men in a pub in which they discuss Parnell–ahhh, Parnell! finally!–and his legacy. One of the greatest figures in Irish Republicanism (author’s note: thanks to a couple of wizened friends, I now know Parnell was a nationalist, not a purveyor of republicanism–a bad beginner’s error!) inspires a magical conversation. It would have been perfect to use in illuminating that passage in A Lesson Before Dying…but alas.

Anyway–man, I wish Caedmon Records (now Caedmon Audio) ostill put out records–vinyl–like this, but I am not sure the necessary audience exists. These, my friends, are far different from a standard author-read audiobook. I’d link you to a clip from the above, but one doesn’t exist at present. Here’s one, though, from a Caedmon recording of Dylan Thomas:

Note: While I was recovering from O’Casey’s spell, I learned that, in 1957, MGM released a recording of Faulkner reading from his works, notably an excerpt from The Sound and The Fury (“Dilsey”!) that is now exceedingly rare. Another grail for me to seek–let me know if you have clues.

Short-shrift Division:

Andrew Cyrille: Special People–I’ve listened to no jazz artist more this year than one of the greatest drummer-composers in the music’s history. Give the man props while he’s living, I say.

The Residents: Duck Stab / Buster and Glen–It’s been too long since their intense and mildly frightening sounds (especially on this release) have graced The Lab.

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