Monday, April 22, 2013

The Death of Richie Havens

I have just heard of the passing of the great folk singer Richie Havens at age 72. Richie Havens was the opening act of Woodstock; it is said that his set lasted three hours. He sang and played every song he knew. In the end he improvised one of the classics of our era, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," which morphed into "Freedom." The song was played in an incredible percussive style, Havens' trademark, with his plaintive voice singing "Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!"

I remember so vividly listening to recordings of Richie Havens singing "The Minstrel from Gault," "Handsome Johnnie," and "All Along the Watchtower," the definitive performance of the Bob Dylan tune. Chris Cotter's brother Tony played Havens' tunes incredibly well--and that is one of my best memories from the time in 1971 that I visited the Cotters' house in Cincinnati.

In my mind, Richie Havens was a force that helped end the Vietnam War. Rest in Peace, Richie Havens, and thank you for your incredible art.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Modest Little Poem About Growing Up in the 1950's

Before the Invention of Safety

I was a kid before the invention of safety.
Before seatbelts, helmets, and warning labels.
An era when we stuffed Baby Jimmy
On the back window ledge of the car on the trip to Gramma’s,
And rode Kevin on the handlebars to Mudville.

Of course there were some minor disasters.
And we can thank only our Guardian Angels
For not falling through the ice on Lake Erie
Or slipping down the steep shale cliffs over Euclid Creek.

Yes, there were broken arms, lots of stitches, some concussions.
And there were some serious errors in our knowledge:
It didn't help to be brought up in a blue haze of cigarette smoke,
To fool with vials of mercury Dad brought home from the shop,
To play with asbestos as if it were harmless snow—

But in general we did all right. We survived and even thrived
Before the invention of safety.

Bob Coughlin
April 5, 2013

Hiram Irish Music Session Repertoire/Play List

Here are the tunes that we played yesterday:

Maggie in the Wood
Enchanted Lake
Off to California
Lord Inchiquin (O'Carolan)
Kean O'Hara--1st Air (possibly an O'Carolan tune)
Inisheer (Inis Oírr)--Air in 3/4 time
Haste to the Wedding
Wind That Shakes the Barley
Sligo Maid
Johnny Ward's (with Paul Dreisbach on uillean pipes)
Fanny Power (O'Carolan tune; Ellen Eckhouse played this very well on harp)
South Wind ("An Ghaoth Aneas")
Fr. Kelly's Reel
Drowsy Maggie
Wise Maid
Star of Munster (great whistle tune)
Cape Breton Home (another great whistle tune; by Jerry Holland)
Bride's Favorite
Connaughtman's Ramble (Jig)
Si Beag Si Mor (O'Carolan tune)
Red is the Rose (song; Marlene Connell and Robin Montgomery knew lots of verses)
John Ryan's
Maggie in the Wood
Rights of Man
Roddy McCorly
Far Away

Some tunes we didn't play yesterday but have played on other occasions:

Kesh Jig
Butterfly (Slipjig)
Heights Hornpipe (Dermot Somerville's originaltune)
Frost Is All Over
Geese in the Bog
Temperance Reel
Old Favorite
Rising of the Moon
Over the Waterfall
The Banshee
The Ash Plant
Cliffs of Moher
The Ash Grove
Sally Gardens (song, lyrics by Yeats, Key of C)
Hewlett (O'Carolan)
Maid Behind the Bar
Fr. Kelly's Reel
St. Anne's Reel

And others . . .

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hiram, Garrettsville, and Hart Crane

There are two famous villages three miles apart in Portage County, Ohio: Hiram, home of the great little college where James A Garfield was a student, and later teacher and principal; and Garrettsville, where the great American poet Hart Crane was born and raised (and by the way, where his father invented Lifesavers candy).

Below are a few photos from these villages:

Hart Crane's home in Garrettsville, Ohio--about 40 miles from Cleveland

Beautiful old Christian Church in Hiram, where Garfield attended. Just across the street from Hiram College

Hiram Irish Music Session

The last Irish Music Session of this academic year took place at Hiram College today. The group was smaller in size than normal (9 or 10 musicians and maybe 7 observers), but the music was still wonderful.

Ellen Eckhouse, on harp, with one of her students
Sheldon Firem on guitar, with Robin Montgomery on piano

Sheldon also is a terrific bodhran and whistle player

Paul Dreisbach on whistle (his uillean pipes on his lap); Tina Dreisbach on Irish flute. Tina also plays the concertina

Who know more tunes and song verses than Robin Montgomery? (No one!)

Not pictured: me on whistle and guitar, Marlene Connell on bodhran; and a fiddle player (don't know his name). Marlene was married to the late John Connell, County Cavan native and terrific button box player and singer. Among those in the audience--Kathleen O'Neill Webb and her husband Rick Webb.

I'm going to try to list all the tunes played--[coming in a later post].

Friday, April 12, 2013

Stanley Kunitz's Brilliant Poem "Touch Me"

Stanley Kunitz, the great American poet, was born in 1905 and died at the age of 100 in 2006. Even into his latest years he was a shining light. Kunitz spent his life mostly in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts  In his lifetime he was honored with the Pulitzer Prize and was Poet Laureate of the United States on two occasions (including when he was 95 years old). He profoundly influenced American Poetry. Below is one of his greatest poems, "Touch Me."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Do You Have Rocks in Your Head? Vertigo?

"Do you have rocks in your head?" That was my Mother's question when we were doing or thinking something crazy. Turns out she was on to something!

Back in 1982 I had a sudden, scary episode of severe vertigo. I thought I was having a stroke; I thought I was dying. It took a very long time to figure out what was happening to me, and in the end it turned out to be a not-so-serious condition called "Benign Positional Vertigo" or "Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo." The acronyms for this conditrion are BPP or BPPV.

Now vertigo is a dizziness beyond any dizziness. I think the closest you can come to it is the experience you had as a kid spinning around until your were so dizzy you couldn't stand up. The paroxysms can cause you to vomit and will trigger a strange rhythmic jerking or twitching of the eyes called "nystagmus." What seemed to trigger it for me was head position. When the condition was finally diagnosed by an ENT doctor, he gave me a sheaf of papers instructing me in exercises that would "wear out the reflex." The exercises gradually worked.

What I have found out is that my Mother's old question, "Do you have rocks in your head?" was literally true in my case. Here's my somewhat-less-than-scientific description of what happens in this type of vertigo. Tiny "rocks," possibly made from calcium, known as "otoliths," are loosed from their normal location and are rolling around the semicircular canals of the inner ear, somehow triggering the vertigo.

A brilliant invention that treats many cases of BPV is the "Epley Maneuver," which is something a physical therapist, physician, or even an individual could do. There are many Youtube demonstrations of this maneuver and I will post one below.

I imagine that it is best for individuals experiencing this kind of discombobulating vertigo to see a physician to rule out more serious conditions. It is comforting to know that this type of vertigo is often benign, not-so-serious, and easily treated.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Great Ship "S.S. United States" Is Looking Long in the Tooth (Like Me!)

In the summer of 1967 I had the miraculous opportunity of studying in Salzburg and Innsbruck, Austria for my Sophomore year in college (I was a student at the University of Notre Dame). This was an astonishing thing for a working class boy from Euclid, Ohio.

For the same tuition that we paid for my Freshman year at Notre Dame, we got ship passage (S.S. United States) to and from Europe, train passage from Le Havre, France, to Salzburg, room and board in Austria, plus tuition and field trips. The total cost was around $2500--not cheap back then, but not like the $50,000 per year price tag of today's elite universities (including Notre Dame).

The S.S. United States was not as luxurious as today's cruise ships, but it was big and very fast. It also was safe and it worked--it didn't break down like so many cruise ships today. We made the passage from New York City to Le Havre, France, in 4 or 5 days. I wonder how long it took my Irish and German ancestors to come from Europe to America by sailing ship (weeks? a month? longer?).

I had heard that the ship was now mothballed in Philadelphia Harbor. A former classmate of mine, Charlie Bradley, sent around the following video and news report on the sorry state of the ship right now. It looks like a gigantic rust bucket! Attempts are being made to raise money to save it. Good luck!

Check out this link for video, a slide show, and a story on the S.S. United States:

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Toast to Our Dad--on the 16th Anniversary of His Death

April 8th, 1997--a very sad day for the Coughlin Clan. The day our Dad died, just short of his 75th birthday.

I still think of him as that active, handsome guy of the 1960's, his hair jet-black, hitting his left-handed home runs at Mudville (Willow Playground in Euclid) against those evil ballplayers from Gary Avenue. Or Dad driving somewhere around Little Mountain, lost as all get out, telling us, "Daddies never get lost!" The guy who helped Maggie after Bill Brock died and Mary Fitzpatrick and her 5 children after Jack Fitzpatrick was killed. Or the guy that let our alcoholic uncles, Dick, Don, and Jack, stay with us in our little house whenever they needed to (which was often).

Dad was a kind and generous man. A wonderful father and husband. A World War II hero--and our hero.

Slainte, Dad. We lift a glass for you. 

His likes will never be seen again.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Few Pics from Easter 2013

Colin, Aunt Emily, and Play-Do
Linda, Colin, and "Brr", by Bunny Cake
Julia and Colin, Making the Bunny Cake
Julia, Colin, and Nana Linda, Making the Bunny Cake