'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ronan's Songs

I finally took down the Christmas decorations in the garden. The plastic reindeer are in the shed for another year. The wife's uncle says he knows someone who wanted to get huskies and call them after Santa's reindeer, but she got a Jack Russell instead and the Jack Russell ate part of her phone book.

My cousin Ronan has been going out with a woman called Audrey for years, and he's never approved of her taste in music. This wouldn't be such a problem if he had a car, or if she didn't have a car. But when he's in the passenger's seat of her car, the only thing he can do about the music is complain. He used to say things like 'This one makes my ears bleed' or 'I see dead people when I hear this song'.

But when one song came on the radio she turned up the volume and said, "I love this song. And if you say anything about your ears bleeding or you legs falling off, I'm going to stop the car."

He hated the song, and he tried to resist saying 'It sounds as if it was recorded right after the singer had serious brain surgery', but he couldn't. She parked the car at the side of the road and said, "Take that back."

"No, I don't think I will."

"Fine. We'll just wait here until you do."


So they waited. Neither of them said anything for a while. Ronan started thinking of his own musical taste, and he broke the silence when he told her about his teenage devotion to Pearl Jam. He had learnt to play the guitar, hoping to be like Pearl Jam, but there was only one of him. Even if he were Siamese twins there still wouldn't be enough of him. He dreamt of releasing an album called 'You Smell of Loneliness' because he once heard a woman say that to a dog. He would have formed a band, but none of his friends were band material, and then one day he realised that he was just like his friends. He overheard someone refer to him as 'one of that crowd who look as if they'd rather be learning things than playing strip poker with a stripper'. He thought it was just his friends who looked like that. He knew then that he'd never be even one fifth of Pearl Jam.

When Ronan told Audrey about this she said, "That's why you're so hostile to other music. Your need to be Pearl Jam was never resolved."

"Maybe you're right."

"There's an inherent apology in the way you faced up to that problem."

She started the engine.

"Don't dare drive away," Ronan said. "I never apologised."

She drove away.

"You have the worst taste in music ever," he said. "Howling dogs would disapprove of your taste in music."

"It's not you who's saying these things. It's your issues."

She never got upset at any of his comments after this, and that annoyed him. His comments became more hostile, but she just said things like, "That's it. Let it all out," which only made whatever was in him even greater.

When they were walking through a park one day they saw a man sitting in the shade of a tree. He was strumming a guitar. "Let's get out of here," Ronan said.


"I have only one rule to live by and it's 'Avoid men playing guitars under trees'."

"Just one? What about 'Thou shalt not kill'?"

"The existence of men playing guitars under trees means I can't accept 'Thou shalt not kill' as a principle to live by."

"What about women playing guitars under trees?"

"That's a different matter entirely."

"This is all down to the hostility inside you that started to bloom when you realised you couldn't be Pearl Jam."

"This has nothing to do with hostility."

"You've never even met the man and already you want to kill him."

"I don't want to kill him. I'm saying I might want to kill him if I actually met him."

"Well you're going to meet him, and you're not going to kill him because you'll see that he's really just like you or me. This is the perfect chance to get over your hostility."

Audrey dragged him towards the tree where the guitarist was, and as they got closer, Ronan recognised him. His name was Aaron, and he was in Ronan's class in school. Even Ronan and his friends looked down on him. He was the least likely person in the class to form a band or do something with a stripper.

So Ronan was shocked when Aaron said that he was a singer-songwriter and he'd released an album. He invited Ronan and Audrey to a gig he was playing that evening.

The gig was in a pub where a lot of folk musicians played. It completely changed Ronan's perception of folk music. For one thing (the only thing that mattered to Ronan) the place was full of good looking young women who were all over Aaron. Even the former classmates who did things with strippers would have been jealous of him.

This is what promted Ronan to pick up his guitar again and write songs. There was a slight grunge influence in his song about a blind Doberman, but most of his songs were very folky. One of them was called 'The Birds are our Children'.

Aaron told him about an open mic night at the pub where they had seen him play. Anyone could get up and sing. This seemed like the perfect place for Ronan to make his debut.

Or so it seemed until he got there and saw the audience. The picture he had in his mind was of an audience of young women who'd fall in love with a man who could play the guitar, but the pub seemed to be filled with their boyfriends.

He abandoned his plan to play a song about a goose and a boat-maker because it was just too long. It could last anything from five minutes to a quarter of an hour. Instead, he decided to play his song about being an eel because he could get it over with in less than a minute.

The audience were silent when he went to the microphone, but that didn't last long. The laughter began just a few seconds into his song, but he kept going because he knew it would be over soon. They laughed at the end of each line, which meant that at least they were listening to the lyrics.

Before he even finished the song he was looking for the nearest exit, but he didn't have to use it. The audience gave him a standing ovation and that's when he realised that they thought he was a comedy act. They demanded another song, so he played the one about the goose. He managed to get it all into two minutes. He ended up playing all of the folk songs he had written, and he played the title track from 'You Smell of Loneliness' too. That got the biggest laugh of all. They even sang along to his song about the blind Doberman.

Audrey was proud of him, but when he was in the car with her on the following day he said, "I don't feel a need to perform any more. You were right -- that whole Pearl Jam thing was left unresolved. But it's been well and truly resolved now. I can completely draw a line under that."

"I'm really happy for you," she said.

A song came on the radio, and Ronan said, "That song would make Nelson Mandela puke."

Audrey parked the car at the side of the road, turned off the engine and said, "Apologise."


"We're not moving until you apologise."

"Good." He was glad that things were back to normal.

The moose's head over the fireplace once had to pretend to enjoy a song that was written about him. One of our neighbours wrote it and she performed it for him. There was an anti-hunting sentiment to the song, but it was a bit late for that. She also got a dig in at me for saying that her curtains looked as if they'd been buried in a bog for thousands of years. It was meant to be a compliment.