Oh, Danny Don’t

I imagine more than a just few people will be waking up the day after St. Patrick’s Day still wearing-‘o-the-green, of course it might just be the deathly pallor of a mean hangover, the green fuzz they shave off their tongues or the fact they were too drunk to change their underwear.

Possessing Irish ancestors myself, I didn’t feel the need to sexually harass others with a cute button saying, “Kiss Me I’m Irish” nor did I cook up a batch of corned beef and cabbage. I didn’t hit the local watering hole, dressed up in its shiny paper renditions of shamrocks and sappy leprechauns hovering over pots of gold, and drink myself silly, raising glass after glass to my ancestors until dyed green beer came out my nose. I didn’t even bother to wear green for day figuring my green eyes would have to do.

When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around every year the last thing I want to admit is that I’m Irish. I blame the blarney bullshit that oozes out at every turn of the radio and television dial from the late night local news coverage of the stuporific, drunken Irish bash being held a local bar to the cheesy, slap-happy jigs that accompany email greeting cards. I’m one of the few embarrassed by the shameful come-ons to get me to shop for my yearly dose of heritage as I am at the spate of radio jokes done in broken brogue about the stereotypical Irish drunk. The most disturbing of this once-a-year Irish mania has to be the music. I can only imagine that it’s standard operating procedure come March to send the newest intern into the basement to haul out the dusty bin labeled ‘St. Patrick’s Day music.’ Some of the worst produced, cliché bits of Irish garbage make it on the airwaves come St. Patrick’s Day in some lame, inept attempt at the portrayal of a cultural identity. Sometimes I wonder if fall-down drunkenness is the only answer to some of the downright rotten stuff they play to evoke the Emerald Isle.

Now before you party hardy, wearing-‘o-the-green bunch of Irish diehards get your knickers in a knot – comb your hair, pick that stringy piece of corned beef from between your molars, wipe the dried drool from your chin and listen up. A man from Buffalo, New York named Chauncey Olcott wrote the lyrics to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and set those lyrics to music written by Ernest Ball – another American. And I’ll bet you didn’t know that while you were crying into your overpriced Guinness Stout that the lyrics to “Danny Boy” were written by an English lawyer named Frederic Edward Weatherly around 1910. He set lyrics to the tune “Londonderry Air” and published a revised version of the song in 1913. It’s suspected that Weatherly never set foot in Ireland. Two of the most overused songs denoting St. Patrick’s Day didn’t come from Ireland.

Let’s set aside the political implications of Weatherly’s penning what is considered in America the quintessential Irish ballad and the state of affairs in English-occupied Northern Ireland. This isn’t about politics as such but musical cultural illiteracy running amok. So, do you know what Ireland’s national anthem is? “Londonderry Air” and “Amhrán na bhFiann” are the national anthems of Northern Ireland and Ireland respectively, although “Londonderry Air” is only considered locally the anthem because Northern Ireland is still part of Great Britain. The point of this is Americans have been sold a false cultural identity. As horrific as it sounds, some Americans when asked probably think “Hava Nagila” is the national anthem of Israel and “Guantanamera” is the national anthem of Mexico.

Someone recently told me that a Mexican man expressed confusion over the recent American interest in the holiday Cinco de Mayo. He found it odd that Americans had no clue about the importance of Mexico’s Independence Day, but would haul out all the old, tired renditions of “La Cucaracha” and advertise Margaritas and Tequilla shots for Cinco de Mayo, a holiday the Mexicans themselves don’t really celebrate.

How is the rest of the world expected to take us seriously when we can’t even get holiday music right? In an age dominated by lowest-common-denominator advertising blitzes, I’m not expecting that we culturally get it right every time, but how is it possible that we could get it so wrong? Americans are the first to point out when others get it wrong whether it’s politics, culture or family values, but Americans are all too willing to accept cultural illiteracy for the sake of tradition and a good marketing campaign. Passing along a hokey musical version of a culture to our children along with two-for-one drink specials and goofy hats doesn’t make us cute – it makes us stupid.

Makes you wonder what an Overthrow Saddam Day will look and sound like, doesn’t it? Don’t worry you have time to learn the Baghdad Shuffle or the Kirkuk Kick before they start serving the Karbala Kamikazes and the Itty Bitty Tikriti Martinis.

Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.