August 17, 2019

What Do Van Morrison, the Godfather of Punk and Seamus Heaney Have in Common?

And then the arts. This matrix of Anglo-Catholic alchemy spawned such as John Butler Yeats, C.S. Lewis, Jack Higgins (who was raised here), Oscar Wilde (who schooled in County Fermanagh), Sir Kenneth Branagh, Patrick Magee, Sam Neill, Liam Neeson, and the most famous film star of the land, The DeLorean. There is not so much sun in this northern clip of the world, so folks are often inside sipping the hot cup of creativity, fanning the flames of magic turf. When I read, then, that one of my teenage heroes, Van Morrison, was being awarded “The Freeman of Belfast” honor (which allows him to drive his herd of sheep through the center of town), I knew I had to go and jump into this place. So well I remember standing on the sidelines at a high-school mixer, too shy to cross the room and make the ask. But when Gloria, performed by Them (named for the 1954 horror movie about giant radioactive ants) with the deep burr of Van Morrison's voice slashing through paper walls, came on the record player, I found a beat and a gift of confidence I never knew I had, and strutted across the floor and asked the most beautiful girl to dance. And she said, “yes.” I won't commit the crime of cliché and say his songs were the soundtrack of my life, but there were milestones marked in the Druidic forest trails of his music. “Moondance,” for instance, enabled my own passage to freemanhood, and I'm sure I am not alone in that refrain.

Terri Hooley first opened his record shop on Great Victoria Street in 1976, at the time the most bombed piece of real estate in the world. It quickly became a safe haven, a neutral harbor, at a time when things were very thin on the ground. Teens and lost tribes from all sections and classes, from both sides of the divide, joined by a love of music, hung out in peace, preferring tunes to stones, music and culture more than the dead hand of sectarianism. It was a firefly of light in the blackness of Belfast at the time. Though a Hank Willliams fan in a polo neck, when he heard Punk it screeched his being. “To be a punk was to be different from the past.”

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