Shamrocks …and a lot of laughs - 'This is Your Brain on Shamrocks'
This week veteran Irish Voice columnist Mike Farragher releases This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks, a series of columns on his Irish American background and the lessons he’s learned from being Irish. He talks to CAHIR O’DOHERTY about the new collection and the unexpected discoveries he made as a weekly columnist that have enriched his life.
The Irish are never happy until they’re miserable, and they don’t know real contentment until they’re dead.
Just ask Mike Farragher, 44, the longtime Irish Voice music columnist, because he knows all about it.
That ambiguous cultural inheritance that looks on love and human happiness as it braces for the approaching meteorite, is something he was handed long before he knew what to do with it.
Not that he’s complaining, far from it. As his new, often howlingly funny collection of stories titled This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks makes clear, there’s real value in casting a cold eye on life and death, as long as you know when to ease up and have some craic, too.
A signature music columnist at the Irish Voice for over a decade, Farragher has had the enviable job of meeting the legends of Irish rock, punk and pop music and finding himself right at the coalface of Irish culture. It’s an experience that has enriched him; in fact, as he quietly makes clear, it’s been transformational.
“My mom and dad are amazing people, and when my columns were first coming out in the Irish Voice they weren’t super thrilled,” says Farragher, with dry understatement.
“They felt I was just airing my dirty laundry in public. But since that time they’ve really come to know what my columns and this book are really about -- which is honoring them, and Irish culture. If I hadn’t written it who would have?”
That’s a good question, as it happens. “My parents were farmers,” Farragher adds. “I do not have an English degree, there was nothing in my genetic code or my experiences at school that say writer. Really, if I could do this anyone can.”
But growing up in Jersey City in the seventies and eighties, Farragher had no time for the trappings of Irish culture as he originally knew it. It wasn’t until bands like Black 47 and Afro Celt Sound System turned him on to the punk echoes lurking under the trad bonnet in the nineties that he began to see the point of Irish music at all.
So he was a gradual, not an instant convert. But first he had to divest himself of his corporate life (and the paychecks that went with it). A growing dissatisfaction with the demands of the business word was gradually pushing him toward a new career path as a working music journalist, with all the crazy perks that go along with it.
But if you’d told him it would change his life he would have scoffed at you. He didn’t like Irish music, any of it, and he would have said so.
“It was torture, that’s what I thought. I would have been voted least likely to become an Irish music columnist. I really didn’t like the Clancy Brothers or anything like that,” he said.
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