Liner Notes from Sweet Burning Light, a sampler of Celtic and Celtic Christian music released in 1999: “Long ago in Ireland, on the Hill of Tara, a fire was to be lit by the High King’s druids marking the celebration of a pagan feast. The tradition was strictly enforced–anyone who was to light a fire prior to the king’s fire on that night would “be lit in the king’s palace the next day.” Yet, that same evening, on the nearby Hill of Slane, Patrick lit a fire to celebrate Easter. It not only preceded the High King’s fire, but it burned even brighter. The king call his druid priests to him only to hear them prophecy that Patrick’s fire would overcome his own fire and burn forever.”
St. Patrick in the Spirit by John Doan
Liner Notes from “the book of secrets” written by Loreena McKennitt while on tour in Italy in 1995 while reading Thomas Cahill’s “How the Irish Save Civilization” chronicling the life of Christian monks during the Western Dark Ages 500–1500 AD or CE (roughly Fall of the Roman Empire to Renaissance): “Monasteries were ofter founded in harsh, remote outposts like the Skellig Islands off Ireland’s west coast. Monks occupied themselves with the copying of religious literary and philosophical texts. Surviving manuscripts tell us much about the cultural identity and even individual characters of their creators via both the books’ beautiful ornamentation, and in the margins, the scribes’ own notations of a whimsical, personal or even racy nature.”
(I think some of the photos in the video below are from the actual Skellig Islands. Keep in mind, these islands would have been the absolute farthest western reaches of Western Civilization during the Dark Ages.)
Skellig by Loreena McKennitt
Just for the heck of it, here are Celtic Woman with “The Voice.” I love the juxtaposition of the sweet female voice and heavy drums.
And finally, a nice Irish Gaelic lullaby to help you drift off to sleep after maybe a pint too many.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from my novel, working title Shiva’s Dance. Play the music attached at the bottom if you wish for some moody atmosphere.
Saturday, December 6, 1980
Brooklyn, New York
After Ellen threw me out of her apartment, I was lost and alone during what are poetically called the wee small hours of the morning but was, as everyone knows, that haunted time of night when only blood suckers and rippers of human flesh roam the streets sniffing for fresh meat.
I lugged a suitcase in each cold hand for several blocks of stores and old brownstones that were mostly empty and boarded up. I knew the lay of the land: to the east, the sun would rise, hopefully soon, at which time it would illuminate the Manhattan skyline to the west; to the north was Albany, mountains, Canucks and beyond that, Eskimos and polar bears; Jersey junkyards westward across the river from Manhattan, cowboys and wild Indians beyond that, then the Rockies and then the sunny surf of California; Philadelphia and Washington to the south, then hillbillies and Caribbean pirates once you get to the water; angels and aliens among the night clouds scattered above; Murphy men in the doorways and hobos in the alleys and zombies in the sewers; the subways to Manhattan somewhere that way, if I remembered correctly, which I hoped I did.
I headed for my friend Jeff’s apartment in the Village, knowing that it will take forever. I stopped for a moment under a streetlight and threw the stuff I didn’t want into one suitcase and the stuff I wanted in the other.
A half block further, I decided to throw the toss suitcase into a smoldering garbage can in a trash-filled alley. I noticed two scarecrows leaning up against a wall trying to keep warm. “Here you go, gentlemen.” I placed the discard suitcase in front of them. I turned to walk on. “Fuck it.” I set the second suitcase down. “I can keep both hands warm now.”
One scarecrow laughed, coughed and wheezed, “Gotta smoke?”
“No,” I lied.
“We don’t need suitcases, you dumb fuck,” screeched the other scarecrow.
“Look inside or just burn em.” I kept moving and tried not to show any fear. I figured I’d walk until daybreak and then, even on a Sunday morning, I’d be able to get a cab to Jeff’s.
A little later, I couldn’t tell when, I was damp, chilled and desperately needing sleep. I flung a half-smoked cigarette to the sweaty, smelly pavement. A muted trumpet, the steam from the manhole covers and, oh yeah, a dog barked somewhere.Noir. Deep Noir. That’s where I was.
I trudged along to Benny’s Goodman’s forlorn “Goodbye,” or the somewhat sinister “Nightmare” by Artie Shaw. I thought I heard a torchsong-singing incarnation of Ellen slurring “Cry Me a River.” That kind of music was still played on a few big city radio stations and could be heard from juke boxes in musty taverns; faint echoes from a time when love was either all or nothing. Not like it was today when love can be customized to fit practically any situation you need or want.
I heard myself reciting a tough guy Philip Marlowe voice-over: Love’s funny, know what I mean? Funny how it can make a smart guy stupid. You go in one side cocky and thinking you’re bullet-proof. You come out the other side riddled with holes and bleeding to death. Course I ain’t talking about bullet holes; it’s arrows, Cupid’s arrows. That little troublemaker, always waiting to ambush a guy just when his hopes are up and his guard is down. Like I said, it’s funny how stupid a smart guy can be when it comes to love.
Anything was possible that time in the morning. I turned a corner, came upon the coffee shop from Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks, the iconic four-person portrayal of late night urban malaise. I always thought of that place as a kind of waiting room for oblivion. There was nowhere left to go so I walked in. The guy behind the counter poured me a cup of coffee. It seems coffee is the only thing served there. Maybe the golden-haired attendant, dressed all in white, is Saint Peter or maybe he is a space alien and the two big metal coffee urns are his jet pack.
I finished the coffee, stood without paying and went through the door on the back wall. No lion or lady waited for me on the other side; no heaven or hell, either—just nothing, nothing at all.
Cry Me a River