Being present in a world that has divided young from old

Having taken a few months off from writing, I was anxious to see what an older person with much life experience and social commentary thought of the new world we find ourselves in. Who better to ask than musician Roy Harper?

I caught up with him over the phone. When I initially made contact with Roy, he said that he was entirely obsessed with what he is writing and thinking at present. He afforded me a rare glimpse into the mind of an artist. He explains: “I’ve been eighteen months writing this one song. It’s a difficult song. It doesn’t sound like it should be because it’s right up my street, but it requires quite a bit of concert to stay on track with it, because of shifting social sands, you know?—the pivoting points of the moral compass sort of thing? You don’t know where you are. I mean every day I hear something that confirms or denies something that I thought I knew.

The song is a tentative emotional picture of attempted mass action, written in musical prose.”

“It’s difficult to nail this down. It’s a song called ‘Politically Correct’ (at least that’s the working title.) Where is society going to now? Where is it driving itself to in such clattering confusion? You can imagine what’s on my plate when I’m trying to write this song! There are just too many things to be thinking about and too many things to go into it, and no way at all to précis any of it. Every time I write a line, it’s likely to be changed the following day, or altered in even a minute way, which means that it’s out of date. I guess the song is a tentative emotional picture of attempted mass action, written in musical prose. It can’t ever be finished though, as finishing it turns it into a frozen snapshot and it’s ‘not that’. I’ve got to have the context of movement in there, because it moves every day. So I’ve got this serious problem all the time with it. And snapshot/movement are mutually exclusive; and it’s that conundrum has me on the run.”

“I have to have some redemption in it too. It’s got to have that balance: you can’t listen to a song that is entirely a rant, without turning to humanity and being honest with yourself. This is a long-standing argument I have with myself with no particularly good way out, but I know that I actually must write it! I’ve got to actually write it.” Phew! With this snapshot into the inner workings of his mind, I can appreciate what it is like to be an artist. 

It’s now more important than ever to consult our wise elders. “Division is rampant in society at the moment; old permissions, old morals, old ethics are gone. Everybody can see what’s going on – that’s the trouble: it’s a cacophony – no one is able to say anything that isn’t thrown into the witch’s cauldron of obverse junk. Five years ago there wasn’t this gap between the young and the old. What’s happening in the world now has almost completely divided the young from the old. There are so many young people that, for instance, are now not bothered about whether they go out or not. In those terms, one or two people perhaps think that I’ve gone off-course in the last few years. But it’s always been a duty for me to be off-course whenever I see fit. In these times, it’s not like that. It’s that the young can’t be contacted by the old anymore. It’s a failing, but I’m no longer really able to contact people under 20. They will not know where I am coming from…It’s a sign of social breakdown. And Ireland is a more integral society — certainly more than Britain is.” 

Roy is very interested in what’s happening across the pond, as it can point to where society can lead. “The way that Trump is handling his presidency is inane and criminal. He is actually a fraudulent criminal. Everything he does is fraudulent. But half of the USA can’t see that. They are determined to carry through the Rifle Association revolution. It’s complete poison. And the GOP [Republicans’] message around money, around finance, around big business — the perpetual lie. They horrify me! 

“The outrages in Wisconsin and Portland – and everywhere else – and he is stirring it up. It’s being done on his watch and he is blaming the Democrats for it! Now the Democrats aren’t much better – they are probably where Fine Gael is here. We can’t really recognise where the US is, but it is actually one of the, if not ‘the’ most influential countries on earth, and the direction it takes – and how it behaves – is very important to the rest of the world. And it continues to emerge – and this sounds like a conspiracy theory – that Trump has actually engaged the Russians in passing information to them, which will alert them as to how to be on Trump’s side in the previous election—and this one…Giving them, for instance, the information for all states, all counties where the vote is going, where not to touch, and where to undermine completely with all kinds of bot messages. There are people now with actual paper-trail evidence. If you’re a Trump voter, you’re going to carry that all the way through and say, yes, the Democrats are a bunch of troublemakers. How do you gainsay that? Those are my concerns. It’s a strange world. There are eight billion voices all in the mix and no way for anyone to make head nor tail of that.”

But there is hope. For we live in a very different place, with more freedom. “So what do we do in West Cork? West Cork is conservative, as well as having an artistic bent. It’s full of people who would naturally come to the edge of the universe. The far west has always been a place to run to. I did it! I ran here. The fact that I came to the far west is only indicative of how far people are ‘challenged’ to go, to actually experience some kind of personal freedom. So I’m thinking about who is like me, and who would have been of a like mind in the past, and I’m thinking that a lot of those guys who wanted solitary existence – men and women – would come to a place where they were less likely to be found. These kinds of areas are still inhabited by the same kind of people – that’s what I’m getting at. The farming community may be distantly related and not out of place. Who knows? But one of the touchstones of my life is to actually be in these places, and to be able to retreat. In terms of that I’ve always wanted a place like this to exist in. It is one of those places that my kind of person goes to. I’m not a foreigner in West Cork at all, I’m just one of many people who like to be left alone most of the time. Living here isn’t the worst thing that I could have done!”

He continues, “What is West Cork? It has this democracy about it of being able to communicate with its own, in its own particular way.” 

He is working on his next album, which he plans to have finished for this 80th birthday next year. Time is pressing; he fears that people don’t want to record together because of the virus, but as he says, “I can’t afford to be afraid of it to be honest.” He has eight songs written, including one. “There is one very good song, I think. It’s called, ‘I Loved My Life’. It’s one of those songs that’s going to travel a long way, I think.” I hope that he has loved his life so far and wish him all the best. 

My gig of the month is: any gig! As Roy said, “You have people being driven mad by not having pub life – or for that matter music life!” End the madness. It’s been so long since we have experienced live music, so just attend whatever you can. Pay the long-suffering musicians – for entry to the gig, by buying a CD/record, etc. Give some money to the venue – by buying a drink. Or, if you’re like many of us, and have saved money over the last six months, tip the staff if they provided you with an enjoyable experience. By responsibly attending events, we can show that there is a ‘need’ for many aspects of our lives to return: from day-care centres and events for the elderly and infirm, to music therapy, choirs, etc. Lastly, ditch the device (we’ve been on them enough in recent times!) and ‘be present’.

Gary Hannon

Gary Hannon is a DJ and Jazz musician based in West Cork.

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