Mattie Fox: Accepting mediocrity becoming the norm in busy, busy world

Mattie Fox


Mattie Fox

The world is a very busy, busy place now. Not merely in the sense roads, trains, towns, even villages exude the air of busy busy.

The world is a very busy, busy place now. Not merely in the sense roads, trains, towns, even villages exude the air of busy busy.

Being physically busy is no bad thing, but I’m talking mentally busy, and the detrimental effect that has had on the way we all interact with one another.

In busy busy world bespoke methods frustrate, and since conveyor belt production line turnaround in all walks of life is increasingly demanded, it is inevitably the ones who won’t always say ‘okay, sure it’s good enough’ who end up being sidelined as too difficult, too self-concerned, too forensic, or too precious.

Some become defeated, eventually deciding it’s much less challenging to deferentially accept the general malaise of mediocrity that now affects so many worthy professions, than to stand back, take a breath and, consider if maybe something we are instinctively impulsed to dismiss might in fact have more merit than our natural busy busy default mindset realises.

It’s an interesting trend.

It has infected, infiltrated, and indeed lessened the minds of some of the best.

When John McGahern first brought his works to publishers, the reception was anything but encouraging. One publisher could not see how his work would connect with the urban buyer.

A writer who won’t allow his songs be re-written without express formal permission is often regarded in music business as ‘very difficult’. The great Jimmy McCarthy once objected when another artist offhandedly changed two words of one verse. The explanation offered, allegedly, was that the words seemed out of place in the the song. Aye.

Of course, Jimmy was right. What makes his songwriting special is the nuance of language, and the meticulous thought processes that go into giving a particular tone and texture to every line.

I recall a well-known music person once remarking that Jimmy’s songs would never really ‘cut it’ among the general everyday public. That person couldn’t envisage ‘ordinary’ Irish people buying stuff saying ‘run your claw along my gut’, and in any case ‘what did that have to do with the story?’ Well, about 240,000 ordinary Irish people did buy such a record - that’s more albums than U2 or Michael Buble would sell in Ireland, then or now.

Clearly they understood far better than the ‘successful artist’ who thought he knew it all. That was a very long time ago, although, coming as it did from such a widely regarded and lauded artist, I recall being prodded at the time, into wondering if maybe he was right, and I was simply misunderstanding all along.

Thankfully, his judgement was not as infallible as he reckoned.

It’s a lesson I never forgot. The ‘ordinary’ buyer and reader are much maligned species’.

If Jimmy had compromised, as he was so often condescendingly bullied to do back in the days of little money and less recognition, would he have become successful?

No, never. Because Jimmy epitomises the importance of believing in what you do, and living by your beliefs, even if those beliefs prove a hindrance and source of angst from time to time.

If a composer does not have respect for his or her own work, and respect for the work of others, reliability of the guardians of creativity is damaged.

I always say we are defined by the things we don’t do; not by continually acceding to the convenient, peaceful, expedient, and emotionally unchallenging.

The greatest enemy of quality preservation, and credible integrity is that much abused cop-out ‘sure nobody will even notice’.

Art is not what you see, it’s what you make others see ....and notice.

The busy busy never have time to stop, look, interpret and consider in the way that can only bring more learning. With true creative learning, integrity flourishes.

The day we stop learning, from others and all around us, is the day we lose meaning.

We have becoming so frenzied into constantly beating the clock the we are losing the time to see.

Getting the cold shoulder at funerals

We attended a funeral recently, in south county Westmeath. A poignant, dignified gathering, assembled to mark final departure of an inspiring member of community.

On a bitterly cold day, we arrived early, and were grateful for the welcoming warmth of the church.

As always at funerals, faces not seen for for a while dotted here and there among the gathering congregation. Eyes lit up, marking moments of recognition. Another glance, with sideways nod wordlessly arranging to meet afterwards. The ceremony was gracefully restrained. The homily a representative testament to everyone’s regard for the deceased. The congregation was populated by many elderly friends of the deceased, some of whom had travelled long distances - Dublin, Cork, Derry, Limerick, Galway, and the UK. When the remains were brought outside, a long, remarkably orderly queue formed to pay their respects. We were close to end of queue, both well wrapped up.

Back inside, priests and others involved were now divesting and chatting in the warm comfort of the church. Beside us on one side was an aunt of my own with a walking stick, now in her ninth decade on this earth. In front was another lady I didn’t know, being linked by what I took to be her daughter. The elder was very weak and feeble, her teeth literally chattering with the cold.

Mine weren’t too warm either and I had a scarf, coat, gloves; still freezing.

The callous and condescending disregard shown by several Catholic Churches by such utter lack of concern for the congregation is astounding.

It was not always so.

Not so very long ago, there was no problem whatsoever when collections were held at funerals.

I never once heard of, or saw, a priest, canon, or bishop complain about the unseemly indignity when coins were rattling onto a table slap bang in front of altar in main aisle. Indeed, some of our lofty collared brethren were noted for standing alongside said table and watching as offerings were placed, and announcing same off the pulpit next Sunday, if they were of a mind to.

Which reminds me of someone I knew in North Longford who, in his youth was sent to a funeral and given half a crown offerings as it was an ‘important’ funeral (!!?!!). As he left the house his sister shouted ‘don’t forget bring me 10 cigarettes’.

He began to wonder where he’d get the money.

He decided if he was quick he could leave down the half crown, and take money for the cigarettes at same time. He did. When back outside however, he began to feel very guilty.

A neighbour he liked was nearby and he went to her, confessing his plight.

She frowned a moment, then asked, “how much did you take?”. “A shilling,” he said sheepishly. Her eyes brightened and she laughed.

“Ara, God help ye, sure that’s all right, I left a shillin’ and took back a half crown!”