I forgot it was St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not Irish, and I don’t drink, so it’s not a big day on my calendar, although it used to be.
For the first 20 years of my career, St. Patty’s meant I’d be working — making a promotional appearance in some bar, emceeing drinking games, giving away prizes, and making jokes about green-died foods (has anyone ever eaten a green bagel without wondering for a moment if it was just a leftover that got moldy?).
After all that time, and since I stopped drinking, I’ve had no desire to spend time in bars, Irish or otherwise, and I certainly avoid them on one of America’s National Drinking Days (e.g. St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, New Year’s Eve — or for Lindsay Lohan, any day that ends in “y”).
So, when I reached into my closet this morning and pulled out a green shirt, it wasn’t on purpose. In fact, if I had remembered what day it was, I would have purposely chosen another color. I also wouldn’t have asked my wife to meet me for lunch at a nearby place named Mike Duffy’s.
Yep, Irish bar. Everyone dressed in green. Green balloons on the ceiling. Green beads dangling from waitresses’ necks. Bartenders wearing tall green Cat-In-The-Hat-type hats (a photo of which should appear under Wikipedia’s entry for “goofy-looking”).
We considered going somewhere else, but we were hungry and know the food is good there, so we sat down. After the waitress got over her shock that neither one of us wanted corned beef and cabbage, my wife ordered the other special, lamb stew, while I went with something more traditionally Irish, the chicken salad sandwich and caesar salad (little known fact: that combo was invented more than 150 years ago by the famous Dublin restaurateur Twofer O’Toole).
As we waited for our food, I listened to the Irish music that was blasting through Duffy’s sound system, and noticed something — every one of the songs sounds the same. It surprised me that I had never noticed this before, even when working in bars with bands playing this stuff live. Then I realized why. I’d never heard them at lunchtime while completely sober.
I’m not talking about songs by U2 or other contemporary Irish artists, but rather traditional drinking sing-alongs that all have the same cadence and mention “me dear old mother” and/or “the Blarney Stone.” There’s a standard pattern to the vocals — beginning with a man singing the first verse, followed by a large group joining him for the chorus, then the verse and chorus alternated six or eight times.
My wife commented that it was like the time we went to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a legendary group of musicians from New Orleans whose average date of birth was in the paleozoic era. They came onstage, sat down, and launched into “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” Each member of the band did a solo, from banjo to trumpet to clarinet to piano to trombone. When it was over, the crowd applauded and the band went into its second song — which sounded exactly like “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” I glanced at my wife to see if she reacted to this odd similarity, but she didn’t say anything as the soloists all took their turns again, in the same order. Next, without a word, it was on to song number three which, yes, also sounded like “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?”
At this point, I turned to my wife and asked if she’d noticed the repetitive nature of the songs. She replied, “I’m glad you mentioned it, because I thought I was going crazy. They all sound like “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” to me!” I joked that if the fourth song followed this pattern, I was ready to leave. She agreed and, minutes later, we were headed up the aisle, cursing Bill Bailey for not coming home.
You’re not alone, Bill. I think the snakes left Ireland for the same reason — they couldn’t get those damned songs out of their heads.