Growing up my grandma and grandpa had a kind of untouchable love in my eyes and music was oft at the core of it. My grandma had always played Irish music from the Clancy Brothers and old vinyl records that were so well-loved you couldn’t even read the name off the sticker. I’d ask her who the group was that was playing the drinking songs to us (mind you I was about 9), with pure joy evident in their voices, and she’d just say, “I have no idea”.
I loved that. She had obviously lived her life to these songs but didn’t care who’d written it or even performed it. For her it was about the ambience that the tunes created and the people around her. Whenever they came over I would run to the record player and just blast the unknown singers and we’d dance around and laugh until there were tears in our eyes. I’d catch them looking at each other hand in hand, ‘Galway Girl’ blasting, so much life lived, surrounded by family and I’d just get lost in it.
I think that music is a lot like love and that’s why I associate songs with memories or a certain band or artist with a specific time in my life. When I hear ‘Whiskey You’re the Devil’ I think of my grandma Mary staring into my grandpa Joseph’s eyes with that little glimmer of “Remember when we sat around and lost our minds to this 50 years ago, different dreams, same hearts, no way of knowing we’d be sitting here with our granddaughter playing it again and dancing like idiots at 73?”
The first thing you saw when you walked into their house was a record player and a wall of classic vinyl. My grandpa was this straight edge, former Marine colonel, first-generation American who dreamt of flying 747’s around the world as a boy. He was intimidating and quiet, but deep down a huge softie and romantic. He named his fighter plane “Irish Eyes” after my grandma and if I’m honest, I think the reason he was so inhibited was because he loved seeing her shine more than anything else.
My grandma was one of those personalities that lit up a room and if you didn’t notice her she’d make sure you were wanting autographs by end of the night—Irish dancing until the end, heels on, and her morale-boosting eyes, worthy of gracing a WWII plane’s side, were always emitting an intangible love for life, love and family.
Even at the end of their days, when I heard ‘Parting Glass’ at each of their funerals on those loud, hilarious bagpipes, I couldn’t help but feel so blessed to have known people who had so much to smile and be grateful for. I smiled when I heard those bagpipes because we had danced endlessly to them on hot summer days. I cried when I heard the singing because it reminded me of that scene in Waking Ned Devine when all the men are toasting to the beauty of living a life of mistakes (because they’re great) and love (because it’s never one) on the cliffs overlooking the Irish waters.
At the time I wondered how I could feel anything but sad, but it was the music that acted as a beautiful catalyst to memories of incandescent happiness and irrevocable love.
To be honest, I’ve never been the same since they left and for almost four years I was just numb to a lot of the world going on around me. In a very real way music helped me get through that time. Every time I listen to a song I think about that love they shared, not only for each other, but for life, as well.
Each time I go to a gig I say a little thank you to Joseph and Mary Murphy for those bagpipe ballads and spiked eggnog- induced sing-alongs– half because I wish they were with me and half because they taught me to love the experience and all the people looking to make more memories around the thing that brought us together in the first place.
That’s why music is so incredible; it’s the closest thing we can get to a universal religion. A quiet Marine from Staten Island, a sassy Irish dancer from the Bronx, immigrants from far and wide – as soon as the music starts their description is just ‘person’—one universal term to describe a group of people coming together to have a good time and coexist without even trying to do so.
Dancing on a balmy summer day with three people, sitting around a campfire with ten, packing into a huge green space for a festival or just sitting around contemplating life after loss—music is always there to put you back together or just remind you how lucky you are to have something you can miss so much.
That’s it’s own kind of magic.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from my Irish family to yours