What is the song that most makes you rail at the injustice of the world? The song that most highlights how the world is an awful, awful place, and that misery is waiting to tap us on the shoulder and enfold us in its unflinching grim embrace?
For me, as a child, that song was Whiskey On A Sunday by The Dubliners.
Now, I can happily listen to heavy metal. It’s like horror films set to speedy rock and roll with awesome musicianship thrown in. While some might balk at gems like The Misfits’ “Last Caress”, Slayer’s “Divine Intervention”, or Deicide’s “Conviction”, I find them entertaining, amusing even. They’re over the top, too far removed from reality for me to relate to much more than the wordplay or the music. Like Harry Nilsson’s “Together” – a searing examination of a relationship gone wrong that happens to have a catchy bassline, an intricate rhyming scheme and a gorgeous melody, perfectly sung by a master of the genre, these pieces don’t have the raw, gut-wrenching, soul-destroying impact on me that Whiskey On A Sunday still does.
Here, before we go any further, is the song:
Now, Wikipedia has a page on it. And it’s about a real person, Seth Davy, who used to busk outside a pub in Liverpool with “dancing dolls”.
What got me – what tore at my heart – was that clearly, here was a man who was down on his luck. But he had a talent, and he made the best of things. And I could imagine myself standing there, watching him, marvelling at his inventiveness and enjoying the show.
And in the song, after he dies, what happens? They use his plank to mend a back door. And the puppets – surely beloved of so many generations of children – they just casually throw them on the fire.
So is human life discounted. So are the “have nots” in our society treated – like garbage, expendable, disposable. Non persons. Not to be cherished as human beings, as creative forces, as our fellow creatures, but to be thrown away.
And the puppets weren’t burned because he was an unpleasant man, or because he had enemies who wanted to get their revenge in the only way they could. No, nothing so melodramatic. Nothing so exciting.
They were burned because nobody cared. Because nobody thought enough of the man to think “let’s save these as a reminder of someone who put his heart and soul into trying to make the world a less miserable place the only way he could”.
And that’s stayed with me all these years.
It’s why I can’t listen to the song or, in fact, to The Dubliners in general. Because that level of “don’t care” is more than I can bear.