The Commitments: Saviors of Soul
Happy St Patrick's Day!
This si the day of the year where we all get our Irish on, whether we are truly Irish or not. It's just a lot of fun and basically an excuse to venture into the world of the emerald Isle and all the libations it has to offer. Plus we get to wear green clothes, say "Gobshite", eat corned-beef, and perhaps drink a little Guinness or some fantastic Irish Whiskey (see the post below if you need a suggestion).
One thing I always like to do is dive a bit deeper into the Irish experience. Even though my name is Mitchell, and is probably more English in origins, there are a few Celts in my family tree, which extends across Scotland and into Ireland. My Nana was a Maher, and I have a wife who is half-Irish and my kids all of two N's in their names - Quinn, Brennan, Aislinn - a lot of Irish there any way you look at it.
So, getting some deeper cultural connection is always helpful to remind of us of where we come from and what it took to get here. One way for me to do that is through movies, and a long time ago I became very fond of The Commitments, which combines both my interest in Irish culture with my love of great American music.
Directed by Alan Parker, this 1991 release details the quick rise and even quicker fall of a band based in the northern neighborhoods of Dublin in the late 1980s. The movie is detailed with back scenes that frame the real life experiences of the place and time, and what is took to not only survive, but not get perpetually stuck in the endless Irish-experience - something much of the band ultimately fails at. One scene in particular that is a favorite of mine, is when two of the main characters are walking through and along a long alleyway, and in the background are dozens of children just trashing the place. Throwing rocks through windows, setting trash on fire. Basically mayhem. But the characters walk through all of this on a long descending shot, talking about the promises of what this new band could be, seemingly oblivious to the destruction around them. It's a great shot, and other similar shots are interspersed throughout the movie with kids just playing in and making best use of the decayed industrial materials that seem to dot the landscape.
As one of the main characters says, "they come together, form a brilliant band, and then tear each other apart due to the curse of the Irish and an unwillingness to believe..."
The main theme of the movie is centered around the use of American R & B - and specifically Soul music - as the theme and style of this band, with the argument that this is the true, working-man's music. It is the music of the factory. It is the music of sex. It is honest and there is no bullshit in Soul. It comes straight from the heart. "Soul takes you somewhere else and lifts you above the shite." This is the statement that the main character - Brother Rabbitte - really use to coalesce the band to get in line with the music style.
I found this movie back in the day (I even had it on VHS for a while) and have been a fan since the early 1990s, but it is a movie that is kind of hard to find and seems to have fallen out of the mainstream. The movie actually enjoyed a good amount of success back in 1991 and 1992, with the soundtrack album selling well and even a second album produced, and tickets sales doing well, globally. The success though was perhaps a bit more from outside the US than within - not sure why.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that it takes what is essentially an American, and to be honest a Black American, style and uses it for a story with an all white cast and setting. Today we would call this cultural appropriation - a term I am not sure I ever even heard of back then. But, I do think the movie does make an attempt to pay homage in a way to the roots of this music and does not fail to mention the many artists that created the sound and style - even to the point of the honesty and the everyday nature of the musical roots. It is a music style that comes from a certain experience and I think there are correlations that are attempted (at least to a certain level) in the movie to the Black American experience. Obviously Ireland is different from America, and the experiences are/were not the same, but I think Alan Parker tries to use the honest American music to convey the same sense of lift, life, hope and truth that the music give and is hopefully shared in both countries.
In one of the final scenes, "Brother Rabbitte" is told that he succeeded. Not in building a band that would go on to make records and play shows - that would be "predictable" - but instead, for the band members, he "raised their expectations of life and lifted their horizons", and for this he should be proud. Did he beat the Irish Curse? Who knows, but if you are looking for something to do tonight, other than going out and raising a pint, give The Commitments a try.
And don't forget, everyone say - Testicles!
Leave a Reply.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With 30 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.