Fifty Greatest Misses

50 of my songs and stories written during and about my 50+ years living, so far...

Disclaimer... The artist (me) wishes to excuse some of the following... the crackle, cackle, buzz and pop, lazy lyrics and piquant pitching, bitching, scandal and slander. Any similarity to anyone alive or dead is occasionally unintentional.


43. Older

S.Rhatigan/J.F Morrison © 2000

– I don’t mind being old it’s getting older I don’t like –
WP Rhatigan

What have I been up to since my last post? 

STOP PRESS….

I have been invited to open for the legend Mary Coughlan as part of the Howth Roots and Blues Festival on Sunday August 11th. Tickets available on tickets.ie

I am practicing my hole off and would love to do more shows before and after while I’m match fit so if you want me to play a set at your venue or event get in touch….

Since we last spoke  I’ve mostly been busy ageing.  Like you.  The realisation that  I’m getting older hits me in spasms. A jolt of pain, a pang of regret.  Suddenly I’m no longer cocooned in my reverie, a carefully crafted dream state I’ve so far managed to manoeuvre  through the years safely within. Now, I’m increasingly forced to look at mortality at close quarters and I feel terrified, until I remember how utterly futile worrying about it is. Dealing with getting older is really only something you can get to grips with by getting older. 

When I was a child, I longed to be older.  I looked on at the older kids and wished they were my friends.  My peers held no mystery for me and I relied on my two years older sister and her friends for company. I thought I was one of them, but I was only tolerated under sufferance and was constantly on the back-foot begging to be included.

I was most often alone.  I didn’t always like it, however it meant I lived most of the time, in my imagination. I practised imagining.  One of my favourite childhood fantasies involved my family living a joyous millionaire lifestyle in a mansion by a river. We ferried ourselves about in our own speed boats, up and down to the shops and school and our best friends houses.

This dream was hampered only by my parents real life misery. Solving that problem was the best bit. I loved to play this scene over and over.  Mum and dad sit us down to tell us that they have been part of a government experiment in which they had to pretend to hate each other for a million pounds, but they just couldn’t do it anymore.  They loved each other so much. 

As I got older into my teens I went on hanging around the periphery of older groups,fancying lads a few years older.  I was so desperate to physically mature that I carried tampons in my school bag for two years before Ihad my 1st period in the hope it might encourage things along and I would at last be a woman.

I longed for an independent life. I imagined myself driving about the city in a sportscar, and home to my little garden flat for parties and late night sessions with my musician and actor pals all of us on a pathway to fame involving some random encounter with an industry mogul, leading to a Star is Born style breakthrough and then spectacular success.

I spent years in this alternate reality mostly in my front room singing along with Barbra and Aretha in Madison Sq Gardens or The Hollywood Bowl.  I  could feel the outpouring of love from the thousands of fans who accompanied me in my dreams.  God forbid anyone interrupted me, I would explode in fury at the shock of being forced back to earth unexpectedly.

Some of it actually did manifest, the flat and the little white MGB. I did cross paths with people who put me in situations where I had some breakthroughs in the music industry but really, quite suddenly, it became clear that I had crossed from being the young girl wishing I was older, to being one of the older ones being overlooked for possible opportunities because I was getting on a bit. I was maybe 25 or 26.

I started to feel the pressure then to say as little as I could about how old I was, to avoid seeing that look of disappointment flash across faces.  It was suggested to me in the US when I was promoting my 1st album ‘To Hell With Love’, to say I was 25, I was 28.

By the time I had picked myself up and started again after the Imago deal went, I was of course older and back to square one, a newcomer, sort of.
By now I saw no point lying about my age, I was after all presenting myself as a serious singer songwriter and life experience was woven into the fabric of my songs.  That cuts no ice in the entertainment world, in your 30’s you are just old, getting on for twice as old as the artists you have to compete with for advantageous support slots and airtime.

I adopted a fuck that approach happily broadcasting my advancing years as a great asset, worth every excruciating and painful minute of self-discovery resulting in far and away my best songs, I thought.  I wasn’t wrong, it was just that I was the only one who thought it, or thought about me at all.

Older was one such song, however by the time I hit 40 I couldn’t stomach playing or hearing it.  I had become the older I dreaded being and it didn’t feel either clever or funny singing about it.  It was just depressing, so I packed it away and forgot all about it.

Not unlike my mum and dad, I was an older 1st time parent. Once the children came along I was completely immersed. I loved it.  All those years watching them get older while not ageing a day. And that is the weirdest thing.  Rearing children, time seems to stand still.  It all feels endless, much as childhood does, until it’s over. All the minding and worrying and the slowness and the frenzy and then 20 years have just gone. Whooosh! 

Now two decades later singing Older feels different.  I am way beyond that ‘older’ and at a new level of old which is actually ok.
Getting older is really the only option in life, right?

Older was a big favourite live, way back when and we did include it on an EP in 2000 called DIY which we sold at gigs and mail order.  The other songs on the EP, That Song and DIY were also really class songs and although they were recorded on 8track in my little garden flat in London, they hold up pretty well.  I finally found a man here in Dublin to fix my Fostex R8, (thanks Doug) and was able to import the parts into my computer and remix them.

It gave me te opportunity to  use some pretty great digital EQs and compressors that John shared with me when we were working together recently.  Did I tell you that?  My old mucker John Morrison and I have been collaborating on new material which I am loving and really hope will be out in the world soon.

Meanwhile..

The DIY ep is available for download at www.bandcamp.com/rhatigan.

PS: Antony Harding ‘Ant’ was, I’ve no doubt still is, a wonderful illustrator and artist and he generously provided the artwork comic strip for the DIY EP which I love. Ant was among our favourite songwriters to join us on our Cushy nights at the 12 bar Club. That’s the thing about the internet, its a giant archive, check out what we were up to back then www.cushyproductions.com

Epilogue

Needless to say my parents remained in the government experiment, sad and angry, for many more years. A year or two before my dad died, after more than 15 years separated, he and my mother divorced.  Dad was elderly and very frail he relied on my help to handle things. I was his executor and so we also discussed his wishes, around end of life care and subsequent arrangements. I was dreading the conversation but one evening while we were chatting, I decided to broach the subject head on.  I asked him how he was feeling about being the age he was hoping he would allow me the notion that somehow it was all grand and as you get older sure you just accept the situation and get along with it and I needn’t worry.  That was when he explained how he felt.  – I don’t mind being old, it’s getting older I don’t like-

I probed a bit further and asked if he had any specific requests for arrangements when the time came. – How do you mean – he asked, –  well you know, funeral stuff, like, now the divorce is through, would you rather the former Mrs Rhatigan, doesn’t show up? –  He smiled, –  I won’t care either way – I’ll be dead -.

Tuesday June 4th 2024.

Mrs Rhatigan is living her best life, she is happy in her dreams and memories, much as I was/am.  She chatted happily today about her forthcoming nuptials.  – Oh, that’s big news mum, when is the wedding?  – Tomorrow – she said.  – And will the bride be wearing white? – I asked-.  She gave me a good stare and laughed, – don’t be ridiculous -.

Suzanne Rhatigan    Vocals and guitar

John F Morrison        Bass and guitar

Paul Murphy             Drums

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42. Holiday

S.Rhatigan/J.F Morrison © 2021

One of the funnest things about doing this blog has been the opportunity to remix and overdub recordings that weren’t finished at the time of the original sessions, Holiday being a case in point. The original recording is from around 2001 and Dave’s re-mix was 2010. New parts vocal, extra bvs and my remix are straight off the press. Read on to find out more X

Suzanne’s 2021 Mix

David Barratt Mix

The Thrill of the Chill

‘Hey boys and girls would you like to fly out for a week or two?’

Here we are over a year in to our confinement remembering longingly the freedom of travel.  The days when we could just up and go. Cheap airfares enabled us to step out of our real lives into a holiday realm. To hell with the cost to us, to the planet… it was ours for the taking.  Now we’re living through a dystopian nightmare beyond our imaginings, way back then, a whole year ago!

Sunset at the slip April 2021 Photographer Lynn Feeney

On the plus side, here we are discovering the wonders of our own neighbourhoods.  A bit like those dreams where you open a door to a room in your house you had somehow never known existed revealing a palace with great halls and gilded arches.  You just can’t understand why you never opened the door before.  You feel at once excited and kind of stupid.  Where were you all my life?  Right here you fool!

We’re so lucky to live by the sea.  Within a couple of kilometers of our home is a long sandy beach with dunes, wildlife, wind surfers and suffice to say, water.  The beach known as Dollymount, is on Bull Island a massive sand dune formed over the last two centuries, following the building of the North Bull wall in 1821,which stretches out into the Irish Sea.  

The Wooden Bridge
Photographer Blake Hodgkinson

The North and South walls were built, following a nautical survey carried out by the infamous Captain William Bligh, to divert water into the port in order to deepen the channel and allow larger shipping to access Dublin City.  As a result of silting on the north side of the wall our beautiful Island emerged, which until the building of the causeway road on the northern end of the Island, was only accessible since 1907 via the now iconic Wooden Bridge or ‘Brown Bridge’ as we used to call it when we were children.

Our childhood summers were spent wandering through the dunes and swimming at the steps positioned at intervals along the wall marked by distinctive art deco bathing shelters. The bathing shelters and the Kiosk and other shelters along the promenade on the mainland between Fairview and the Bridge, were designed by architect Herbert Sims. These iconic structures identify the seafront at Clontarf.

Swimming is my favourite leisure activity. I regularly swim in the pool near where I live but since my return to Dublin from years living abroad the local swimming spots didn’t really appeal.  

You see, perched as we are at the opening of Dublin Bay, a busy industrial port, which caters to ferries and freight coming and going and all the city crap coming and going, the water is at times, at least in appearance, not very attractive to swim in.  Most of the time the beach proudly flies a blue flag, sometimes however, after heavy rain, the flag comes down and the ‘do not swim’ signs go up.

I have friends who have been swimming in these waters rain, hail, snow and E Coli for years and while I admired them, I couldn’t see the advantage over my clean pool followed by a steam and a warm shower so I passed. This year with the pool being off limits I ventured into the sea. 

A dip at the slip Photographer Lynn Feeney

Throughout last spring and summer I watched the tides and headed on my bike out onto Bull Island to swim.  Some days the weather was just too awful but I noticed not 300 meters away from my front door, at the slip for the local yacht club, there were people swimming.  I decided to give the spot a go.  It’s the same water, but it is 1 minute from my house, why on earth had I never jumped in before.  A few of the days the water cleared and I went snorkeling.  I swam with shoals of small sprat and tickled crabs as they scuttled under rocks. I couldn’t believe it.  All this time I had my own reef right under my nose.

As the winter drew in I figured I would probably not have the tolerance of the cold to continue, but buoyed on by a growing group of friends, seasoned and newbie sea swimmers, I kept going.  I invested in the gear, neoprene boots and gloves and now the thrill of the chill is what I love the most. I can’t tell you how great it feels.  It is so exhilarating.  

I’m not going to lie, there are some days I look out at the mid December gloom or the ferocious February easterly winds and think, I’ll give it a miss today.  Then my phone lights up with a message from one of the swimmers putting out the feelers for a swim buddy, then another and another.  Before long there are different swimmers heading out at different times within the four hour tide window and the FOMO takes over.  

I can’t stop the niggling voice.  Go on, you know you won’t regret it, go on, go on, go on. It’s true, bracing and brutal as it is in the worst of the weather I never regret it.  

I feel so wonderful in the water; it’s like an out of body experience.  The weight of the world is literally lifted from me.  Gravity and the Covid kilos are definitely playing havoc with my joints but in the water all the pain disappears. My mind clears of the conflicts and worries I wrestle with on dry land.  It is meditative, like being in an alpha state.  

I have occasionally experienced alpha state playing music.  That feeling of being fully focused yet completely relaxed.  It is an elusive state certainly. Disengaging thinking from playing is truly difficult.  It takes many many hours of practice to achieve the skill required to let go of conscious control, but when you do… It is sublime.  That’s why I swim.  It’s the only other place where I get even close to that feeling.  

Cold-water swimming offers another element.  The physical discomfort and the sheer effort of the challenge elevate the feel good factor above and beyond.  I feel like a super hero when I climb out of the water. My skin stings, its scarlet tan glows hot, bellying my low body temperature. Often the air temperature in winter is lower than the water and you get that wonderful hot and cold feeling, like Baked Alaska.  

I’m not going to sugar coat it, you need to be prepared, get yourself dry and dressed warmly ASAP, with hot bottles and drinks to return your body to it’s correct temperature. But all that is just logistics. You wriggle out of gloves and boots and swim suits into dry clothes with practiced ease and sit back sipping on your hot tea feeling fantastic.  

I did that, you think, I braced the cold out here on the edge of the island, I took on the freezing tumultuous sea and I came through. Go me.  You can’t buy that feeling.  

It stays with you too. I am floating and buzzed up for hours with energy I forgot I had.  I feel calm and confident and happy.  

All the feelings you wish for on say… a holiday. 

A holiday is really just a mind-set, it’s anywhere anytime, it is escape, whether for a week or an hour, seek it out and enjoy. 

When you really get the holiday effect, it’s like standing still in time.  But even on holiday life is moving on.  The noise just becomes quieter.  Quiet enough for you to tune it out and hear the music.

When John Morrison and I wrote Holiday it was toward the end of our time together.  It was like a holiday when we were working on a new song.  It was escape.  At the time the band was drifting apart and I was spending less and less time making music, as family commitments were pulling me away and John and Paul were also busy with other projects.  I knew the writing was on the wall, but for those brief hours I could pretend everything was going to be alright.  

It’s the same trick we play on ourselves when we head away on holiday.  We fool ourselves that all our problems and challenges have disappeared. We push reality out of our conscious thoughts until the last minute, probably till we pack our bags and head to the airport.

‘Holiday’ has that lazy days feel, it kind of meanders along, drifting, warm content.  Maybe it was bit too sweet, I can’t exactly remember, but something prompted me to send the stems to my old collaborator David Barratt to see if he might take it in another direction and well, he did!  Dave never disappoints.

I have decided to offer both versions of the song because they are so different and I am interested to hear your views.  It is not a competition, I love both versions. I would add, both were produced way before the pandemic however they could be before and after.  

What do you think?

PS:  Dave recently invited me to contribute to his Poetry Corner project.  I loved working on it.  Dave is a fearless producer capable of working in a wide range of styles as reflected in this collection. Here’s my contribution https://poetrycorner.substack.com/p/10-the-uses-of-sorrow-by-mary-oliver

Suzanne Rhatigan: Vocals guitar harmonica

John F Morrison: Bass and programming

David Barratt: Remix 2010

 

Feel free to comment here X

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41. Only Joking

S.Rhatigan/J.F Morrison © 1995

Anybody out there?

Guess what…

I have been invited to play harmonica at the National concert hall with the I Heart David Bowie band who are playing the David Bowie/ Space Oddity album at a tribute concert in aid of the Laura Lynn children’s hospice next Monday, tomorrow in fact.

Yikes

The 2nd track on the Space Oddity album is Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed featuring a four and some minute blues harmonica solo and it is quite a challenge!  Don’t get me wrong I’m delighted to be asked and very excited but, oh FUCK!

My love affair with the harmonica began with Larry Adler. He would pop up regularly on our 70’s and 80’s telly playing the most beautiful classical melodies.  I loved Stevie Wonder’s harmonica lines too. He effortlessly picks up the melodies and weaves them in and out of his songs with such skill it is awe inspiring.   

As a child I wanted to play an instrument but several attempts came to nothing and I just gave up. It was much later, when I finally learned to play the guitar and piano and drums a bit I thought why not harmonica.

So taking my cues from the Neil Young, Bob Dylan school of playing which seemed kind of random and straight forward enough I bought myself a brace and a couple of blues harps. Turns out it’s not quite as easy as it seems. 

I was already challenged enough playing guitar and singing so throwing the harmonica in on top lead to some lairy gigs.  Nevertheless undeterred by failure I would slap on the effects pedals to try to fill the holes with feedback and shout into the harmonica to produce any kind of sound.  Sometimes it worked often it didn’t.  Happily on the recording of Only Joking it did.

Fast forward 20 odd years and many hours noodling around on the guitar and harmonica between cooking and cleaning and school runs and and and… I finally felt the sound coming together and I realised the simple unavoidable truth.  If you practice enough you will get better if you don’t you won’t.

Only Joking is sore.  

I was an angry child caught in the gravity of a deeply unhappy marriage.  My father and mother and sister and I orbited around each other in our nice suburban home pretending to the world that it was all ok but it was far from ok. My sister and I were unwitting allies in a cold war.  For most of the time we were the only company we had.

Photo Montage Sara Light

Eventually as we got older, my sister started hanging out with her friends more and more and I was left behind. She was my best friend. I was jealous and lonely. I lashed out at her. I would lure her into play fights persuading her, since she was so much taller than me that she should stay on her knees, which seriously impinged on her ability to defend herself. Then I would explode in violent fury, reigning down on her with punches and kicks until her cries eventually brought one of our parents. I would defend myself with force insisting that she was lying and we were messing, or I was only joking.

Of course eventually my sister copped on that she had a considerable advantage over me if she stayed on her feet.  Her favourite defence was to maul me into the corner by the door jamb and crush me till I couldn’t breathe.  I changed tactics then and adopted more subtle strategies like stealing her vinyl and clothes and makeup and humiliating her in front of boyfriends, that kind of thing.  Not very nice, but I was only joking!   

So, where are we now, going forward as it were?

Well my sister is still my best friend, I don’t assault her anymore btw.  I try to limit as much as I can the legacy of our formative years from infecting the present and my own family. Family and relationships are still informing my songs, even more now I suppose which is ok. At least I can get the stuff off my chest.

Lots of exciting things to come this year. A long over-due visit to New York and I have my new record tantalisingly close to being finished. I will definitely release some music soon and get out and play and let people hear it.  Sure what harm.

Meanwhile back on my head.

PS: Not all the stories in Only Joking are entirely true however… I did kill the canary, but it was an accident. Really.  I arrived home from school and I was alone. Sweetie the 3rd was standing on the floor of the cage propping up his head with his beak, his beady black eyes rolling.  We had lost several birds this way because, due to his tampering with the gas tap, to prevent us from turning the fire up to full, my father had caused the tap to leak and as a result the canaries were dropping like flies.  Anyway I thought I would try to revive the bird so I ran the cold tap over him.  Mistake.  He went into a kind of seizure and was shaking in the sink, so I did what I thought was the right thing and got the hairdryer at him.  Well that did for him. In the end he had a massive heart attack and died in my hands. It was awful.    

PPS: Happy New Year!

Suzanne Rhatigan: Vocal guitar harmonica

John F Morrison: Bass

Bryn Burrows: Drums

Only Joking is song 02 on the Late Developer album available on Bandcamp

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40. Rent a Wreck

S.Rhatigan/J.F Morrison © 1998

Brought my girl to La La Land at the weekend.  I love musicals.  Our record collection growing up at home, before my sister started buying Zeppelin and Bob Dylan, mainly consisted of original cast recordings of classic musicals: Oklahoma, South Pacific, Hello Dolly, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and on and on.  I knew every song and staged them in the sitting room most miserable Sunday afternoons between mass and lunch and the Riordans. Over and over I washed that man right out of my hair.

I dreamed of being a superstar like Barbara Streisand.  I remember hearing about Barbara’s troubled love life and thinking to myself that I too would make whatever sacrifice was necessary to achieve my dream even if it meant a life of loneliness and heartbreak.  I had the feeling that it would be unlikely you could have the good fortune to be talented and successful and also happy.  So I would forgo happiness if that’s what it took. I set about pursuing my dreams with gusto. I had few inhibitions and even fewer scruples. When I fell on my ass, which I did, repeatedly, I would retreat to my dreams regroup and start again.  Nothing much has changed.

City of stars

In the course of my search for the Holy Grail I was naturally drawn to LA and like so many wannabes before me and since, I had a stab at making the crucial connections in Hollywood.  I had meetings with agents and music supervisors, songwriters and producers.  One memorable lunch at Chateau Marmont with legendary arranger and producer Jack Nitzsche, became quite surreal when I realised he had no interest in working with me. He had only come to lunch to vent his anger and heartbreak following the demise of his relationship with Buffy Saint Marie who was a friend of my A&R person Kate Hyman.

Another memorable meeting I had with Kate in LA was with Don Was.  Kate had worked with Was Not Was back in the day and he was top of my producer wish list, since before I had even met Kate. He had heard the demos and he was interested.  We had our meeting at his house on Mulholland Drive, if I’m not mistaken he lived next door to Jack Nicholson.  Anyhow superstar names like that were being dropped all the time, you became quite blasé about it after a while.  I played Don a few songs on the piano and we had the chats. I told him how I had dreamed of making my album for years and how it sounded in my head, earthy and dark, shot through with light and humour. There was a definite chemistry. I felt it. I’m quite sure Don’s wife felt it too when she arrived home. Suffice to say I didn’t feel the love from her as much!  We parted that day with hugs and kisses and Don saying “I’m going to make this record”.  I remember Kate and I driving into the LA sunset with me screaming at the top of my voice… “Did you hear that Kate?  Did you hear what he said?”  “Yes” she said “He’s going to make your record”.

And I believed 100% that that would happen even as the weeks passed and Kate’s calls were unanswered I still believed it was destined to be.  But in LA dreams are made and unmade over and over.  I think the energy of all those dreams combusting is what powers the place.  Eventually we heard from Don’s management. Don was committed to other bigger projects, ones much more likely to succeed, or words to that effect and that was the end of that.

On another occasion while on holiday with my then boyfriend, we hired a car to do the famous drive from Malibu to Laurel Canyon.  As we were cruising through the canyons top down, Soul to Soul’s big hit of the day, ‘Keep On Moving’ on the radio, a spliff on the go, we realised we were running low on gas.  I think it was me who had the bright idea that to conserve fuel we should cut the engine and freewheel down the hill.  I closed my eyes blissed out from the weed and the music and the warm sun on my face when suddenly the engine roared into life, the brakes screeched and we came to a halt.  When I opened my eyes I could only see space in front of the car, no road no barrier nothing.  I looked at Craig. He was ashen faced. He had done as I suggested and turned off the ignition, only to discover he couldn’t steer or stop the car. We were a split second from rolling over the edge of the canyon to certain death.

And so a number of years later I wrote the story down in a song ‘Rent A Wreck’.  It captures the dystopia my life was back then, dark rumbling bass and soporific vocals. I guess it’s a kind of lo-fi example of that sound I had tried to describe to Don Was.  A sound I’m still dreaming of today.

It occurs to me that if I had the chance to write a musical about LA it would be a much darker affair than LA LA Land, which I absolutely loved btw.  I especially loved the bitter-sweet ending and the perfectly nuanced performances from both lead characters.  They fulfilled their dreams, but at a cost…

‘Oh to have come so far just to die in a rented car’

PS: Spot the deliberate mistake in the lyric.  All mistakes are deliberate right?

Suzanne Rhatigan: Vocals, guitar, piano, drums
John F Morrison: Bass

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