September 28, 2019. Dublin, Ireland.
Soundtrack: Headstone Horrors – Monster Club
The hostel was a collegiate Skinner box labyrinth with a grim, cafeteria style dining hall, faux bars full of noisy Australian teenagers, and a “hammock room” full of hungover chrysalises that stank like feet. The walls were covered in elaborate murals celebrating copyright infringement, and I practiced the path back to my 24-bed military dorm by quietly muttering to myself, “Right at C3P0, down the stairs, left at the Titty Elf, door 19.”
I didn’t spend much time there. I dumped my stuff and headed back out into my first weekend in Dublin.
I’d seen the city before, but it had been the launchpad of my first sojourn into bastardly travel, and I was yet a boy, unwise in the ways of the world. I booked the worst hostel money could by and spent the weekend hiding in it from the relentless, oppressive rain.
This time around the weather was as nice as it gets in Ireland, and the whole of the country had gathered in the bars, or in the streets, to sing. There’s nowhere in the world as thoroughly pervaded with music as Dublin on a Friday. The pubs were filled to bursting, and every one was playing live music, and everyone in the audience was singing along with the live music, whether they knew the words or not.
In the streets and walkways were interlocking circles of spectators clustered around buskers playing guitars and horns, doing DJ sets and tooting away on bagpipes.
It was uncanny. There was a college town weekend vibe, if the college town specialized in performing arts and spanned miles in every direction.
I had a coffee stout at an overfull microbrewery where everyone was singing alt-rock from the 90s. In America, ours tend to stick to the Tony Hawk soundtrack. I had as much Third Eye Blind as I could stand, then hiked twenty minutes through the musical chaos and found Fibber Magees.
It was easily identifiable. Punks look like punks, no matter where you are in the world. The battle jackets leaned more toward the Adicts and GBH than I was used to, but I was still able to track the concentration of studded leather to the bar entrance.
I met up with the horror punks from the ferry. They had with them a lanky Irish metalhead who had many recommendations for me, both about metal bands and about how to improve the political climate in America.
“Ye don’t understand,” he told me. “Ye run all of it. Th’ world economy relies on ye. When ye make a decision like electin’ Troomp, the entoire warld suffers, because our leaders just blindly go along with whatever ye say.”
“The problem with my country is they don’t consult me,” I confided in him.
“How’n the hell did ye wind up with Troomp, anyway?”
I was used to fielding this one. I explained that the overwhelming majority of America is made up of People of Wal-Mart. Their terrifying biomass is barely contained by their 4XL Tweety Bird t-shirts and they highly prize family values, which means maintaining two household shrines, one to Jesus and the other to Dale Earnhardt.
“They outnumber the Americans you see on TV or talk to on the internet 100 to 1,” I said. “They are the deciders of the election.”
“Jaysus,” he said.
“And the world mourns together.”
Speaking of mourning, the first band went on.
We went outside and stood in the beer garden shared by four different bars until that ended. When it did, four oldheads went up and played some solid post-punk.
“What’s post-punk?” the horrorpunk drummer asked.
“Punk, but the drums are slow.”
He nodded his spiked head a few times.
“You’re right. None of our songs go this slow.”
The Headstone Horrors set up and the metalhead approached me, slurring heavily.
“I’m goona start a fookin’ pit fer ’em,” he said, holding onto my shoulder for balance. “These guys desarve it.”
It got silly. A bunch of fookin’ taarists or badly confused locals wandered up to the front of the edges of the pit with full glasses of beer. Of course they wound up spilling it all over the place. I was on the wrong side of a few of these unfortunate yet unavoidable accidents, and they looked on me with baldfaced shock. One nearly escalated to violence, but I smiled disarmingly even as I continued to be a hulking tower of American meat.
It got wild. One of the mutants from that first band tried to pick a fight with an elderly skinhead by hissing at him and trying to punch him, and other assorted middle-school anime girl shit. He maintained his composure, which is more than you’d expect from a skinhead.
They tore the place apart, and it was one of the greatest experiences I’d had overseas. Certainly the greatest in the United Kingdom.
They finished up, I finished my beer, and bade a fond farewell to my new friends. They cautioned me again about a fortified Scottish wine; the name escapes me, but they talked about it like it was a combination of Boones’ Farm and tequila.
The only resident Irishman in our little party grew maudlin, as they are wont to do.
“Ya’re leaving? Already? I thought we could grab a few marr drinks. Well, that’s the way it goes, I s’pose. Maybe… in anudder life… anudder time…”
I clapped him on the shoulder and thanked him for his metal recommendations, then congratulated the Horrors on their set again and made for the door.
“Wait,” the singer said. “Thanks for coming, and for dancing. Here, take this.”
And she produced their album from one of their duffel bags, on CD. I didn’t know where I would play a CD, but the gesture was magnanimous. I thanked them again and made my way back to the hostel.
And that brings the tale of my most recent overseas jaunt to a close.
Epilogue: After an uneventful return to America, I discovered that the Girl brought a stereo system from the 90s from her parent’s house. It could play CDs. And since the only CDs in our possession in this, the year of our lord 2019 were the Headstone Horrors LP and what I’m told is a collection of “marimba classics”, I set the stereo up in the kitchen and kept those spooky little punkers spinning whenever I was cooking something.
After the move, the stereo went into storage, so now I stream them on Spotify, but I keep the album in a place of honor out of a Celtic sentimentality that four-hundred years of Americanization hasn’t yet pounded from my blood.
As of this writing, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and it might be a little while before I go on another trip worth recording.
But I’m still here, and I’ll find something to fill up the digital pages.
Thanks for reading.