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Joe Mc on how he came to like the Beatles / 15 July 2010

painting of a ballerina in red

Chanson d'amour (acrylic and watercolour) © Joe McConnell

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I wish to say thank you to a dear friend who played me some old Beatles numbers recently, and made me realise what a tosser I had been for the past half-century to have been completely indifferent towards them. This was the first time I found myself enjoying their music. And out of respect for the Fabulous Four I feel a need to explain why they didn't quite do it for me previously.

Back in Ireland – the unoccupied part – in the late sixties, the possibilities of independent music exploration were extremely limited. Very few of us had record players and, even if you did, a vinyl album cost more than a week's wages. There were great opportunities to hear live music, but recorded material was very much the monopoly of the emerging music, radio and television corporations. Having been miraculously incarnated as a lifelong anti-capitalist, a lot of the stuff they promoted on the mainstream media was held with a certain suspicion.

But there were darker reasons. The Beatles and other mainstream pop stars had the deep devotion of the 'terminally normal' aka most of the other lads in school. Let me make it absolutely clear that I hold no sulking lifelong grudges against these guys who are mostly now all totally forgettable paragons of respectability in my home town. The worst any of them ever did was to give you a rather playful ragging for not attending the mandatory sports events on offer. It was more the way there seemed to be an unspoken understanding at play that yours truly was better kept at a long safe distance from their mainstream world.

So it was the music that was unpopular with them which seemed to call me at the time – Laura Nyro, Leonard Cohen and Pentangle to name but a few – and offer a feeling of 'outsideness' which was to be a lifetime companion. This is another theme that I feel is important in my emerging artwork and I'd like to return to this sometime later.

So, the cold shoulder of the rugged rugby lads was distressing but far more challenging was the sweaty hand and prosthetic leather strap extension of the teachers in whose care our parents had placed us; the misleadingly entitled 'Christian Brothers'.

I rather stupidly remarked recently to an old friend that at least they were only slapping and not sexually molesting us. She replied somewhat scornfully, "that's because you went to one of their middle class schools, where they wouldn't dare touch you, in that way."

It's beyond the remit of this blog to share with you my total revulsion and condemnation of the generation of paedophiles who beyond any doubt have irreparably damaged the mental health of a generation of lost children. But, in these posts, I am trying to explore what lead me to find joy and comfort in images of peace and kindness.

Well it started back then with the fear that all of us shared – both the marginals such as myself and the mainstream crew – of the daily infliction of physical and,by extension, psychological pain for the most trivial and unjustifiable of reasons.

There were very few exceptions among the 'Christian' Brethren, save for one lovely primary teacher - Brother C – who was probably creatively bonkers himself and who departed from the uninspired curriculum to teach us how to sing in sean nos style (a style of acapella traditional Irish singing). I will never forget him telling us that if were to go anywhere vocally we had to 'make ourselves ugly'. Advice that could have come from a master class in camp cabaret from the likes of Liza Minelli herself. Actually about the only useful lesson in the whole 14 years with the brothers.

To the rest of them I would like to say that I wish them no harm – in this world or any other - as life has taught me to reject revenge and contempt, if only for the preservation of better mental health. But 'brothers' if ever you stumble across this page, let me just ask you to take a minute and go to the mirror. Look yourselves in the eye and try to remember more innocent days, the time before your 'vocation' summoned you to enlighten innocent children with your superior knowledge. Yeah, do us this one favour, try hard to remember that time in your life before you lost your humanity.

Keywords: disability art,mental health,music,psychosis,young disabled people,