It was very interesting last week listening to all the brouhaha that followed the screening of a documentary about Gilbert O’Sullivan on RTE television. Everybody seemed to have an opinion and the discussions on what kind of person he might be and whether or not he was properly appreciated in his native city kept Deise AM on WLRfm and Liveline on RTE extremely busy.
Even though I know some of his cousins, I have never met Gilbert/Raymond so I have no personal agenda here. Perhaps though, it might be useful to make a couple of pertinent points. First of all, Gilbert may or may not be a bit of a curmudgeon and his self admitted shyness may make him less than the life and soul of the few parties he and his wife attend.
But, so what? He is plainly a very decent man, dedicated to his wife and daughters and he also speaks respectfully and lovingly of his parents and siblings, especially his brother, Kevin, who is his tour manager. He is entitled to be who he is and the kind of person he is and, if he wasn’t in the public eye, nobody would give his demeanour a second thought because it is perfectly normal.
In other words, he lives in the real world and has his feet planted firmly on the ground which, when one considers the success he has enjoyed over the years, is something very much to be admired.
Now, as somebody who knows a tiny bit about music and the entertainment industry, could I make the following points about the achievements of Gilbert O’Sullivan which I think are hugely underestimated. He is a world name who has written some of the most instantly recognisable and exquisite songs in the history of popular music. Most writers would give their eye teeth to have one ‘standard’ under their belts yet Gilbert has a fistful of them and they will survive and be listened to long after he is gone which I hope will be far in the future.
He is a singer/songwriter so he has also scaled the highest mountain as a performer. I may be wrong in this but, as far as I can recall, he is the only Irish performer, other than U2, to have had simultaneous No 1 albums in the British and US Top Ten charts. Do people not realise how gigantic such an achievement is? He had the talent, energy and determination to make it in the first place in an industry that is notoriously hard to even make a dent in, let alone crack wide open. Of course, he would have needed some luck along the way as did everybody else from Elvis to The Beatles but it was mostly his own doing.
As an individual, there is surely no denying his courage and doggedness. When he began his long legal battle against his former manager, Gordon Mills, to regain control of his own compositions, he must have known that it could have destroyed him. He kept his nerve, carried on and, in the end, was successful. He is also the first person to win a case in the notoriously difficult US legal system over the ‘sampling’ of one of his songs, against his specific instructions, by a rapper artiste. All of this should tell us that Gilbert O’Sullivan is not a person you mess with and I doff my hat to him because he will surely be an inspiration to other writers and artistes who have been wronged and ripped off.
But, for me, one of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s biggest achievements is being the person he is today. As I said earlier, I don’t know him but from the television programme it appears to me that he is totally lacking in bullshit and has a very admirable take on his life as it stands. He happily concedes that his greatest successes to date were in the past. But he is a performer, a singer and writer who wants to continue composing and working. He pays for the recording of his new album releases out of his own resources which are always successful thanks to his loyal army of fans around the world.
He will always be successful on the celebrity/nostalgia circuit but he is honest enough to admit that he would love to have more hit records with a new audience that wasn’t even born when he was at the top and he is writing and working to try and achieve that ambition. I admire him greatly for that. What he isn’t doing is sitting on his backside in his mansion feeling sorry for himself, pouring drink down his throat and coke up his nose.
He is out there trying to do it all again and, perhaps, it is that hunger that will spur him on to success. His most successful songs tumbled out of him at the beginning and inside him there most be new songs waiting to see the light of day. All he needs is one big hit with a new song and an avalanche of success will start to role. He will have so many ‘friends’ coming out of the woodwork, he won’t know which way to turn. But he’ll cope and may well take the advice of President John FitzGerald Kennedy who once admitted that he always forgave his enemies but never forgot their names!
Finally, let us address the fact that he was miffed to attract such a small audience the last time he played in his home city. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that it was a freak occurrence because of a number of things happening on the same night. But, whatever the reason, wasn’t he entitled to feel disappointed? Everybody likes to do well and be well thought of in their home place and to fell rejected by your own can be very traumatic. I have always thought that we in Waterford can be somewhat begrudging in praise and recognition of our own, more so than in other counties. But, if that is who we are, then that is who we are and we will have to put up with ourselves!
Busy day at The Pearly Gates
It was another busy day at The Pearly Gates and St Peter was working flat out to keep things flowing. “Yes, my son”, he said to a tall distinguished man.
“St Peter, I was a surgeon on earth and I helped the lame to walk.”
“Thou good and faithful servant”, said St Peter, “walk straight through the Pearly Gates.”
The next person was a young woman. “I was a teacher, Saint Peter, and I taught the blind to see.”
“You too are a good and faithful servant, please enter through the Pearly Gates”, he replied, beaming at the new arrival.
Next up was a man in the early 30s with long hair and a neatly trimmed beard. “My, oh my, you don’t look too unlike the Boss Himself”, chuckled Saint Peter. “Thank you sir”, said the man, “I was a musician on earth and I made sad people happy.”
“Thy good and faithful servant, I’m glad you got here on time”, said Saint Peter, “please go around the back and load your gear in through the kitchen”.