Thursday, April 28, 2022


I may be six weeks or so early, or, then again, actually I guess I'm really six weeks shy of a century late. 06/06/1922, a date that scans both, coveniently, to both UK and US readers. The 6th of June is the momentous day that spirals out in James Joyce's sprawling Ulysses. Whether the day was actually in 1922 is uncertain*, but, given it that the year the book was first published, that is the shorthand I am applying, and one, no doubt, that will be used when that date comes around this year. So who's read it?

No, I confess, me neither, but it is on a perpetual longlist of books I must get around to in due course. As is War and Peace, I guess, and a number of others that somehow always have me picking up something, um, easier, as I go to the book shop. Because it has this reputation, those knowing aficionados nodding sagely, as the lightweights like me admit their reticence.

Molly Bloom is the main female character in Joyce's book, the free spirited wife of the main protagonist, Leopold Bloom. I bet you didn't know she was based the character of Penelope, in Homer's Odyssey, wife to Odysseus, or Ulysses, in the Roman iteration. With one core difference, in that Penelope was unfailingly faithful to her errant spouse, Molly is unfailingly promiscuous, or, at least, unprepared to accept sexlessness within a stagnating marriage, as she conducts an affair with Hugh "Blazes" Boylan. (Reading that character's name, so wilful is the sheer Irishness of it, becomes one yet further nail in the decison-making coffin about reading the tome.) The final section of the book is famous for being a free-form and unpunctuated stream of consciousness: Molly's soliloquy. One of the eight sentences contains what used to be the largest number of words in any one literary sense, 4,391 words. (What would Blogger dashboard make of that, I wonder, as it automatically critiques my own bizarre constructions?)

She has provoked a number of songs and tunes over the years, or should I say inspired. The first is an instrumental written by Alan Munde, the banjoist, sometime Flying Burrito Brother and member of Country Gazette. It is a delightfully brisk construction, best shown by the dual guitar play of Norman Blake and Tony Rice, although his own version also has merit.

Tom Paxton, the venerable folk singer, around and influential forever, included a paean to her in his 1970 Tom Paxton 6, a joyous blast of strummed banjo and kazoos, the lyric concentrating on her potty mouth, the irresistible lure of a sweary woman something of no small wonder.

But the main song here today comes from Kate Bush, the by now near recluse, living out her life quietly in the country, rarely breaking out into the limelight, despite the clamours of her never more loyal fanbase. The song The Sensual World, from the album of the same name, was released in 1989. Bush fills the album with a plethora of world music influences, from the uillean pipes of Davy Spillane to the exotic open throated vocals of Trio Bulgarka. A wonderful record, I remember buying it, it being the moment I finally "got" the artist, and, I confess, also, the last moment I found myself in that moment, give or take her wondrous play on Sexual Healing

What I hadn't then realised was how this title track was based on Molly's soliloquy, her manager possibly talking her out of her original plan, to use only words from Molly's mouth in the words of the song, perhaps fearing an assault from Joyce's estate. So, 22 years later, in 2011, on her Director's Cut revision, rewritings and remixes album, it was a treat to hear it as originally planned, lyrics all Joyce, the re-recorded vocal also benefitting from the more lived in and world weary timbre of her vocals.

Finally, I guess i should get back to the main theme of this piece, as in Bloomsday, the international day of recognition and remembrance for James Joyce and this most celebrated of his works. Biggest, understandably, in Ireland and the U.S., it has taken on legs across the world. I actuall took part in one such celebration, in about 2003, as a then member of Birmingham's Buckland Club, so named after Frank Buckland, a 19th century surgeon, zoologist and naturalist, who had the aspiration and ambition to eat his way through the entire plant and animal kingdoms. The club celebrated Bloomsday that year by a peripatetic feast, each course at separate venues across the city. Much as I would like to give a bite by bite account, I fear I am unable, possibly as much as a result of the necessary imbibing as to the food. But, what I do recall is the kidney starter, included as a celebration of Joyce's exquisite description of how the offal should be best served:

“Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

I discover that there are two songs also around this important date, each by giants of the Irish rock aristocracy, so I leave you with each, U2 and then Fontaines D.C.

The book of the songs.....

* Date unknown? What tosh, the "original" Bloomsday was in 1904, the date Leopold Bloom is reminiscing about during Joyce's 1922. Which makes it highly likely my Buckland Club jolly was in 2004, not 2003.