Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Terence Winch: Seeing-Eye Boy and Celtic Thunder: Live in Concert 1978-2018


While there are certainly numerous artists who dabble in an art form other than their main one, having a long-run history of excellence in more than one art form is a rarity.

With 30 plus years work as both a musician and a writer, Terence Winch is one of the few people to have such a history. The music on Celtic Thunder: Live in Concert 1978-2018 was released this year, and features many high points for that long-running East Coast band, one of the best American bands to be focused on Celtic music.

And just a few weeks ago, I finally had time to read Seeing-Eye Boy (published in 2020 by Four Windows Press), Winch’s novel about growing up Irish in the Bronx in the 1950s. As an author, Winch is mostly known for his many excellent books of poetry, and he is also the author of two books of short stories. Seeing-Eye Boy is his first novel though, and it shows that he is highly capable of doing more artistic things very well than people even knew.

The novel balances careful realism and Irish and Irish-America history and folk history and ultimately manages a rough-hewn and even feel-good tale about growing up that never becomes either fantasy or nostalgia. As a narrative about Irish-American life, there are very few works I can think of that might be a match for it. The novel never stops being both informative and enjoyable. It does a great job of mixing its pain and its pleasure, which as everybody already knows, is what Irish folk music too is all about.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Poor Gal: The Cultural History of Little Liza Jane by Dan Gutstein

My junior high delinquent suburban punk jock hockey player going-nowhere-fast friend Dan Gutstein, former scourge of Silver Spring playgrounds, who somehow has become the author of books of poetry and fiction and has been the lead singer of a jazz punk band that has “won awards” and been featured on NPR and who has a significant feature in a National Geographic episode on rats not of the human kind, although he knows a lot about both, and who fritters away everything sensible people are supposed to do and has worked all kinds of short term, who-are-you-kidding jobs from farm work to assistant professorships, who was turned down when he tried to join the Merchant Marine, who spent a year in Northern California and nearly froze indoors, who once asked a Provost in a job interview “What does a Provost do?” and who one year was declared the “hottest professor in America” by Rate My and experienced his own personal warming event, has now also somehow become the author of a scholarly work on a fascinating and little known portion of the history of American music.

Poor Gal from the University Press of Mississippi traces the history of the song and character “Little Liza Jane,” who not entirely unlike Dan has danced and sung her way across much of the history of America and American music.

And to think I once let this guy housesit my place and he went through all my clothes and drank my expensive, high-alcohol beer without knowing what it was. What was I doing? This is not a man who can be trusted. Why am I his friend? Because he doesn’t like the word hockey and prefers the Canadian term “shinny”? At least he once sent me an 8-CD homemade anthology on the history of jump blues. Why does he keep writing these books that no one expects him to write and that other people want to publish and read? I have no idea. But I’m telling you: if he comes to town, steer clear, because you have no idea what might happen next. The book can be purchased from the press at this link and of course from other online sources as well: