Tuesday, March 24, 2009

OFF THE BEATEN PATH — 12 DAYS OF IRISH 2009 — DAYS Ten, Eleven and Twelve — McCredie

This comes exactly a week late by the reckoning of the calendar but, in fact, it is years overdue.

Because you need to know about Jeff McCredie — and, yes, he has done enough in his life so far to warrant three days' worth of verbiage.

Jeff McCredie is a true original.

He comes from the kind of Irish-American family about which weepy, redemptive movies-of-the-week are made.

Old man abandons the family, mother shoulders the Herculean burden of raising three kids, bouncing from Kentucky to upstate New York to Havertown, Pennsylvania, kid beats the odds and you can imagine the rest...

Only here's the thing: Jeff emerged — bruised and scarred — as a driven, gifted young man who excelled at ... well, everything:

Smarter than everyone — and when I say everyone — I mean friggin' everyone! Dude's in MENSA.

Great tennis player.

Better baseball player.

Okay — typical white-guy hoopster. But still ...

Talented actor.

Prolific painter (We have two hanging in our house — neither of which he'd let us pay for, the moron.)

Bad -ass lawyer.

Drinker of a solid pint.

Loyal friend.

Out-sized, reckless heart.

American hero.

Oh ... didn't see that last one coming? Its the truth. And its important that you know it because he has— on countless occasions and without fanfare or accolades — made your life safer and better.

And, if you've ever been within a five-mile radius of him, he has made your life louder, funnier, vastly more interesting and memorable.

Because McCredie is nothing if not memorable.

I didn't know Jeff all that well growing up. He lived a few blocks away from us in Havertown and he was a few years older than me.

I only got to really know him when he graciously opened his home to me on my first visit to Los Angeles. That was 1998. Upon my arrival, he dropped everything and, within minutes, we had two well-poured pints of Guinness sitting in front of us.

It was 11:20 in the a.m. (For the record — it tasted great.)

By that time, Jeff had graduated from Eastern College (cum laude, with some kind of freak-genius triple major in History, Poly Sci and Business Admin) , where he was the only baseball player in the school's history to play in every game. Later he was invited to The Philadelphia Phillies training camp. He ultimately went on to play semi-pro ball.

Along the way he was able to squeeze in becoming a nationally-ranked tennis player.

(My brother Trip used to play tennis with Jeff — and was lucky to win a point. If memory serves, one of Jeff's booming serves nailed Trip right in the weiner. That alone makes Jeff one of my all-time favorite people.)

Oh and let's not forget that Fulbright scholarship to the University of Hamburg.
It was during that experience that Jeff first came into contact with the Agency. The Company. The Spook House. The CIA. What did he do during that time?

You don't have clearance, Clarence.

Then Jeff knocked out your basic law degree from Temple University and promptly became indispensable as assistant D.A. of Montgomery County in suburban Philly.

(He once prosecuted a case involving my cousin's seriously flawed first husband and withstood — with grace and wit — daily grillings from my old man. I think we all know the self-control involved in that.)

And then it began.

Jeff became a walking, talking Robert Ludlum novel.

For three years he was a Special Agent in the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) in the area of counter-terrorism. He worked closely with special ops groups and was also an anti-terrorism instructor.

The next five years saw Jeff employed as a legal advisor in the Office of International Affairs at the Justice Dept.

Suffice to say, neither of these assignments were desk jobs. Both involved willingly going into places and situations that would have you and me curled up in the fetal position screaming for our mommies.

Wherever bullets were flying, laws were being broken, bombs were exploding, rebellions were percolating, dictators were scheming and people were dying — Jeff went there and did that which was asked of him.

By us.

Imagine the following places at their absolute worst — and that's when Jeff was there:

Northern Ireland
The Phillipines
South Africa

That's roughly a quarter of his passport stamps.

And the only souvenirs he brought back (besides some killer African masks and a dizzying array of weapons) were a wrecked shoulder; chronic, debilitating back problems; broken bones; memories that would psychologically buckle ordinary people and a whippin' case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I'm sure plenty of people in Jeff's former line of work bullshit their way to free drinks and good sex, spinning gourmet meals of embellishment concerning their own heroics.

However, in those circles, there is evidently an unwritten rule that states — the veracity of any given story is iron-clad only if a fellow agent tells it about you.

One night at a Japanese restaurant with Jeff and two friends of his — a real-life Mr. and Mrs. Smith — the married spook couple told the most mind-blowing story of ballsy nerve and outright courage I've ever heard.

It was about Jeff.

And even taking into account our epic sake consumption and my own inclination toward exaggeration ("Did I ever dunk in a game? Hell yes! Twice, dude!" Yeah, if games of Nerf basketball count.) the story about Jeff was insane. His well-ya-know-what-else-could-I-do shrug was all he added.

After eight years of operating in the shadows and fighting off the demons of his memory, Jeff landed in Los Angeles. He had been acting for years on stage in and around D.C. — in between dodging automatic weapon fire and chasing down terrorists — and he wanted to give his acting career his full attention.

His day job was as a Special Agent with the Justice Dept.'s Inspector General Office. He investigated the illegal activity of scuzzball Justice employees. From busting drug rings in California's most notorious prisons to South Central gang takedowns to cutting off human trafficking operations, McCredie jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

(Take that — all you pussy actors who've ever whined about your bartending or catering or temp jobs ... oh wait, that's me. Shit.)

And he hustled for acting work — which was hard to come by. He worked on stage and scrambled for film and TV jobs. Jeff and I commiserated about the business. We collaborated on two scripts. We became friends. He was one of the first people to see our daughter Eirann after she was born.

He also pulled a slightly demented practical joke on Lisa two months earlier that nearly induced labor on the spot.

(Lisa and I went to Duke's in Malibu with Jeff one night. As we're leaving, he breaks off and starts a conversation in Farsi with some Middle Eastern guy there. He's also fluent in German. I mean, Jesus Christ, I can barely speak English. Farsi!?)

And he painted and painted and painted. He painted landscapes and beach scenes and every piece of art he produced seemed to search for some kind of peace, a respite.

A brief, failed marriage and the spectacularly awful and abrupt end of his government career led to Jeff having to confront his demons, his PTSD, his lingering injuries and a lifelong struggle with depression head-on.

Which he did.

And the government didn't want to help him. In fact, the government tried their level best to deny Jeff that which he was owed.

The government — our government — wanted to scrapheap a guy who had left pieces of himself scattered across the globe in service to his country. This is not a new story — given the appalling disregard Washington has shown to veterans. But, ya know what, this is Jeff's story. And he had to fight and claw to get that which he had earned several times over.

Finally, he was grudgingly awarded disability pay from the government. Grudgingly.

In recent years he has had excruciating back surgery and major shoulder surgery. There are a battery of medications he takes to keep the wolves at bay. He — like my father, my nephew and countless other combat veterans — continues to struggle with the fallout of his service to our country.

A couple of years ago, he left L.A. for Virginia — to care for his ailing mother — the other hero of this story. She was the one who kept the family together, from whom Jeff inherited his smarts (she was valedictorian) and who introduced Jeff to art.

He has — for all intents and purposes — shouldered this responsibility alone. His fractured family could not bridge the gap. As his mother's condition deteriorated, Jeff was the constant, doing all the things that constitute the daily care of a terminally ill 72-year-old woman.

If you've ever had to watch a parent waste away and were powerless to stop it ... try doing it alone.

Last week, he made the most wrenching decision of his life --- to take his mother off life support.

Okay, listen — Jeff McCredie is not a saint — far from it.

In fact, sometimes he's closer to some rogue hybrid of Bruce Campbell, Al Hrabosky and Michael Collins who simply won't shut up or listen. His missteps are legendary.

But they are dwarfed by his generosity, his friendship, his talent and his commitment to those he loves.

Jeff McCredie is one of the the most fascinating, maddening, opinionated, eccentric, hilarious and loyal people I've ever come across. He has sacrificed more than most of us can imagine. The government has forgotten him (and many like him.) He never has — and never will — ask for your pity. I only ask that — this one time — you recognize a forgotten American hero.

And maybe get him an agent. He's a pretty fuckin' good actor.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Okay, look. I realize that few people can be as annoying as Janeane Garofalo but — overheated, sweaty and emotional unhinged political diatribes aside — she can be a charming and funny actor.


And nowhere is this more on display than in The Matchmaker, a sweet romantic comedy that tanked at the box office when it came out in 1997.

Garofalo plays Marcy, a political operative for McGlory, a Massachusetts senator up for re-election (a hilariously clueless Jay O. Sanders.) McGlory sends Marcy to Ireland to rustle up some relatives to help him solidify his base back home.

Marcy lands in Ballinagra — same town, different name of most Irish comedies not set in Dublin. And when the put-out, put-upon, homesick Marcy meets scruffy journalist Sean (the estimable David O'Hara — seriously, is there a better lovable nutjob than his Steven in Braveheart?) you know exactly where this puppy is headed.

But like all good romantic comedies — it's the how, not the what. And The Matchmaker has some grit, some great lines and a funny, touching performance from the great Milo O'Shea. Denis Leary adds his two cents as McGlory's hatchet man — in one of his patented prickly, exasperated, fast-talking comic turns.

And the music. Oh the music.

So give Janeane Garofalo a shot. She's not on Larry King or Air America. She's just acting. And that she can do.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Golf is as Irish as U2, Guinness and calamitous, alcohol-fueled family holidays.

The reigning face of Irish golf is Padraig Harrington — the Dublin-born, steely-eyed pseudo-nerdy guy who has three major championships to his credit, including the past two (2008's British Open and the PGA Championship.)

Then there is Darren Clarke — the cigar-chomping, hair-dyeing, fun-loving Northern Irishman who has won 16 times world-wide.

And, now, in the shadow of those two stars and such all-time greats as Des Smyth and Christy O'Connor, comes the next Great Pasty White Hope:

19-year old phenom Rory McIlroy.

A native of Hollywood, Northern Ireland, McIlroy has had an eerily Tiger-like ascent into golf's stratosphere:

Smacking 40-yard lasers at the age of two.

First hole-in-one at nine.

Led the winning Junior Ryder Cup team in 2004.

Youngest-ever winner of Ireland's two coveted amateur titles, West of Ireland and Irish Close Championships, in 2005.

Won them again in 2006, along with the European Amateur.

Turned pro in 2007 and shot into the top 100.

After a few close-but-no-Darren-Clarke-cigars, he won the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic, edging former English teen-age phenom Justin Rose for the title.

He is currently ranked #16 in the world.

No less than Woods himself has pronounced McIlroy the future heir to #1.

I'm no expert but this has to really be getting up Sergio Garcia's ass.

In addition, if you happen to find yourself in Ireland and all the usual suspects — Ballybunion, Lahinch, Portmarnock, Royal Portrush, etc. — are booked solid and Aer Lingus has dumped your clubs somewhere in the Atlantic, fear not.

Give a call to the European Club — in Brittas Bay, County Wicklow. It is at least the equal of the aforementioned legendary links. And, yes, I say this with all the certainty of one who has played none of them except the European Club.

But the Europena Club has charm to burn in addition to being a phenomenal links course. It used to be the greatest bargain activity in all of Ireland at 40 pounds for 18 holes. But Tiger Woods played there in 2002 and now it costs 180 euros — about $233.

If any course can actually be worth $233 (and I seriously doubt that one can) the European Club is it.

By comparison, Pebble Beach costs $495 AND you have to pay for the goddamn cart(!) — and you don't even get the wit and wisdom and impromptu step dance from that Richard Harris look-a-like working on pint # 7 in the clubhouse who still has enough left in the tank to flirt with your wife.

Golf in Ireland — you gotta do it once.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


And you thought your family was a mess ...

Michael Patrick McDonald spills his heart, his guts and his blood onto the pages of this tragic, viciously funny and deeply moving Irish-American family portrait.

That's it. That's all I got.

Read it and weep. And laugh. And realize that, hey, maybe your fucked-up family ain't so bad after all. At least they're .. ya know ... alive.

This book is stunning.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


On the heels of three sectarian murders in the span of 36 hours in Northern Ireland, peace rallies spread across the Six Counties today. The message — from Catholic to Protestant, loyalist to nationalist, politician to housewife — was unity.

The Real IRA and the Continuity IRA — the dissident republican groups claiming responsibility for the attacks that left two British soldiers and one policeman dead — are now faced with their greatest enemy: the Irish people themselves, who want nothing — for themselves and each other — but a world of good. To illustrate what that means, here are the Saw Doctors:

The Saw Doctors — from Tuam, County Galway — have been around since the late 80's. And cool, striving faux-hipsters do not dig them.

Which is one major reason why I love them.

They make joyous, heartfelt, occasionally goofy, always passionate pop-folk-celtic-rock. They are, in many ways, the Irish equivalent of John Cougar Mellencamp — solid, sturdy populist rock-and-rollers hugely influenced by their native land, who have seen great success, been touched by occasional greatness, have a rabid following (okay, that might be more Springsteen than Coug) and who now seem to have run out of songwriting mojo.

(All you faux-hipsters out there will howl and wail at the "greatness" tag I've hung on the Coug and the Saw Doctors — and shuffling and mumbling around in your Devendra Barnhart knit hats and your Yo La Tengo tee-shirts, I say this to you: Fuck off.)

The two driving forces and only constant members since the band's inception are Davy Carton and Leo Moran. There has been a steady procession of musicians and contributors along the way but the Saw Doctors heyday was the 90's. Pretty much the whole decade, yeah.

And I think the secret weapon, the secret ingredient to that success was bassist Pearse Doherty.

I have no data, evidence or testimony to support this but with the inspired, antic and talented Doherty, the Saw Doctors produced four keeper albums, two #1 hits in Ireland and live shows that could make people literally climb the walls at the Ritz in New York, ecstatically channel Elaine Benes at the now-defunct Los Angeles Irish Festival while ash from nearby brush fires rained down and pogo in spite of a painfully herniated disc at the desperately-in-need-of-an-eppy Dublin Irish Festival.

Or so I'm told.

My two brothers, my wife and I were lucky enough to hang out with the Doherty version of the Saw Doctors a few times and they seemed like regular guys who had woken up one day to find out they were rock stars. Irresistibly charming and willing to buy a round as well.

Even better — the Saw Doctors have consistently skewered Catholicism and, in particular, the clergy in their songs. Anyone who punctures the hypocrisy of the "one true faith" and does it with guitars and beer is aces in my book.

For the uninitiated, here are the four Saw Doctors records that are must-haves:

If This Is Rock'n'Roll, I Want My Old Job Back — 1991
(includes the best-selling single in Irish history — I Useta Love Her)

All The Way From Tuam — 1992
(includes the other #1 Irish hit — Hay Wrap)

Same Oul Town — 1996

Songs From Sun Street — 1998

Since Doherty exited the band to raise his family, the Saw Doctors have not been the same on record. This decade has seen only two albums of new material — both underwhelming.

However, the Saw Doctors still have the capacity for joyful, celebratory rock and roll — after fifteen years, they returned to the top of the Irish charts in 2008 with a cover of the Sugarbabes' "About You Now."

The band recorded the song at the urging of the graduating class at Salerno College in Galway. The young women convinced the band to donate all the proceeds of the single to Cystic Fibrosis Ireland — in memory of their classmate who died from the illness late in 2007. So far more than $25,000 has been raised for the Salerno Schoolgirls' Fund.

Go buy the single. And go see the Saw Doctors when they come to town. They still can bring it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

OFF THE BEATEN PATH — 12 DAYS OF IRISH 2009 — DAY FIVE — Ballykissangel

If you were a fan of Northern Exposure, you will like this acclaimed Irish dramedy series, which ran from 1996 through 2001.

If you thought Northern Exposure was good but too aggressively quirky and that it strained its "cute" muscle a few too many times, then you will love Ballykissangel.

This popular BBC series centers on Father Peter Clifford, an earnest, intelligent priest assigned to the small town of Ballykissangel — which is populated by just the right assortment of eccentric residents.

What distances Ballykissangel from the likes of Northern Exposure, Ally McBeal and Picket Fences is that Ballykissangel manages to stay rooted in a reality that makes the comedy all that much funnier and the drama all the more poignant. You never stop believing the characters.

And that is do as much to the acting as the insightful and restrained writing. Father Peter is played to baffled, determined perfection by Stephen Tompkinson. One of Father Pete's main challenges is his growing attraction to Assumpta, the local pub owner. You will fully appreciate his predicament when you get a load of Dervla Kirwan, one of Ireland's trademark smolderingly intelligent actresses, who plays the lonely Assumpta. It is a classic set-up that the series handles just right.

I'm battling a cold so that's all you get. Except to say that Ballykissangel is excellent television and also features the underrated Tina Kellegher, who achieved immortality (well, at least in the McClatchy household) as Sharon Curley in The Snapper. And a young Colin Farrell. And great music.

All six seasons are available on Netflix.

Here's where Peter and Assumpta meet for the first time:

Monday, March 9, 2009


One of Ireland's greatest actresses, Anna Manahan, died last week. She was 84.

Manahan's career spanned more than fifty years and covered stage, film, Irish television and radio.

I remember her from the films Hear My Song (another in a seemingly unending string of under-appreciated Irish screen nuggets) and A Man of No Importance (featuring a typically brilliant turn by Albert Finney in the title role).

But Anna Manahan will always and forever be Mag Folan — the scheming, brutally manipulative mother in Martin McDonagh's hit play The Beauty Queen of Leenane. It was her career-defining role and it won her the Best Supporting Actress Tony Award in 1998. I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have seen it.

Lisa and I caught the final performance of the production before it transferred to Broadway. The intimate confines of the Atlantic Theater Company's mainstage made the experience unforgettable. Manahan — along with Marie Mullen, Brian F. O'Byrne (yeah, him again!) and Tom Murphy — gave us one of the theater's great ensemble performances.

It was a Sunday matinee and the median age of the audience hovered somewhere between B.C. and AARP. Mere seconds before the curtain came up — an elderly couple behind us had the following thunderously loud exchange:

Her — (rifling through her playbill and finding an insert for the upcoming premiere of Sam Shepard's Eyes For Consuela) LOOK AT THIS! WHO THE HECK IS SAM SHEPARD!?




Her — WELL, I'LL BE.

Then the lights came up and Ann Manahan launched herself into Broadway history.


This entire entry was supposed to be a spotlight on the excellent anthology Murder Most Irish, which features tingly, funny and quietly freaky short stories from the likes of James Joyce, Sean O'Faolain, Ann C Fallon and a host of other celebrated Irish authors. And I still urge you to rustle up a copy.

But then I learned about Anna Manahan.

And just moments ago I read that — 24 hours after the Real IRA claimed responsibility for an attack that left two British soldiers dead — it happened again. Tonight in Craigavon, County Armagh a member of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) was shot and killed by unknown assailants.

Murder most Irish.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


As troubled times return to Northern Ireland, it seems fitting to cast an eye toward one of the most notorious figures of the conflict who has dedicated the last thirty years to finding and keeping peace in the North.

Gusty Spence, now 75, was the godfather of the modern Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the Protestant paramilitary group that, in May 1966, declared war on the IRA.

Less than a month after that declaration, John Scullion, a 28-year-old Catholic, was shot in the Falls Road area of Belfast. He died two weeks later, becoming the first casualty of the modern-day Troubles.

Spence was charged in the murder but soon after his arrest, the charges were dropped. Emboldened, he and other UVF members attacked four Catholic off-duty bartenders.

One was killed.

This time, Spence was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. From prison, Spence oversaw the UVF's murderous campaign to obliterate the IRA and its supporters. The brutality, torture and indiscriminate killing by the Spence-led UVF rivaled — and often surpassed — that of the IRA.

A ballsy 1972 escape from the infamous Long Kesh prison led to this TV appearance that effectively scared the Jaysus out of every Catholic in the Six Counties:

Spence was re-captured four months later but he had cemented his folk hero/rock star status among Loyalists (Protestants who want to preserve the union with England ... in other words — dumb asses.)

However, as Spence sat in prison month after month — and people on both sides continued to die — and he actually had occasion to speak to his republican enemies ... a change began to take place.

Spence found his conscience.

The man who put the fear of God (or at least King William) into Irish nationalists far and wide for eleven years, turned his back on violence. On Armistice Day 1977, he officially resigned from the UVF.

Upon his release from Long Kesh in 1984, he plunged into the peace process. Ten years later — after countless hours of wrenching conversations and weathering the "traitor" label from UVF hard-liners — an emotional Spence stood before the world and read the UVF ceasefire, adding his personal ""abject and true remorse" to "the loved ones of all innocent victims over the past 25 years."

It was that image — Gusty Spence courageously offering regret and hope — as much as anything that propelled the peace process toward the historic 1998 Belfast Agreement.

It was courageous because Spence's life was now in danger from both sides. It was pivotal because, until then, the world had been deprived of a human face for the Ulster Protestants. The Protestants had — understandably so — felt like the red-headed stepchild of the Northern Irish struggle.

No movies. No U2. No White House receptions.

Just violence and blame.

Not that they didn't deserve the blame, mind you, because, let's face it — England belongs in Ireland about as much as I belong in the priesthood.

But Gusty Spence was the one who brought humanity to the "Prods". And it is impossible to imagine the current peace happening without his contribution.

And the old codger hasn't let up.

In 2007 he read a UVF statement saying they were putting their weapons "beyond use" — which is fancy wordplay for burying them ... but not too deep, just in case Gerry Adams falls off the pacifist wagon.

Spence immediately regretted the statement and last summer publicly blasted his former comrades for hedging their bets and challenged them to essentially get a hair on their asses and destroy the weapons unconditionally.

With yesterday's tragic shootings in Antrim by the Real IRA threatening to rip open freshly healed wounds, here's hoping that Gusty Spence's gutsy example is enough to snuff out any spasms of retribution by the UVF.

Because of Spence, many had been ready to pull the trigger.

Now, because of Spence, the trigger will fail.

Peace has been tasted and nothing can turn back the clock.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Pulp Fiction goes Irish in this mystifyingly neglected dark comic gem.

Set in Dublin, Intermission follows nearly a dozen characters whose lives intersect in funny, violent and, ultimately, touching fashion. Just when you think writer Mark O'Rowe and director John Crowley couldn't possibly fit another twist, reversal or character into the story, they do. Time and again. And always with bracing wit and relentless creativity.

Populated by what seems like half of Ireland's SAG members, this movie is one hell of a lot of fun. And it has a heart that does not promote tooth decay.

It is a hoot, a treat and a gas to watch the cavalcade of stars, near-stars and hey-I-know-that-guy-what-the-hell-is-his-name-agains having an absolute ball with dialogue that crackles with authenticity and situations that turn on a euro.

You get:

The excellent Cillian Murphy before his Batman gig.

Colin Farrell playing an Irishman (which is always good news, playing an American ... not so much) and he is spectacularly funny.

The protean Brian F. O'Byrne, who created — among other brilliant stage performances— the role of Father Flynn in the play Doubt. Philip Seymour Hoffman got the movie and an Oscar nod. O'Byrne got a "special thanks" and, I'm guessing, an attaboy.

Look, no one loves P.S. Hoffman more than I do but can't we once get to see the goddamn actor who originated the role do the movie?

(I hear a distant "Amen" from Kathleen Chalfant, who must have a special voodoo doll of Emma Thompson somewhere. See Wit and Angels in America.)

Kelly MacDonald (Scottish, but who cares) in all her post-Trainspotting and pre—No Country For Old Men charm and beauty. I was smitten.

(The wife digs James McEvoy, also Scottish, so I think the free spin rule is a wash next time we hit Glasgow.)

The slyly hilarious Shirley Henderson — Moaning Myrtle to all you parents and Potter nerds.

And finally — the man, the myth, the people's thespian — the actor who has been in every movie and on every television show shot over the past 25 years and has yet to hit a false note — Colm Meaney.

Intermission is a great, raucous Irish time. And now, it'll never live up to the hype. Sorry.

Rent it anyway.

Here's the trailer:

Friday, March 6, 2009


Between now and March 17th, people of all stripes, ages and degrees of inebriation will tap their inner Paddy. They will break out Danny Boy, blinking buttons, big green Seussian hats and dye the rivers green. They will Lucky Charms us till our ears bleed, dance spastic jigs, and puke in the street, the bathroom and, yes, back into their beer.

And we empower them to get their Irish up, on and over in whatever fashion they choose.

However, for the 2nd annual "Off The Beaten Path - Twelve Days of Irish", (click here for last year's offerings) we will go native, immigrant and transatlantic to bring you some cultural and historical diamonds in the peat.

So today — let's rock it Chicago-style:

The Tossers, from the South Side of Chi-town, have been at it for over fifteen years but I have only hipped to them within the last year or so. And that was through pure dumb luck — somehow, I rarely seem to experience pure intelligent luck.

The Tossers followed the path carved out by The Pogues and currently trod most successfully by Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys. The music landscape is fairly littered with bands hopping the Irish/Celtic train and much of that fare fades quickly from memory. Indeed at first glance (and second and third glance as well) the Tossers seem like they might be trying to will Shane MacGowan to apparate before them and christen them with the brown.

But here's the thing — the Tossers have the songs — and the killer players — and the frontman — to hold their own and more. Which they have for a decade and a half. And, ya know, what the hell — at least they're not ripping off Styx. And they truly re-invent the traditional Irish tunes they choose, making them exhilarating, haunting and current.

The Tossers have six albums out. Their latest is On A Fine Spring Evening and it is worth your time, money and effort. Drink and listen. If you're not singing, dancing or shitfaced by the time Brendan Behan appears — your name is probably Cromwell.

Oh yeah ... Lead singer Tony Duggins has a solo record out titled Undone.

His pitch — "Buy the record. I need beer money."

Evidently, the Tossers' live shows are the stuff of legend. As yet, though, the pricks haven't quite made it to Columbus. Hey, quick, somebody get me the Dublin Irish Festival on the phone — I think I know how to shock it back to life.

Dig this: