Quotes of the year


From why Sean O’Casey would be writing about Saipan if he were alive, to why living off
art is a joy – a selection of things said to Irish Timeswriters in 2009

Some people think the only way of doing well or of having a career in music is to go the X Factorroute, but a lot of people lose the joy out of music by going that way, possibly because they’re so incredibly focused on other people’s ideas of success. – Imelda May

Every time I see Anthony Hopkins I think that, to some extent, he has just been getting away with it all these years. – Liam Neeson

Beckett said he couldn’t live in Dublin, it would be impossible, because all anyone did was sit around and drink and talk and waste time. – Paul Auster

Everything we do is tinged with the knowledge that this may be the last time that we will do this, and that makes what we’re doing incredibly sweet. – John Banville

This notion that Americans have. . . that they don’t have to do anything other than be American in order to lead – that’s very pervasive in the culture, it goes very deep into how they see themselves here. – Gabriel Byrne

I don’t know where people get the idea that every Wilco record is supposed to have drama. OK, I guess historically speaking we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs. – Jeff Tweedy, Wilco

I received about 500 email hits after that from outraged gamers. ‘F••k you!’, ‘What are you, a priest?’ ‘Are you a communist Nazi?’ They really were very disappointed. – outgoing film classifier John Kelleher on banning Manhunt 2video game

I still watch and wonder at really great conductors and wonder what on earth are they doing that’s different to what I do or to what some Joe Bloggs is doing. It’s a black art, as they say, and a real mystery. – composer and conductor James MacMillan

It was almost like I had shed some really hard shell, and what was left underneath was this vulnerable, abandoned kid. Because what happens is that you get busy creating an adult, you get told to ‘pull yourself together’ so you craft an adult exterior personality which buries the inner self. – Danny Ellis, Artane Industrial School survivor

There is an Ireland now which is ready for post-recession. And it is open for business. We need to put the Celtic Tiger stuff in a sort of bad cultural bank and move forward. – composer Bill Whelan

I don’t think my expectation with The Da Vinci Codewas for critical praise or awards recognition. – director Ron Howard

You could take words like ‘magic’, ‘spirit’, ‘rhythm,’ or ‘dance’ and mix them up to come up with another Irish dance show. – Julian Erskine, senior executive producer of Riverdance

I'm doing fine, for the most part. For a guy who’s dying, I’m not doing too bad. – Liam Clancy, a few months before his death

In my experience, boards are intimate to an institution. You can’t have a distinct institution without a distinct board. – RHA Gallagher Gallery director Patrick J Murphy on the now abandoned plan to amalgamate IMMA, The National Gallery of Ireland and The Crawford Art Gallery Cork

I’ve been asked what is it like ageing in Hollywood since I was 35. Can you imagine asking Tom Cruise that now, and he’s close to my age! – actor Michelle Pfeiffer

The main thing is that a composer can’t really write his own music. The music comes from — he points — up there. What’s important for a composer is to listen to it and to get it down on paper. Then it’s clear for everybody what it is. All the classifications or separations come from the weaknesses of mankind. – composer Alexander Knaifel

You have to hold on to the folklore cornerstones of your upbringing, and if you have them you can go anywhere. Otherwise, you’re only living by other people’s upbringing. You have to pick the good of the place you were reared in. Of course there was bad there too, but if you take the good as your starting point, you can go anywhere. – Breandán Begley, box player

Oh, you know record companies. . . at the end of the day, it’s business. If you analyse it, you’re just a piece of meat. The minute you go bad, it’s: ‘Next!’. – Latin superstar Enrique Iglesias

To me, spirituality is the everyday stuff which we’re dealing with all the time. It’s not going into some ecstatic trance. It’s changing a nappy, or making a meal at the end of a very tiring day. – Stephen Hough, English pianist, gay man and practising Catholic

I was furious after the ’04 election. In 2000, they stole the throne. There was nothing more we needed to know about Bush then. The answers were out there. If he wins again, this time it’s our fault. – director James C ameron

I never got taken with the whole death of painting debate – the difficulty of painting, maybe, I’d certainly have time for that debate, but not the death, no. – American painter Terry Winters

If you are a gay man of a certain generation you have trained yourself to be an outsider. . . And that is what you are: you must never underestimate the sheer historical depth of homophobia in Ireland. It exists in the theatre as well – perhaps it’s even more pronounced in the theatre, where there is this almost heterosexual panic in case you engage too deeply with gay issues. – playwright Frank McGuinness

I grew up in the old town of Nazareth, with its narrow streets and its bazaar — all the oriental clichés, in fact. The mosque. The call to prayer. And in the middle of it I was sitting there practising Haydn. – Palestinian pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar

A visit from the president is like having your mother visit your bedroom, so a visit to Bacon’s studio would clearly have been a disaster for everyone concerned. – President Mary McAleese at the Hugh Lane Gallery

Let’s just say, the writer writes the theory and its up to the director and actors to make that theory incarnate. – playwright Tom Murphy

It’s a very American thing to hide away from death. – David Fincher, director of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

There’s this view, that popular theatre is in some way not as worthy as ‘high art’. . . people seem to dismiss what we do without seeing it – as if there’s some pompous deity up above deciding what’s art and what’s not. There’s also this idea that it is not a relevant part of the culture, but if anything it is more relevant, because it is actually speaking to the culture that it comes from. I mean when we did I, Keano!– well that’s the sort of subject matter that should be tackled in the Abbey. Sean O’Casey? That’s the sort of thing he would have been writing about in his day, because at that time Saipan was the biggest, the most important, thing happening in the country. – writer/comedian Gary Cooke on Macbecks

People have been educated to expect answers, even before the questions come along. It’s the TV principle. You offer three possible answers before the questions come to relax and calm the audience. – director Michael Haneke

Protest songs have to a large extent given way to ‘nice’ songs, rather than angry songs. Christy has always kept up that side of the tradition, but I do hope that we might return to some of the songs. – Andy Irvine

Oh sure. There’s a great amount of acting in wrestling. – The Rock understates his case

Talking about acting is like talking about sex. It’s nice to actually do behind closed doors, but when you talk about it you can very easily sound like a complete tosser. – a ctor Paul Bettany

If you speak Russian, if you are steeped in Russian culture, all your spirit, all your heart is different, and you hear differently. My first concert in the West was in Vienna, and all the reviews said things like “her playing of Mozart or Beethoven is so Russian”. – pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja

I haven’t had a drink in seven years now. That sort of informs a lot of my work. When you become addicted to something, life becomes very dark. I think going through that, and coming out of it, and beginning to put things back together, is in most of what I’ve written. – playwright Dennis Kelly

When I finish writing a tune, I wonder ‘well, how did I do it?’. It’s like the person who asked the centipede to identify what leg he prefers to lead with when he walks, and he never walked again! There’s a certain element of trust, and allowing your mind to go where you hope it might go. – Máirtín O’Connor, box player

Belfast is about managing to negotiate a space between hard positions that are not particularly compatible. That’s what people have got to do, now, not just as they are doing in Belfast, but more or less everywhere. – artist Sean Scully whose Constantinopleor The Sensual Concealedat the Ulster Museum was on Belfast as a model for future cities

I don’t know where the time went. The other day we were doing this just to entertain ourselves and now we’re old people. Now they give us awards. – Terry Gilliam on life in Monty Python

I’m not actually a big musical fan. – actor Daniel Day Lewis

I certainly think Obama is the most hopeful president I’ve seen in the country since John Kennedy. – writer John Irving

When I travel to other countries, particularly in Europe, I see that some of them don’t have this amazing ecosystem of music that we have, which hasn’t bent the knee to globalising forces. – music promoter Gerry Godley

If you don’t do the hard work you end up standing there with your finger in your ass looking silly. I have done the work. I have looked silly for 14 years. And that won’t happen again. – Mickey Rourke on the grim years

I can’t fend for myself. It was very funny, the Christmas before last, for the very first time I was trying to send out Christmas presents to my friends, and I was used to doing it on the road, basically, going to the hotel concierge, and saying, can you help me. I finally got home one Christmas and I realised, where do I go, where do I go to get all my gifts sent out? I looked at my mom, and she said, ‘Most people go to the post office.’ I looked at her blankly and said, ‘I don’t even know where the post office is’.– violinist Sarah Chang

We’ve tried capitalism on hyperdrive, and it’s really not who we are. – Martin Hayes

I grew up wearing black arm-bands when the hunger strikers died. I went on those marches. I grew up basically a Provo, though I never obviously got into any activities. I was writing 'IRA, Brits out' on walls all over where I grew up, but that was a false sense of Irishness. – Glen Hansard

Song writing is like castrating lambs – it’s a horrible job and as soon as the first one’s laying on the floor bleating, there’s another queuing up to be done. I have no advice concerning song writing other than don’t start. The bug may get you. It’s not fun, it’s rarely financially rewarding and it’s no way a proper job for a grown up. – James Yorkston

It’s not a fashion item, it’s a working garment. – Abbey Theatre costume-maker Kate Arveschoug

If anyone is saying, in Ireland, and nobody seems ready to come out and say it, that our love is lesser than your love, well, no one said that to the Catholics of Northern Ireland or the blacks of South Africa. Or no one said that in the southern states of America. And I would be very surprised if people are saying that now about gay people. – Colm Tóibín

You can never take out of the fiddle all the notes that are in it. – Donegal fiddler, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh, quoting fellow Donegal fiddler, Danny Meehan

I retired and it had a shocking effect on me. I just worked and worked and worked and worked, and suddenly I was out in exile. – poet Brendan Kennelly

I don’t trust my memory so much, I trust my forgetfulness. – writer and broadcaster Clive James

Nobody ever got famous by creating dance or theatre for children. – choreographer Hélène Blackburn

Ska meets punk meets north Africa. Pure energy was coming off the stage – and when you looked at the audience, it was such a mixture of cultures and nationalities, from men in turbans to those kids who have black hair and eye make-up and hang around the Central Bank in Dublin. And everyone was enjoying it. – Kieran Loftus of the Dún Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures on French band Babylon Circus

I think that the drama of change is much overplayed. – author/broadcaster Garrison Keillor

I like making movies when I have an idea for a movie that I have to make. – director Spike Jonze

When we came to London yesterday, they lost my luggage. Pedro said to a journalist as a joke that maybe a fetishist had it and was going through my underwear. A few hours later all these websites were saying a pervert had stolen my suitcase. – Penelope Cruz

Although Caryl Churchill’s play is full of anger, and a voice that’s angry, it’s also full of empathy. It’s an imaginative exercise, which all theatre is. And imagining how other people are is essential to our nature. – theatre director Wayne Jordan on Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza

People don’t walk up to me in the street and say, hey, you’re a rock chick, so how can I pay attention to stuff like that? It’s an important discipline when you do a job like mine – if you can call it a job – not to look at your press. I don’t care whether they call me rock chick or rock crone, I’m just glad I’m still breathing, still glad I’m doing my thing. – Chrissie Hynde

It’s a joy to be able to live off what you like doing and to enjoy what you do and to be an actor is to play every night, every day. – actor Gael Garcia Bernal

What this place has taught me is that adapting an existing building, with all the complexities that it involves, is much more time consuming and expensive than building on a green field site. Once you hear the words, ‘feasibility study’, you can decode it as, ‘We’re kicking this into the long grass in the hope that it stays there.’ – former Abbey Artistic Director Ben Barnes, now director of Waterford’s Theatre Royal, on plans to relocate the National Theatre to the GPO

We could have just made a record and toured Ireland and got on the hamster wheel every couple of years and been comfortable here, but I don’t think we would be fulfilled by that. You really get a sense of how small Ireland is when you tour America. It’s quite daunting. – Paul Noonan, Bell X1

It’s about ensemble singing and great music. We’re not trying to recreate a certain sound which might sound close to a possible original medieval singing style. There is no way we can know what the singing and phrasing sounded like in the Middle Ages. – soprano Anna Maria Friman of Trio Mediaeval

My father died aged 88 and was dancing a week before he died. I hope to make it to 89! – Paddy Behan, chairman of the Macushla Dance Club

I hate the fact that there is so much competition in comedy. It’s like you are not allowed to have more than one comedian who is any good. If you’re not the hot one then piss off! – Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It

There are still things about this business whereby it’s easy for things to get out of hand. One of the things I’m trying to do right now – through my concerts – is try to get closer to my audience. – Yusuf Islam/ Cat Stevens

I always remember that the world is full of people who do really hard jobs. Hey, if I am thirsty, somebody will bring me a glass of water. – Marion Cotillard keeps her feet on ground

Having sons changed the way I thought about my father, and I also find myself understanding more about him, his struggles, how difficult it was for this immigrant man, how focused he had to be on survival. – poet Philip Schultz

I like putting plays on the stage. I’m a play putter-on-er. A playmaker. And I don’t mind if I’m directing or acting or writing. – Alan Stanford

Down House must have been pretty smelly. . . Darwin vomited every morning. Also, he liked to skeletonise pigeons by boiling them up in the kitchen. – the great naturalist’s great-great-grand-daughter, poet Ruth Padel

Money is important. We were really poor when I was growing up, but we went to private schools. Mom lied about where we lived to get us in. – Impac Dublin Literary prize winner Michael Thomas

If you go to a concert conducted by an incompetent conductor, he looks like a sea lion out of water. – the octogenarian conductor Lorin Maazel

A bestseller is not a genre. It’s simply a book that sells a lot, from James Joyce to the Bible to Don Quixote. – Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafon

It’s your third album so it was time to try something a bit mad. We could have gone away and done the whole introspective thing, but then Josh Homme and the desert came calling and that seemed to be more us. – Alex Turner, Arctic Monkeys

You can have all the proof, all the scars, but still they won’t believe you. If you can’t express yourself you are deemed to be lying. If you fail to talk, they think you are hiding something. And maybe you don’t want to tell because what went wrong is really too much to tell. – dancer and West African torture survivor Kiribu (not her real name)

I think that art is very much a way of getting to know the world through the eyes of somebody else. Through art, you learn to be patient and to listen to somebody else talking, giving opinions which may be completely different from yours. – Wexford Arts Centre chair Karla Sanchez O’Connell

A little light reading. Helps take my mind off things when the crazies come calling. – Canadian soprano Michele Capalbo on reading Henry James between rehearsals

I still have a lot of the DIY attitude of a punk band in my mind. It’s embedded. I don’t expect anything. I accept that I may have to do a lot to make things happen for myself. – guitarist Redmond O’Toole

If people say percussion is devoid of melody, then maybe they haven’t heard the right things. – drummer and percussionist Noel Eccles

Apparently I had a rather large hand-span at seven, so I was given a choice between violin and cello, and opted for cello. I did love it from the start, although it was the bane of my life for years, having to cart this big piece of wood around and getting laughed at by the other kids. – Badke String Quartet cellist Jonathan Byers

I think paedophilia is used these days as a sort of emotional special effect. If you have to have some genuinely creepy thing you bring that in and leave it at that. – Tomas Alfredson, director of Let the Right One In

Does he love his country? “I do and I don’t. There are many things I don’t like about it. But the physical sense of India, the country, the people, this I do love.” – Amit Chaudhuri on his native India

I had a voice teacher and choral director – the man who ended up being my father-in-law – who had new pieces commissioned for the choir every year. And he threw new pieces at me. I didn’t think there was anything unusual about that, it seemed to make perfect sense to me that I was alive and that I would sing music written by people that were still alive. – soprano Dawn Upshaw

The compass has broken down. And that’s what’s going on: Nothing’s going on. . . communism has collapsed, capitalism has collapsed, materialism has collapsed, America has collapsed. The idea of a church has collapsed. – writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg

I don’t know if the public in Handel’s time ever laughed during a performance. – pianist Alfred Brendel

I look back on stories I wrote a long time ago and I know I'm not the person I was then. – Alice Munro, winner of the International Man Booker Prize

Interviews by

Jim Carroll

Michael Seaver

Belinda McKeon ‘

Arminta Wallace

Fiona McCann

Michael Dervan

Donald Clarke

Siobhán Long

Tony Clayton Lea

Sara Keating

Peter Crawley

Aidan Dunne

Eileen Battersby