Frodo Baggins was my moral guide, Rick Astley my hair hero
Patrick Freyne: Hobbits, Phil Collins, The Monkees – these were my role models
Rick role: never gonna give up trying to replicate the golden-voiced croonster’s buoyant bouffant
I’ve been thinking a lot due to the week that’s in it about where I derived my moral guidance as a chubby Corkonian child. Who were my role models (I mean, apart from my parents and the pope obvs)? Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Men in hats
As a small child I was obsessed with men in hats. Why? Perhaps I knew the era of the hat was at an end and, as a toddler with melodramatic tendencies, this melancholic millinery sunset appealed.
Whatever it was, I knew that I too wanted to be a man in a hat. My grandfather had a lot of hats and as a three-year-old I would wear them and sit in deeply masculine silence staring unnervingly at people, the hat offset by a pair of red horsey-themed dungarees that I was, truth be told, completely bet into. Seriously, in the photos they look like tights or an unusual tattoo.
When my granddad’s hats weren’t available to me I would use a tea-cosy or a pair of pants. Ironically, my head is far too big these days to wear a hat (a hatmaker once called it “freakishly large”) but my self-image is still of a man wearing a hat, which probably explains a lot to you.
At playschool I was introduced to the concept of superheroes by a bossy child who forced me and another even weaker-willed boy to enact scenes he had conceived involving what I misheard at the time as Supermarket and Backman. Acting out this monstrous child’s insane visions was good preparation for the world of work, to be honest. I was usually “Backman” and I pictured a man whose powers involved running quickly in the wrong direction. This was good preparation for a career in features journalism. Eventually I realised that “Backman” was, in fact, “Batman”, and I have been disappointed in life ever since.
My dad claims he was in the army and, whatever the truth of this, he wore a uniform and occasionally wielded a gun. This had a big impact on me. After an embarrassing period when I greeted all men in uniform with an imploring gaze and the word “Daddy?”, I realised that the Irish army wasn’t at war with anyone. This meant that my dad had probably (but not definitely) never shaken his fist at the sky after murdering a man with his bare hands, while crying “Whyyyy!”
So I turned my gaze towards war comics like Warlord and Victor, where characters did that sort of thing all the time. I loved war comics. They usually involved the best people (the English) fighting against the worst people (everyone else). With a few exceptions (like the excellent Charley’s War in Battle comic, by Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun) these stories didn’t get into geopolitics or the moral nuances of war. All that was clear to me then was that war was brilliant and I couldn’t wait to be in one.
Our Fenian dead
I was soon put straight on my actual nationality by a school teacher who would take us on “nature walks” that usually involved him digressing from observation of nature (“Oh, look, a bee”; “Some leaves there, lads”; “I think that dog is sick”) into descriptions of atrocities committed by Irish rebels against landowners and why those atrocities weren’t atrocities at all and were actually quite just.
He really loved talking about atrocities under the guise of natural history education. Then he’d go on a rant about the English before adding, as an afterthought, “Not you, Gerald” to the English boy in the class. Poor Gerald. He’s in the ’Ra now.
Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings
“This ring is so heavy.” Pathetic grunt. Whimper. Whine. “Heeeeeelp me Saaaaaam and also help my weird friend, Gollum, who talks openly to himself about stabbing us but who I like to keep about because I can relate to his sense of entitlement.”
“Ooh, I’ll help you, Mister Frodo.” Doffs cap. “I’ll catch and cook dinner, put you over my shoulder, carry you to the top of Mount Doom and fight this orc while I’m at it.”
“Thank you, Sam. You have helped me be the hero I was meant to be – me, the saviour of Middle Earth, Frodo Baggins – and you, my lickspittle helpmeet, Sam Gamgee, who, on reflection, may have been better off under Sauron’s regime.”
Anyway, it was another 10 years or so before I read Karl Marx.
Thanks to a rip in the fabric of space and time, RTÉ in the late 1970s and early 1980s largely played the sitcoms and westerns of a decade before. My favourite TV show was The Monkees, a programme about a group of young men who all dressed identically, were billeted together in the same room, sang in harmony and humiliated those who didn’t agree with their way of life. Years later I would say that it was The Monkees who laid the groundwork for me starting a band. However, the previous sentence is also a pretty good description of fascism, and, sadly, I think that’s what I was responding to as a horsey-dungaree-wearing child in a grown man’s hat. Children are, I’ve concluded, nature’s fascists.
Middle-aged AOR musicians
In my quest for melodic fulfilment I soon discovered the local church folk group and their spin-off rock combo Shades of Blue (hi lads!). From these musical pseuds I learned about a revolutionary, groundbreaking youth movement: Adult-Oriented Rock. Soon I was having my mind blown by the smoothly produced licks of Dire Straits, the world-weary right-wing notions of late-period Clapton and the synthetic smoothness of Phil Collins and Genesis. Many people have written about it since, but Adult-Oriented Rock wasn’t just a musical form, it was also a state of mind, and soon I was a 15-year-old contemplating life from the perspective of a wealthy baby-boomer going into his third marriage. You squares wouldn’t understand.
Old men in Stephen King books
My next role models were the wise old dungareed men from Maine who turn up in every Stephen King novel of the 1980s. Like child-me, these educated rustics were usually filled with no-nonsense local knowledge, folkloric wisdom and a patronising attitude to ignorant city slickers with their new-fangled pet cemeteries and demon clowns and ghost cars. I liked them, I think, because they were never slow in putting forth an unsolicited, longwinded opinion before dying nobly yet horrifically. I think the term for it is Maine-splaining.
Rick Astley’s hair
My main role model when I was around 12 was Rick Astley’s hair. I wanted to have the golden-voiced croonster’s buoyant bouffant. Sadly, perhaps due to a childhood wearing the hats of yore, I had a wild, untameable cow’s lick and always looked like a surprised monk. My friend Con had no cow’s lick and thus had a beautiful head of Rick Astley hair, which he proudly disported around Kildare like a delightful sun king. He also had a trench coat and took to dancing in the street much like Rick Astley in the video for Never Gonna Give You Up. He’s doing it still.