Remembering a rock critic who set a high tone


BILL Graham will probably be remembered mostly as the rock music critic who introduced Paul McGuinness to U2. However, we really would do the man, and his life, more of a service by also remembering that he helped introduce U2 to themselves.

Likewise, countless other Irish musicians who undoubtedly developed a deeper understanding of their art than would have been possible if Bill had never graced their lives through either print or endless hours of advice freely given in bars, at gigs, or on the street. The same applies to those who were just fans of the music.

Indeed, in the history of Irish rock there never was a writer as generous with his time, knowledge and insights as Bill Graham. Only fools and egotists ignored his analysis of their work.

Not that Bill always got it right, of course. But he got it right more often than the rest of us in Irish rock journalism. Partly because the space he occupied was a perpetually voracious tangle of questions that pulled together threads from disciplines as diverse as politics, semantics, sociology, theology, philosophy, literature and music; synthesising all in a way that was as playful as a child who never grew tired of his first train set.

However, to be true to the kind of honesty Bill Graham respected, it must be said that this tangle of thoughts was not always accessible to anyone other than Bill himself, especially when it came to the kind of social exchanges which he clearly found less appealing than the internal dialogues that defined his nature.

Similarly, in interview situations, where his greatest failing was his inability to listen to anything other than echoes of his own voice, a problem that was compounded by his kind hearted, but sometimes misguided tendency to tell interviewees, like Bruce Springsteen, what they really were thinking and complete their sentences.

But for those of us who worked with him in Hot Press not only tolerated but loved these aspects of Bill's quite gorgeous, goading, life affirming personality.

Bill Graham was a particularly private man. He only once revealed to me some of the reasons for the shadows in his life, and placed names on the demons he danced with when we spoke of our individual responses to the death of our fathers.

In the end, what matters most is the mark Bill left on Irish rock music. It is inestimable. The last time we spoke he was "really worried" about the "rapidly deteriorating quality of arts coverage in Irish Sunday papers" and intent on responding, specifically, to the Sunday Times attack on Dolores O'Riordan, of The Cranberries.

This he did, in what now turns out to have been his last completed article.

And so the story ends as it began, with Bill putting his incomparable weight behind a band whose success level, at least, makes them the 1990s equivalent of U2. Those of us who remain working in this area clearly are left with a duty to continue producing the kind of cultural explorations he excavated nearly every time he wrote about rock, and, maybe to an only slightly lesser extent, the political and cultural realm in general. To do otherwise would be a disgrace to his life and memory.