Oh Come On Irene (part 1)
The One-hit-Wonder is nothing new. Although, as an exponent of heavy rock, I purposefully cast only acerbic glances towards Top of the Pops during the 1980’s, I can still recall Dexy’s Midnight Runners returning to the charts with “Come on Irene” in 1982, following their previous number one “Geno” in 1980. Even my deliberately cultivated musical thick skin appreciated the fact that they had seemingly created a genuinely new sound out of the roots of Northern Soul and awaited the rise of another aspect to the British sound landscape.
Sadly it was not quite to be, and after a couple of follow ups the band seemed to fade away as if never having arrived, leaving only the footprint of a couple of catchy singles to remember them by. But One-hit-Wonders have a habit of coming back to haunt you.
Sat in what had quickly become our favourite haunt for breakfast in Manhattan our group was bemused, as only tourists can be, by Maggie the waitress’s seemingly incomprehensible question:
“Are you guys planning a hurricane party huh?” Smile. Slight placating laugh before one of us replies,
“Um, I’m sorry, a what?”
“Hurricane party honey, ain’t you heard?”
“Well gods bless you folks, good job you came in today huh? Irene’s due in tomorrow and they say she’s gonna be a doozey. Uh huh, reckon it might get a bit nasty out there. Now, what can I getcha?”
It was at this point of course that my subconscious belied my rock-rooted indifference and I began to hum,
“Oh come on Irene, oh I swear like a dream I’ll pa na na na, fan a na na naah…” (Another annoying tendency of One-hit-Wonders is that no-one can remember much apart from the chorus, and that badly.)
And so inexorably our little band of travellers was pulled in to the publicity material of Hurricane Irene. On reaching the nearest TV. we discovered that Irene had already achieved a media spread that any up and coming band would have given their right arm for. In fact, the American channels could provide us with nothing else. The whereabouts of President Kaddafi and the turmoil in Libya didn’t even merit a footnote while Irene was on tour.
Now, like a good music fan, I greeted Irene’s impending burst onto the scene with a generous dose of scepticism. (And here I must pause to reflect that maybe I haven’t moved much more toward ‘Pop’ since my stance in the 1980’s, sadly.) Watching the teasing sound bites of her wail across the coast to the south of us and the flash news trailers showing her potential, I wondered if the media were going a bit over the top? Why hadn’t I heard of her before? Was she another x-factor hopeful trying to circumvent the traditional trod path to notoriety? Surely something so big would have sent a few ripples over my way before reaching for the main stage? I considered the likes of Pompeii or the San Andreas fault – now there were two of the Rock giants of their day. A re-release from one of them would surely merit such media frenzy. So despite CNN constantly pulling out pundits to compare Irene with previous stars of the stratosphere and discuss her possible impact on our lives I’m afraid I remained a non-fan.
So by the Saturday night all was in place for Irene’s big show. There had already been rumours that she was in danger of losing her voice, that the show might not meet the hype, but come around 8 pm the streets were pretty much deserted as everyone stayed in to watch the big event from the (hopeful) safety of their homes and hotel rooms. We had been surprised to find that Irene’s publicity regime had, in fact, reached the U.K and family and friends at home began to call us asking, “Have you seen her? What’s she like? Will you be o.k.?” By 10 O’clock, desperate for a cigarette, I ventured out to see this superstar for myself and was…underwhelmed.
As with too much of pop, her performance was ‘o.k.’ but without much substance. The driving rain was there and she could certainly give a good howl now and again but I saw nothing that I hadn’t seen before. Nothing unusual or eclectic in the vein of Dexy’s Midnight Runners offerings. Returning to the room and watching the news it was clear that Irene had, in some gigs, more than met expectations, proving the pundits right (and bringing sadness to many.) But in New York I’m afraid we fell asleep during her star turn.
A few days later and we had moved on to Boston while Irene was still ploughing her trade across the states North of N.Y. By now she had accumulated enough stats and figures to secure a good mention in Hurricane History at least, so that was a good run after all. Our only claim to fame appeared now to be that ‘we had been there’ and seen Irene’s meteoric rise to fame and seen her fall just as quickly into Manhattan harbour. But perhaps sadder for Irene’s claim to fame was the imminent arrival of hurricane Katia who had already begun to turn the heads of the press before Irene had time to exit, stage left. Ever hungry for sensation this new prodigy was already being touted as bigger, stronger and faster than Irene, and the media blitz moved on, with a new star.
Safely home I wonder which of my memories will come out the brightest. When next, in say ten years time, I hear Kevin Rowland belting out ‘Come on Irene,’ will my thoughts turn to a soggy cigarette outside the Gershwin hotel in 2011? ‘Oh yeah, there was that storm back in 20 something. Remember, we were in New York. Now what was her name…?’
Or will I resort to “Come on Irene, oh I swear like a dream I’ll na na naah, la la la na naah..’
Along with a thousand snaps, the other interesting phenomena clutched around Irene must be our reactions to the impending doom that was hailed in the media. It was fascinating to observe how we coped with the news that our lives might be in danger. I could have been writing something very different if Irene had met everyone’s expectations! What if she had been a superstar?
And for some reason the people of Pompeii kept popping into my head. Is this what it was like for them?
More next week!