Akron Irish: The Docs
by Lisa O’Rourke
The Saw Doctors. This is a band that is very hard for me to summarize. I would count myself as one of those superfans who would go would go to their gigs if they are within a fifty-mile radius.
I have gone so far as to wear a Galway Super Mac’s football jersey to a gig and driven as far as Columbus to see them. Yep, that bad. For the uninitiated or even the initiated, it might be hard to understand. I am not sure that I understand it myself. There is something just so pure about them to me.|This summer marks the anniversary of the release of their first album, If This is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back. When it was released, song after song were on heavy rotation on the Irish radio. It started with the iconic single, “i useta lover”.
The song is infamous in Ireland and made the Saw Doctors the same. One reason for this was because they cheekily rhymed “ass’ with “Mass”. The video that accompanied the single is a funny love fest to Galway, capturing all the beloved local spots, and stealing a little bit from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. The CD cover features the band members’ dads all striking a very rock and roll pose while the band does the same on the back. These photos capture the cheek and the charm of the band.
Thirty years ago, this record marked something different on the Irish music scene. It was not traditional, although it ended up in those bins in music stores here. The lyrics contained nuances about life in small town west of Ireland, it was more than traditional.
Traditional music would never be so specific about the flotsam of daily life. It was not country music, although it was deemed that way by many Irish people, especially the more urbane ones. There are no big truck or somebody done somebody wrong songs on a Saw Doctors CD, that is unless you count a tractor or a red Ford Cortina as country. The Saw Doctors saw and see themselves as rock and roll; straight, pure and unfiltered.
Something larger was happening in Ireland when the Saw Doctors emerged from Tuam. Their rise on the Irish music scene just slightly preceded the Celtic Tiger. For reasons that are a little hazy at best, the Saw Doctors found themselves made to be symbolic hayseeds at a time when the Irish as a culture were running full tilt away from the images of their past and ready to embrace their more urban, tech, sophisticated city selves. I have heard a few jokes that asked about Saw Doctor cassettes ye had in the tractor, implying that the owner of the tractor was a culchie, the Irish for hillbilly.
The Docs were none too pleased with this either. We met the Saw Doctors a few times and talked particularly to guitarist Leo Moran. While Leo loved the enthusiastic reception that greeted the Docs in Cleveland, he complained that this was not the case on their home turf. There was an O. Henry type of irony at work here. While the band had been able to achieve enough success that music was their day job, they were not loved the way that they had imagined they would be at home.
Nonetheless, the CD is terrific and holds up to this day. There is a reissue being released this year and is well worth a look and listen. It is straightforward rock and roll with a big heart.
Another hit was “red cortina”. It wistfully embraces first love gone a bit wrong without the sass of “i useta lover”. It a universal story of first love adorned with convent walls, stolen glances and other west of Ireland accoutrements.
A sense of place is a powerful thing. So many Irish immigrants took that sense of place with them when they immigrated to other countries, knowing that Ireland was never going to be more than a receding memory. That is not true for today’s immigrants.
Their immigration might not consist of more than a few years abroad looking for fast money. But what would they come home to? If Ireland changed slowly a hundred years ago, that is not the case now. Blink and things have changed, renamed or disappeared.
That is the idea of another hit from that iconic first record, “N17”. The N17 is the road most frequently taken to Shannon Airport, and was many an immigrant’s last look, at least for a while. The song really gets at the isolation that accompanies someone who leaves home and never fully leaves, even if they do go home. The Ireland they left will be gone to them.
The Saw Doctors are, as a rule, down to earth people. The first time we met them, lead singer Davey was sharing rollie cigarettes, flashing or sharing with good country manners. Leo remembered playing a gig with a friend of ours and then remembered that one of the other members of that band had lost their grandmother recently.
That is who they are, neighbors. But in fairness, I would not dismiss their poetry and sense of place. A good argument could be made for the Docs as the Irish equivalent of Bruce Springsteen. Their combination of universal themes paired with the cultural specifics of place give them a good start toward that end.
Their live shows would compare too. They are energetic, feel-good singalongs. There is more to it though. They exude a definite sense of good, big heartedness. It is vulnerable but unrelenting, just like the band. If they make it here again, run, don’t walk, to one of their shows.
*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She likes spending time with her dog, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at [email protected].
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