Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hearing Tommy Sands in Jerusalem

Slightly more than twenty years ago, I was in my bedroom listening to Fiona Ritchie’s program of Celtic music, “The Thistle and Shamrock,” on National Public Radio. One song she played that day has never left my memory. In fact, the impact it made on me was so profound that the moment froze for me like a snapshot: I remember exactly where I was standing when I heard the song, what I was looking at and from what angle.

The song was “There Were Roses” by Tommy Sands, about two young men from northern Ireland, one Catholic and one Protestant, who did not let the troubles around them interfere with their close friendship. When one of the friends was killed by the enemy side, a revenge gang from the victim’s side seized and killed another young man at random in order to avenge their co-religionist’s death. That by itself was dreadful enough, but to add sorrow to sorrow, the young man they killed turned out to have been the first victim’s best friend.

Although I never forgot the song, I didn’t remember the name of the man who wrote it. So when I went to Tommy Sands’s concert in downtown Jerusalem this evening, I was prepared for a concert of wonderful and meaningful music, which the performance certainly was. But nothing prepared me for the jolt I got when Tommy Sands began to introduce “There Were Roses.” I couldn’t believe that more than twenty years and several thousand miles from the place where I first heard the song, I was hearing it performed live by the man who wrote it and who, unfortunately, lived the tragic reality it describes for much of his life.

I guess that explains why Tommy Sands’s music emphasizes healing as much as it does. He wrote a fantastic song together with Pete Seeger about that very subject. He also has some hilarious songs, particularly one that describes how he tries to make breakfast for his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who turns out to have a few ideas of her own about what breakfast should be.

Wherever you are, if you get the chance to hear Tommy Sands, grab it and go. (He tours in the United States.) The evening was absolutely delightful. I can’t wait till Tommy Sands comes back to Israel so that I can hear him again.

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