I began reading Ulysses for the first time in June 2004. It had been on the to-do list for a while, and spurred on by the media coverage around the centenary of the original ‘Bloomsday’, I finally, like Mulligan in the 40 foot, took the plunge!
Like a lot of readers, I struggled quite a bit but persisted to the end. And although I put the book down when I finished, the book didn’t put me down! I read a Declan Kiberd article about Ulysses and discovered that most of the book had passed me by, so once again I found myself reading the lines, ‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan…’ and embarking on another voyage to that famous, final ‘Yes’.
As a songwriter I soon found the motifs and themes of Ulysses creeping into my lyrics. I resisted at first because I didn’t think a contemporary songwriter and a piece of early 20th century literary modern art could co-exist peacefully. It was when I first wrote the lyrics to a song called ‘Nighttown’ that I had my Eureka moment. I once heard the great singer songwriter Paul Brady say that sometimes the best thing you can do for your songs is to get out of their way. Rather than stifling the Ulysses references in my songs, I decided to embrace them. The concept was born. My songs often explore the universal themes of love, loss, loyalty, betrayal, compassion, desire, a yearning for times past etc, so in many respects Ulysses was a good fit! As Beckett said, ‘Mr. Joyce puts everything in’. I suppose in a way it might be harder to find a topic to write about that is not in Ulysses, like trying to cross Dublin without passing a pub!
‘Anatomy of a Goddess’ is first and foremost a music album. It is not a kind of ‘Rock Opera’ or a direct musical representation of the narrative. I didn’t want knowledge of Ulysses to be an absolute necessity in order to enjoy the songs, but rather be a discrete extra layer for those who love the book.
Each song leans on Ulysses to one degree or another to add a deeper dimension to the storyline. Some of the songs are explicitly based on episodes of Ulysses like ‘Nighttown’ and ‘Rain Clouds Gather’. ‘Dawn’ conjures up the nostalgic sentiment of ‘those dear old day’s of long ago,’ by quoting reminiscences of an idyllic Cork youth recalled by Simon Dedalus in the Sirens episode.
‘Dublin’ is an imagining of Joyce’s struggle to realise his artistic vision, and the realisation that self- exile will be part of the price to be paid. ‘NWxW,’ ‘Danced All Morning Long,’ and ‘Light Up The Room’ explore the voyage of life and love, by referencing Leopold and Molly’s complex relationship, including coming to terms with the loss of their son, Rudy.
The song, ‘Small Craft Warning,’ is a tale of the enduring qualities of love, which borrows images from the Sirens episode and finishes with a clock striking 4!
There are two ‘vignettes’ on the album that have an unambiguous Ulysses connection. ‘Radio Ulysses’ portrays the tuning in of a radio, and through the static, the listener hears a ‘full SP’ of the Ascot Gold Cup, an old time barroom tenor (my late father singing his party piece ‘Carrigdoun’) and an evangelical American preacher.
‘Hibernian Metropolis (1904-2013)’ is a reading of the first paragraph of Aeolus by actor Gavin O Connor, which describes the tram activity on O Connell Street. The warning sound on today’s modern LUAS trams is a recording of the bell of a tram that worked the streets of Dublin in the early 20th century. So ‘Hibernian Metropolis’ starts with horse hooves in the background (1904), and ends with a modern city soundscape (2013), and while Joyce’s words are voiced, the tram bell and Dublin’s unique atmosphere remain constant.
The title, ‘Anatomy Of A Goddess’ comes from the association that many episodes have to a bodily organ. An exploration of the book, or a wander around Dublin is in many ways like a dissection. In terms of goddesses, I think primarily of two, the book itself and the city of Dublin. Two beautiful, flawed divinities!
Of course the title also conjures up Bloom’s ‘discrete’ examination of the backsides of the statues of goddesses in the National Library. It’s one of the lighter motifs in Ulysses, which for me, was worth highlighting.
I’ve often found Ulysses is mistakenly regarded as the exclusive preserve of the world of academia, but nothing could be further from the truth! The famous old book has proven to be a rich harvest ground for painters, illustrators, sculptors, dramatists, filmmakers and of course musicians. These non-literary works can often provide interesting stage-door access into Joyce’s thought processes. One can list Joseph Strick’s film adaptation of Ulysses; Sean Walsh’s movie, ‘Bloom’; Richard Hamilton’s paintings in ‘Imaging Ulysses’; Robert Berry’s stunning comic book version of the novel; Jazz guitarist Louis Stewarts ‘JoyceNotes’; and countless others. It’s in that context that I hope my album will be viewed and enjoyed!
‘Anatomy Of A Goddess,’ was recorded throughout 2013 just a stones-throw from Eccles Street in Dublin’s celebrated Cauldron Studios. It aims to be a glittering, contemporary odyssey echoing the traditional accent and rhythm of the great Irish songwriting tradition. The album features some of Irelands finest musicians including Bill Shanley, Robbie Malone, Gavin Murphy, Steve Hogan, and more, who between them have worked with many of the legends of Irish and international music.
Musically, the tone of the album sits well alongside Irish singer songwriting legends, Paul Brady and Jimmy MacCarthy, while fans of international songwriters like Rufus Wainwright, Anthony & The Johnsons and Nick Cave will feel at home in it’s melodies and production style.
‘Anatomy Of A Goddess’ will be available for download from iTunes, and on CD via kencotter.com, from Friday 21st February 2014.
Sample the song Dawn, from ‘Anatomy Of A Goddess’ at; https://soundcloud.com/ken-cotter/dawn
Ken Cotter – ‘Anatomy Of A Goddess’
Launching – Friday 21st February – Download and CD
The Vintage Room @ The Workman’s Club, Dublin, Sun March 2nd
The Roundy, Castle Street, Cork, Sunday March 9th