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Cowboy Song The Story Of Phil Lynott English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2544 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Phil Lynott is known by many, as the swashbuckling frontman and bassist of Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, who penned such hits as Dont Believe A Word, The Boys Are Back In Town and Waiting For An Alibi. There was a certain romantic flavour to the songs and lyrics he wrote that reflected his traumatic childhood but as the leader of a hard hitting rock band, he exuded both charm and a sense of danger that for music fans and indeed, almost anyone he came into contact with, was hard to resist. In the 70’s Thin Lizzy would go on to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world and played to sold-out arenas wherever they went. However, it would not last forever and in 1983, the group finally disbanded. Phil would struggle to keep his career going, all the while battling a crippling heroin and alcohol addiction. He would tragically die from blood poisoning due to these addictions in January 1985 and the world would lose another of its great musical icons. From his humble childhood growing up in Crumlin, Dublin where he and his beloved mother Philomena encountered racial bigotry in 1950’s Ireland to early musical adventures and finally on to worldwide success, I will examine what made him the global rock icon he would become. I will also explore his darker side where his addiction demons would finally take control and ultimately lead to his tragic death. As a huge fan of Irish rock music and the music of Phil and Thin Lizzy, I felt this was an easy choice of subject for my narrative essay and hopefully I can provide the reader with an informative and entertaining look into the life of one of our country’s greatest ever musicians.

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Philip Parris Lynott was born in West Bromwich, near Birmingham, England on August the 20th 1949, to his white Irish Catholic mother, Philomena Lynott (Phyllis to her friends) and his black father, Cecil Parris, from Georgetown, in British Guiana on the northern coast of South America. The two would meet one night in 1948 in a Birmingham dancehall after Cecil had asked Philomena if she would like to dance.

“It was fate – something said to me to get up and dance. And when I danced, the floor got full of people. He was a good dancer. When the dance was over, I walked back to where all the women stood and they all backed off. That was the beginning. We had a few dates and the rest is history.” (2).

They had both come to England in vastly differing ways. Philomena had arrived in order to take up a nursing position after initially trying to follow her elder sisters and brother into the services and join the RAF. Cecil on the other hand had arrived in Liverpool after thinking the ship he had boarded back in Guiana was bound for New York. They had several dates after that fateful dance and soon after, Philomena fell pregnant. By the time she found out she was expecting, Cecil had moved to London and they were no longer seeing each other.

When Phil was born, Philomena was forced to move in to a home for unmarried mothers where the nuns would try to force her to give her son up for adoption. They told her that they would tell her staunchly Catholic parents back in Ireland that she had given birth to an illegitimate black child. Cecil eventually discovered that he was now a father and helped Philomena secure temporary lodgings. But he soon drifted out of their lives once again after she had decided that he had become “a bit of a flirt with the ladies” (3). Phil would enjoy a very close relationship with his mother throughout his life but would barely get to know his father, and would meet him only a handful of times before he passed away.

Realising that she could never truly provide for Phil, Philomena took the heart breaking decision that he would have a much easier upbringing if she sent him home to Ireland to live with her parents. Phil would later celebrate both his grandmother and mother in the songs ” Sarah” and “Philomena” as a way of showing his huge respect and love for both of them and the role they would play in his formative years. His grandmother had a hard time of keeping a watchful eye over him but he excelled at school and even toyed with the idea of becoming an architect upon finishing. “I wanted to be an architect but you know, you walk in to the job centre sayin’ ya wanna be an architect and come out with a job as a fitter and turner!” (4)

Growing up in 1950’s Ireland, Phil grew up with the inevitable bigotry that existed at that time. Persons of mixed race parentage were rare in Ireland and he became used to the jibes and condemnation of his peers but would never take it lying down. He would spend a lot of time in the school playground practising his self defence which allied to his tall build meant he was never an easy target. It was these childhood experiences which instilled in him two things, a toughness to defend himself; what he believed in, and a realisation that he was different to those kids around him.

He would enjoy mixing with the other kids and as a teenager, would enjoy the company of a string of girlfriends. However, it was music which really captured his attention and playing in several local bands would provide an escape route for the budding Irish poet and musician with an urge to write.

He would soon join his first regular band where he would show his determination to stand out as the frontman by posing on stage with one black glove and a constant gaze at the spotlight as he sang, ever aware, that it was planted firmly on him and that it was he, who was the centre of attention. It was a sight that impressed local drummer Brian Downey so much that he asked Phil if he would like to form a band and so, in forming The Black Eagles they would begin a steadfast musical partnership that would last throughout Philip’s life. The band didn’t last long however and Philip soon took over vocal duties for another Dublin band, Skid Row.

It was during this time that of the most significant parts of Phil’s life took shape. First, he decided that to further himself as a musician, he needed to actually play an instrument and so he took up the bass. His role in Skid Row had also brought him into contact with Gary Moore who would go on to become a lifelong friend, albeit with a few bumpy incidents along the road.

Phil didn’t last long in Skid Row and soon found himself without a band when the three original members of Skid Row decided that they would work better as a three piece. But, he wouldn’t be down for long and following a chance meeting with Belfast guitarist Eric Bell, the two, along with Philip’s old friend Brian Downey would form the three piece that would ultimately become known as Thin Lizzy.

In 1970, they would release their first Irish single “The Farmer” and following some relentless gigging they decided to make the inevitable move to England. This line-up of the band would release three albums, one including the hit single “Whiskey in the Jar” and would give Phil his first taste of commercial success. A taste he soon got a liking for. Following Eric Bell’s departure due to the stresses and strains of relentless touring and gigging, Phil re-united with Gary Moore for the first of three short but fruitful stints with the band. In 1974 after Gary Moore had departed, Phil and Brian were forced to look for another guitarist.

“Me and Brian had realised, that in the studio, a lot of the songs we were working contained a two guitar line-up.”(5) With this in mind the pair would begin a search for not one, but two new guitarists, and with Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson on board they would form what is widely regarded as “the classic line-up”. It was with this line-up that the band would record the “Fighting” and “Nightlife” albums. The huge success of these LPs would lead Phil to the super stardom, critical acclaim and financial success he had always craved. He would perfect his on-stage persona of a rebel, a persona that seemed to fit so perfectly with the times.

In his personal life he had met and married his ideal woman. Caroline Crowther had stolen his heart and soon after would give birth to his two beautiful daughters who would become the centre of his universe. He was on top of the world both on and off the stage.

While maintaining their success would not be a problem for the band, they would suffer the inevitable ups and downs that affect all the successful, hard living rock n’ roll bands of the time. Gary Moore would once again join the band, at first, temporarily replacing Brian Robertson after he sustained a hand injury before replacing him full time after Phil had become tired of his increasing unreliability and fondness for the excesses of rock n’ roll life.

With Gary Moore back on board, the band would then set about trying to top the success of the “Live and Dangerous” album, considered one of the greatest live albums of all time. It would show the world what an explosive band they could be live and is commonly regarded as their zenith. It was at this point that those closest to him would sense a change in Phil. It seemed as if the pressures of success had started to weigh heavily on him for the first time. He was fully aware of the excesses and temptations available to a man in his position but as these pressures began to take their toll and a feeling that he had to live up to his “rebel” persona at all times, he would give in to these temptations. In what may ultimately be regarded as a fatal decision, he would begin to dabble with harder substances, most notably heroin.

Phil’s life would become a contradiction at this time, as he would try to juggle his career with Thin Lizzy with his duties as a father and husband. As he veered further off the rails with his drug and alcohol abuse while on the road, Caroline would leave him and take the kids. Heartbroken, he would spiral further and further into a drug dependency.

In 1979, Gary Moore would once again depart the band as, just as Phil had tired of Brian Robertson’s excesses, so too Gary had tired of Phil’s. Moore would later admit, “It quickly became apparent to me that things were going downhill. Phil just wanted to have a good time basically, and it seemed like he didn’t give a damn about performing.”(6)

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The band would recruit guitarist Snowy White and would record two more albums (Chinatown and Renegade) but despite both having their high points they would never garner the commercial and critical acclaim of the band’s previous work. Like Gary Moore and Brian Robertson before him, Snowy wouldn’t last long in Thin Lizzy. After recruiting John Sykes, Phil would decide that the next Lizzy album would be their last. “Thunder and Lightning” like the bands two previous releases would not hit the heights of their earlier efforts and the band would finally call it a day, playing their final gig in 1983 at the Reading Festival.

Finding himself without “his band” for the first time in over a decade and having long since lost the love of his life and any normal relationships with his beloved children, Phil continued with his drug and alcohol abuse. He would however, attempt to forge a new musical path and would follow up a failed attempt at beginning a new band (Grand Slam), with an attempt at a solo career. He had previously released two solo albums while being a member of Thin Lizzy and though both sold modestly he had always had the safety net, that his “day job” in the band, would offer him. This time he would be going it fully alone.

1985 began with a renewed sense of optimism, as after securing a record deal with Polydor, he would release two new singles. “Out In The Fields”, which saw him once again collaborate with Gary Moore and “Nineteen” would be met with generally positive responses and critics had praised how his sound had evolved from the hard-edged rock n roll of his work with Thin Lizzy. A new solo album was very much anticipated and his fans would be eager to hear a full length album.

Tragically the world would never get to hear it as, during the Christmas period of 1985, Phil would be taken ill with a suspected flu. However, his condition would deteriorate rapidly and he would tragically pass away at the age of 36, on January 4th 1986. To the shock of his beloved mother, Philomena and his legions of fans it would be revealed that Phil had been intravenously using heroin for years and this abuse would cause multiple abscesses, eventually leading to severe blood poisoning. The official cause of death – liver, kidney and heart failure stemming from blood poisoning.

“When I’m in England, I say I’m from Ireland. When I’m in Ireland, I say I’m from Dublin. When I’m in Dublin, I say I’m from Crumlin. When I’m in Crumlin, I say I’m from Leighlin Road and when I’m in Leighlin Road, I say I’m a Lynott. Phil Lynott.”

If any Irish musician ever embodied the spirit of rock n’ roll it was Phil Lynott. His music has influenced artists such as Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, The Darkness, The Strokes and many more and Phil’s status as a truly great musician is forever assured. As a country, Ireland and Dublin, in particular can be proud to have produced such an artist. From the iconic statue gazing out on to Grafton St. where, in the early days of Lizzy, Phil would strut down on his way to a rehearsal or a recording studio, as if on his very own catwalk to the ha’penny bridge which was the centrepiece of the video for “Old Town”, you can almost feel Phil’s presence. He can lay claim to being the city’s first great rock star and it’s most iconic.

On his passing, the music world lost one of its true greats and the loss is still felt today, not only by his family and friends like his ever loving mother Philomena, his kids and former band mates but by the millions of fans and musicians that he inspired over his relatively short but glittering career.

“The father of Irish rock will always be remembered for his enthusiasm, for the loyalty he showed to his friends and his ability to inspire others to break the system and get through it, as he had done himself.”

Father Brian Darcy – Phil Lynott’s funeral mass: January 1986

Lynott, Phil (1973) – Vagabond of the Western World (From the LP “Vagabonds of the Western World”.

Lynott, Philomena – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1297458/l

Lynott, Philomena – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1297458/l

Renegade : The Philip Lynott Story – ©RTE 1982

Renegade : The Philip Lynott Story – ©RTE 1982

Shred, Bobby – http://www.angelfire.com/nj/thinlizzy/bio.html


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