Glen Hansard on “Once” and New York fame

The view from the back of the room. The tiny venue was packed.

The view from the back of the room. The tiny venue was packed.

Last night at I had a chance to hear Glen Hansard speak in the intimate surrounds of Glucksman Ireland House. The audience was promised that Hansard – who achieved fame with his film Once and especially the recent production of a musical version on Broadway – would “tal[k] about music and songwriting.” That he did, though he repeatedly warned the audience he was entirely unprepared. As with songs and music, spontaneity (or unpreparedness) is what makes a performance magical – “or a disaster.”

Despite and of course because he seemed to have arrived without a script, he gave an expert performance, reeling the audience in with humble anecdotes about his process and his heroes, and musing philosophically about the nature of composition. Hansard has fully nailed what it means to be Irish in New York, presenting himself as a whimsical outsider – an artist-creator-writer – who had the smarts to succeed. He injected the night with pathos, asking us all to join him in singing “The Parting Glass” at the evening’s end.

The musician chatted away happily about his friendship with fellow musician Damien Rice, saying they often critique each other’s songs. Apparently, Rice “always says, you refer to your heart too much in your songs,” Hansard’s response: “I think he talks about his sexual organs a lot.” (This got plenty of laughs.) He spoke of his adulation of Bob Dylan, whom he eventually got to meet; and about how his life changed after the success of Once. An artist needs to observe others, he posited. “We’re all watchers and learners. There’s a weird thing that happens with celebrity, a kind of violent and weird thing, because suddently you’re the one who’s observed.”

I had forgotten that Hansard grew up in Ballymun – a public housing project that was notorious during my (middle class) youth – and dropped out of school when he was quite young to busk on Dublin’s streets. His first taste of success was with The Commitments, a film that was huge in Dublin back in 1991. I recall listening to the angsty Frames songs Revelate, as an angst-ridden Dublin teen.

Hansard's latest album is Rhythm and Repose.

Hansard’s latest album is Rhythm and Repose.

With the astonishing success of Once, his career may have exceeded his wildest dreams, though he is certainly someone who dreams big. “When you hoist your sails towards your goal, whatever your goal is – when you aim your sails at a target, even if it’s a moving one, every single gust of wind, every single breath of air that’s heading in that direction you can  catch, and you move a millimeter towards something.”

By the time he had whiled away an hour in a blend of humility and ambition, and sung a few songs, the audience were completely in love. It was a fun night. As Hansard put it, “The bottom line is, I just talked a bunch of sh** for an hour.” He added, “Some of it might end up being kind of interesting.”

I’ll be reporting on this in the Irish Echo and will have better pics by then too.

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