Fifteen years ago, I lived two blocks from one of the coolest bars in Chicago. By day, Seanchai’s was an Irish pub, whose clientele was mainly old men. By night, it was a punk bar — specifically on Punk Rock Wednesdays. St. Patrick’s Day that year fell on a Wednesday, and was the first time I ever went there. I drank rounds of Guinness and Jameson, and sang along with the tunes spun by the DJ — the usual punk rock fare, plus a lot of Pogues and Dropkick Murphy’s. At one point, a drunk kid started wobbling his way around the barroom. He said he was taking a poll, the only question being: “Cheap Trick or Thin Lizzy?” To a man, everyone answered: “T(h)in Lizzy.” “I thought at least a few people would choose Cheap Trick,” he said. “I mean, they are from Illinois.” “You’re in an Irish/punk bar on St. Paddy’s Day,” I said. “Did you really not know Thin Lizzy would win?”
No offense to Cheap Trick, they were alright. But Thin Lizzy rocked harder and had more soul, not to mention Phil Lynott’s gorgeously ragged voice.
Nearly four years later, I was in an Irish pub in Milwaukee. The bartender was a cute Irishman and I was high-key swooning over him. He’d selected the playlist that evening, and noticed me singing along. When the Thin Lizzy version of “Whiskey in the Jar” came on, he got excited. “Listen to that beautiful hi-hat,” he said, referencing the refrain, where it goes: “Musha ring dumb a do dumb a da,” tcchh-tcchh-tcchh-h. “I’m a drummer,” he said, “and I’ve never quite been able to achieve that sound.” I agreed it was a perfect beat, but said that what got me about the song was the guitar solo at the beginning, before the full band blasts in — how it is both clarion and electrifying.
It’s St. Paddy’s Day, 2019, as I write this. I’m listening to Tin Lizzy and drinking a toast to Phil Lynott. There’s whiskey in the jar-o.
(Song recommendation by Jessie Lynn McMains)