Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Pete Hamill and the Clancy Brothers -- a St. Patrick's Day reflection.

I first met Pete Hamill in 1994, at a Barnes & Noble bookstore on Fifth Avenue in Midtown. He was there signing copies of his newly published autobiography, A Drinking Life. I handed him my copy and said I had started drinking at the Lion's Head, a Greenwich Village saloon Pete had loved, about a year after he had quit drinking, and had gotten to know his brothers Denis and John there. He signed my book, "For Claude, who keeps the flame alive." There was a line behind me, so our conversation was necessarily brief. 

I next saw him several years later, when he was in a panel discussion at Brooklyn Borough Hall on a topic I can't recall. When the talk ended, I went up to him, sure I would have to re-introduce myself. Before I could, he extended a hand and said, "Hello Claude, how are you?" I've mentioned this to several people who knew Pete well; the response was always to the effect of, "Yep, that's Pete."

Two years after our encounter at Barnes & Noble, the Lion's Head closed. Pete noted the occasion with a column in the New York Times, "A Whisky-Golden Time." He declined the opportunity to go there for the Head's final night farewell party, "because I didn't want to spend a night carousing with ghosts."
They would all be there, moving among the living, as if it were just another packed, dense night in the late 1960's. They would reach past shoulders for fresh drinks or curse some politician or wander to the big table in the back room where Tommy Clancy of the Clancy Brothers was singing, ''Castles are sacked in war, chieftains are scattered far/truth is a fixed star, Eileen Aroon . . .''

Pete, his brother John, and the Clancys are all gone now. I'm blessed to have known Pete and John, and cherish the memory of having, at the bar of the Lion's Head, sung a duet with Paddy Clancy without knowing who he was until I was told later. So I pass on to you, my reader, beannachtaí na féile Pádraig, "blessings of St. Patrick."