In keeping with the new print edition’s focus on (im)migration, here’s my vintage review of an album written by a multi-talented force in American popular culture, now submerged, still felt—the more detail you read (mostly in academic archives) about his musicals, the more you might consider a continuity.
A fine kettle of all nations, steaming like relations
McNally’s Row of Flats
Mick Moloney starts McNally’s Row of Flats with a tip o’ the top hat to politician-landlord Timothy McNally,
“beloved” of his tenants. Speaking of whom,
hurrah for them all, fresh off the boat: “And it’s Ireland and Italy, Jerusalem
and Germany, Chinese and Africans (originally ‘Negars’), and a paradise for
rats. All jumbled up together, in the snow and rainy weather.” It was a familiar
NY sight in 1882, as described by Ned Harrigan, then at the peak of his fame
as an innovative playwright, lyricist, actor, director, and designer. He keeps
stepping briskly, past “hungry cats, lyin’ on the benches, dyin’ there by
inches, from the open ventilation,” not just for irony’s sake, but because the
people he’s tracking are moving so quickly too. Third-generation (and
scrupulously secular) Irish American Harrigan’s tirelessly telescopic perspective on his
characters’ clamor can seem further distanced by veteran performer and
folklorist Moloney’s mild-mannered lucidity. But the songs, parading the compacted,
periodically unfurled thoughts and feelings of the people rolling
through them, still have plenty of potential.
Mick Moloney plays CUNY Graduate Center and Bowery Poetry Club May 6.
(Originally published in the Village Voice, April 28th, 2006 4:08 PM Issue 18)