In Honour of St. Phil’s Day
Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed boys that had been away
Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy
In the summer of 1976, I was very nearly 8 years old when my uncle Warren, my dad’s younger brother, came to visit for a few weeks. Warren must have been about 14 or 15 years old then, and most of what he brought with him came down to cigarettes, his mini-bike and Thin Lizzy Jailbreak. He put that song on, thinking that he was going to completely blow my mind, but I had already heard it on the radio, twice, and as such had already had my mind completely blown that many times. But no matter, by then I was totally craving that song, so to have it and the album cover close at hand were quite beneficial to a burgeoning obsessive mind. I could not stop looking at the cover of that thing, studying it. For bringing such a thing into my home and saving me from having to examine any further the cover of my mom’s Ocean album, could there have been anyone cooler than my uncle in the whole entire world?
The answer is yes, but only one: Phil Lynott, writer of “The Boys Are Back in Town,” the second song I ever felt strongly enough about in my life to consider my favourite song. The first was “Seasons in the Sun,” by Terry Jacks and the Poppy Family, and for good reason.
It’s worth noting that each of my first two favourite songs turns on the notion of change of season, explicitly in Jacks’ case, with his attention directed wistfully back toward the times when things were better, whereas Lynott’s protagonist is forward-looking and optimistic. Something has just happened that holds the promise of things being about to get really good.
Like the swallows’ return to Capistrano signals Spring’s return in that place, the first sighting of ‘the Boys’ is a telltale sign that summer is upon them in this, and as the dual power chording guitars set things hurtling into motion, Lynott’s bassline is all nervous energy. The possibilities, at this moment, are endless.
They were asking if you were around
How you was, where you could be found
Told them you were living downtown
Driving all the old men crazy
Who are ‘the Boys’? You know them because everybody knows them. Not everybody loves them, mind you, but those ones who don’t, they’re a distinct minority because what’s not to love about those Boys? But not everybody is as equally tight with them, either. This song chronicles a conversation with a couple of guys who know the Boys well enough it seems, but they aren’t part of the core group of three, maybe four, who come and go together as is necessary to keep the world moving forward as it should. Johnny is the leader and no wonder, he’s a pretty cool dude. Witness…
You know that chick that used to dance a lot
Every night she’d be on the floor shaking what she’d got
Man when I tell you she was cool, she was red hot
I mean she was steaming
And that time over at Johnny’s place
Well this chick got up and she slapped Johnny’s face
Man we just fell about the place
If that chick don’t want to know, forget her
Chicks, eh? Johnny had probably said something to her, or more likely not said something to her, as in, on the phone, the next day, after he promised he’d call, y’know? But still, exactly how hot did that girl think she was, and how far can you really expect that to take you, especially when it’s the Boys we’re talking about? And, you’re not really going to try to say that, after pulling a trick like that, she’s not lucky that she’s a girl and that Johnny is a gentlemen, are you? Because check it: you don’t exactly have to cajole the Boys into misbehaving a little.
Friday night they’ll be dressed to kill
Down at Dino’s bar and grill
The drink will flow and blood will spill
And if the boys want to fight, you’d better let them
That jukebox in the corner blasting out my favorite song*
The nights are getting warmer, it won’t be long
Won’t be long till summer comes
Now that the boys are here again
You spread the word around. It’s Phil Lynott’s birthday today.
*If you want to apply this very literally to me in person, then the jukebox in question would be the one in the Boston Pizza down the road from Sherwood Heights by the old Safeway, and the Carpenters’ “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” would eventually supplant this song as that which was blasted.