In Dublin, the name Phil Lynott carries as much significance as James Joyce.
That’s what I ultimately learned after visiting the Irish Rock ‘N Roll Museum Experience within the city’s Temple Bar district last month. My wife, Jen, and I were in Dublin as part of our UK honeymoon, and were seeking things to do. That’s when I noticed a small pamphlet at the Irish Tourism Office featuring a picture of Lynott, the late, great Thin Lizzy frontman, on the cover, advertising the Museum.
“That sounds like an Ira activity,” Jen said, without missing a beat. Tickets were booked, and the next day we were at the Museum, essentially a large recording studio and performance space previously graced by the likes of such Irish music luminaries as Sinead O’Connor, the Boomtown Rats and Van Morrison.
The walking tour is largely personalized, lasts about an hour, and costs the equivalent of $20 American, but it’s worth it to ultimately reach the Thin Lizzy exhibit, located inside an immaculate recording studio. The room is stocked with vintage Lizzy treasures – a gold record for Alive and Dangerous, Lynott’s actual bass (rightfully behind glass), colorful tour jackets – all personally donated by Phil’s mother, Philomena (God bless her!).
But this was a bittersweet experience for two reasons. One, Lynott died 30 years ago at age of 36. Two, this only reminded me that Thin Lizzy were never the stateside megastars they should have been. Sure, we hear “The Boys are Back in Town” every 18 minutes on classic rock radio, but the band is usually written off as a one-hit wonder. But what about their other twin-guitar, hard rock anthems like “Wild One,” “Bad Reputation,” “Jailbreak” and “Waiting for an Alibi.” I mean, c’mon!!!
I must add that the Museum pays great tribute to Irish guitar legend Rory Gallagher as well. Unfortunately, if forced to choose between the two (unfair I know!), it’s Phil all the way. After all, he made the notion of bass players fronting groups look and sound the coolest. Plus his band was a haven for guitarists to shine – Eric Bell, Brian Robertson, Scott Gorham, Gary Moore and Snowy White included.
Photos of Phil are so popular at the Museum they sell out instantly. Fortunately I found a framed one of the band’s early days for 30 euros ($34). Jen knew I wasn’t leaving the basement souvenir shop without it. On the vinyl side though, I wasn’t as lucky. All I wanted was an LP of Fighting (1975) (my favorite Lizzy album). Again I heard those two dreaded words – “sold out.”
Fortunately, the musical gods smiled down. Dublin has a nearby Tower Records (what!!??) in Temple Bar and once inside you are greeted by all things Phil Lynott be they CD, vinyl or photo. Another 25 euros ($28), and the album was headed straight for my suitcase for the long journey home.
There is a point to this buildup. I had to travel nearly 3,000 miles across the ocean to find others who appreciate Thin Lizzy as much as I do. Every once in a while, prominent bands like Metallica throw them a shout-out, but apart from “The Boys,” we don’t hear them nearly enough here in the US. Many of their albums are out of print on CD. They’ve never even been on a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot even though they’ve been eligible for induction since 1996. In Ireland though, they’re legends.
That being said, there’s a ten year, ten album canon worth exploring (1973’s Vagabonds of the Western World to 1983’s Thunder and Lightning) whichever way you can. Rest assured– somewhere within those bookends you’ll be hooked.
I’ll be personally testing this theory on Jen – my favorite guinea pig – soon enough.
Dig the column? Reach out to Ira via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ira_kantor