Just returned from the old country, where the familial ties that bind were pulled tighter and I got hopelessly drunk on sentiment. Among the treasures I unearthed while there was Angel’s Serenade, a John McCormack compilation of religious songs. It’s nearly enough to make a believer of me.
But not quite. McCormack came from Athlone, the next big town west of my own home place of Mullingar. He was a big deal, trained by Vincenzo Sabatini in Milan, a star in Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana at Covent Garden and later in America, and compared favourably to none other than Enrico Caruso. Someone to swell Irish hearts with pride.
I knew none of this while growing up. McCormack didn’t even occupy a position on the periphery of my particular orbit. He belonged to another time and, perhaps more accurately, another class. The kind that made opera and classical music elitist. It wasn’t for the likes of me.
Then I read an interview with Tom Waits in which he cited McCormack as an influence. If you listen to ‘Innocent When You Dream’ from Waits’ Frank’s Wild Years, you’ll hear that influence explicitly. Anyway, if McCormack was alright with Tom, he was alright with me. I’ve been a devotee ever since. Have a look at this clip and you’ll realise why.