Copyright: Joe Jackson.
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Preface. The Back Story of Eamon Dunphy: Conversations With A Loudmouth.
The Axeman Speaketh. That’s the headline which was emblazoned across the cover of an Irish magazine that published what I am often told is my “legendary” 1996 interview with Eamon Dunphy. Legendary is a label that is too often ridiculously over-used, probably should only be applied posthumously and as “Eamo” and I ain’t dead yet, let’s push that to one side.
However, that 1996 interview certainly is the longest Dunphy ever did. We
recorded no less than eleven hours on tape over a two-day period and the subsequent article ran over nine A3 sized pages in two issues of that Irish magazine. It must have been hell for those who hate Dunphy. And for those who see him as a “loudmouth,” which is a word I use ironically in the title of this book because this is not what he revealed himself to be during our interview and, as such, it became a one dimensional image I wanted to undo.
Unfortunately, even though many of the quotes Dunphy gave me led to a feeding frenzy in the Irish media, particularly among the tabloids, for at least a month, a lot of material never made it into that magazine. Such as, for example, a 1,669-word exchange I had with Dunphy, who was the author of the first official biography of U2, Unforgettable Fire: The Story of U2, about the Irish band. Indeed, it was only when I went back to the typescript in order to put together this book I noticed the cut. And that cut was made even more inexplicable given that at the end of part one of the interview, as published in the magazine, a preview of part two claimed that one of the subjects Dunphy would discuss was U2!
Nevertheless, every comment – many heavily critical, of Bono, in particular – of the band and its manager Paul McGuinness seem somehow to have gotten lost along the way. But, as I say, I didn’t notice at the time. So I didn’t storm into the office of the editor of that magazine, which I have elsewhere light-heartedly described as a ‘U2 newsletter,’ and demand to know, “What the hell happened to all the comments Dunphy made about your darling rock ‘n’ roll band?” Either way that exchange about U2 is included in this book and you can make up your own mind as to why it may have been censored or simply somehow got lost, let’s say, in translation.
Also included in this book is much material that hasn’t previously been published. The original interview as published was roughly 20,000 words long, Conversations With A Loudmouth, comes in at about 45,000 words and included a follow on interview Dunphy and I did in 2000, 70% of which makes its debut in this setting. If you do hate ED, this ain’t the place to be.
But it was during the first interview – the second is more muted, more reflective, although similarly revealing – that Dunphy, ‘Sensationally,’ as the tabloids might say, really let rip. Tellingly, in fact, he referred to tabloid newspapers such as the Sun, which he now writes, as, “shite.” Dunphy also rather recklessly swung his axe in the direction of many “Holy Cows” in Irish society. As part of our duelling dialogue about the ideological tensions between The Irish Times, for which I wrote at the time, and the Sunday Independent, for which he wrote – and I later would – Dunphy admitted he once warned Fintan O’ Toole, he was “going to break his f….. g legs.”
He also suggested that Aengus Fanning, editor of the Sunday Independent, privately regarded media guru, Eoghan Harris, as a “dipstick.” Not only that, Dunphy made public for the first time – although no media commentator mentioned this – the relationship between the late Fanning and Anne Harris, Eoghan’s former wife, and a woman who became my mentor and I admire. This led to him being taken to task by both and is a disclosure I now regret.
Dunphy likewise swung that bloodied axe in the direction of another of my employers at the time, RTE, Ireland’s most prestigious and popular national broadcasting network. He said that Gay Byrne was “suffering from the same post-achievement syndrome as Jack Charlton” and should have “gone with dignity.” Similarly, he suggested that Gerry Ryan was “no good on TV” because he had “no personality,” that Joe Duffy “grates” on people, Cynthia Ni Mhurchu, is “Naked Ambition” and Brenda Donoghue, “should be in a home for the bewildered.” Clearly, Ireland’s Mr. ED took no prisoners.
But he was as mercilessly honest when it came to himself. For example, Dunphy acknowledged for the first time in public that he used cocaine, “had nothing against bisexuality or homosexuality,” and broke down in tears while talking about the battle he and his mother once fought against a possible eviction. Not that his critics were impressed, some said the tears were false, stage-managed, meant merely to evoke sympathy. Others, many of those I mentioned above, and more, gave back as good, or rather, as bad as they got, in print or on the national airwaves.
The 1996 interview was even later used against Eamon Dunphy during a libel case brought against Dunphy and the Sunday Independent by Irish politician Proinsias De Rossa. De Rosa won the case. Two further financial settlements, in similar cases, hastened Dunphy’s exit from the Sunday Independent. At least that’s what “Eamo” told me during that second interview we did, for the Sunday Independent, after he left the newspaper.
Incidentally, the fact that Eamon seemed to bear no personal grudges against me in terms of our first interview can be gleaned from the fact that he told Aengus Fanning and Anne Harris I was the “only Sunday Independent journalist” – I had recently joined its ranks – he would give an interview to.
Then again, more recently, during December 2012, Dunphy sent me a humorous text message – at least I presume he was joking – after I made a joking reference to our “killer” 1996 interview. ‘It nearly killed me!’ he replied. On the other hand, there are those, and I did put this question to Eamon in 2000, who claimed that he had deliberately used me during that first interview to flesh out his public image, in preparation for a move into radio, and that, in this sense, rather than “kill” ED it helped him to be reborn.
There are also those, among them one Sunday Times journalist, who claim that the 1996 Dunphy interview is one of my best. Do I regard it as such? No. If only because I now know there were two key areas of Eamon’s life that we most definitely did not discuss in depth, although they were subjects we touched upon. But it wasn’t until a decade later, one night, near dawn, as Dunphy and I sat in a Dublin nightclub, he admitted to me something that made me realise our interviews had not been as definitive as I had hoped.
I tell that tale, and others of a more personal nature, in The Joe Jackson Files article I wrote for the Sunday Independent in 2010, and include as the epilogue for this book. I also tell the story of how our first interview came about, which bears repeating here.
At the time, Dunphy could frequently be heard roaring at me, sometimes in pretty posh places such as the tearooms in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel, “Interview me, you c..t!” And if that wasn’t enough to rattle some sugar cubes and silver spoons, this most genteel of greetings would then usually be followed by Dunphy bellowing, “You haven’t arrived in Irish culture and society until you’ve been interviewed by this guy: Joe Jackson!”
Of course, I knew this was the kind of wind up we Irish love to perpetrate – even if what Eamon said is true. So says my mother and my girlfriends. But more seriously, having that claim roared publicly articulated by the ‘legendary’ Eamon Dunphy sure as hell didn’t damage my reputation as an interviewer for The Irish Times, for that Irish magazine or as a broadcaster for RTE Radio 1. There were even nights when I brought, for example, an interviewee such as Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City, to Lillie’s Bordello – a nightclub not a brothel, I hasten to add – and I longed for Dunphy to appear and roar across the room that nonsense. Sadly, on those nights, he didn’t arrive and I had to hire instead another kind of town crier.
That said, there was one particular night Eamon Dunphy and I were both present in the “library,” as in private members bar, of “Lillie’s” and I knocked the guy on his ass. Why? Let’s leave that story for the epilogue.
Incidentally, Conversations With A Loudmouth was originally due to be published in 2003. It had been commissioned by an Irish publisher, was edited, proofread, passed by their legal department and ready to print in time for the Christmas market that year. Sadly, the publisher had a major mishap in relation to another book, so mine, and many others, were “pulled” and I gave up on the project. But you can’t keep a good man down, as Elvis says in, Stranger In My Own Hometown, it now is nearly a decade later, and I have decided to revive the project. I dedicate the book to “Eamo” himself.
Joe Jackson. Glasthule, Dublin, December 26th 2012.