presents... Interesting Motherfucker: (noun)
An individual exhibiting such uniqueness or individuality that he or she will cause a roomful of bar cronies to exclaim, "That's one interesting motherfucker!" Actual sexual relations with one's mother are not required.

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By Wil Forbis

"Death is no easy answer, for those who wish to know." Warriors, JailBreak - Thin Lizzy

There are certain bands of which it is an accepted notion that one should either hate or love them, and failing to heed such beliefs can cause a vociferous response from those with whom you find yourself conversating. For example, were you to say, "I think Sugar Ray are the epochal rock band of modern times," you're like to receive icy glares and perhaps even suffer attacks involving kitchen appliances. (And rightly so!)  Inversely, if you say, "I think the Velvet Underground were a bunch of no-talent hacks," (As I have, many a time.) you will be forced to accustom your ears the pained bleatings of shrill hipsters who will explain how the VU "deconstructed rock and roll to its bare, primal elements and thus freed the art form to etc, etc."

Thin Lizzy was not one of these bands. While they're certainly an accomplished group, and their name should be familiar to anyone with a general knowledge of pop music's citizenry, they've never really inspired much passion in either direction from the totality of rock music fandom. Were you to blithely announce at a Saturday Night kegger that you thought Thin Lizzy were the worst collection of musicians since the Mesozoic era (excluding, of course, the ill-fated Dino Stegosaurus and his Armor-Plated All Stars), you probably wouldn't get more than a half raised eyebrow. Or, if you gushingly effused that Thin Lizzy's 1977 record "Bad Reputation" was the pinnacle of modern pop composition the most you could count on would be a friendly nod before someone changed the subject.

And why is this? In truth, when you sit down with a Thin Lizzy record in hand and prepare to spend your time, say, writing an Interesting Motherfuckers article on Thin Lizzy's frontman, Phil Lynott, you're reminded of the fact they really had some good tunes. I'm not going to lie and try and tell you that Thin Lizzy's music is the best thing around, or that they were an exceptionally "important" rock and roll band, or that my penis is anything less than 16 inches long, but there's no denying that the Thin Lizzy's repertoire, mostly driven by Lynott's singing and songwriting, has been ignored more than it should.

The hoards of grunting, steaming, stinking uneducated masses would be most familiar with Thin Lizzy's 1976 album "JailBreak." It's got some good tunes like "Angel From the Coast," "The Cowboy Song" and the overplayed "Boys are Back in Town" but I've never felt it was a standout Lizzy album. It's easily outshined by the first Lizzy album I ever came across, "Black Rose" (1979), which features the eerily prophetic "Got to Give it Up" and sickly sweet "Sarah." Closing in on that would be 1977's "Bad Reputation" with its cheery "Opium Trail" and jubilant "Dancing in the Moonlight."

However, if Lizzy were simply an above average rock band I would feel no urge to single out their lead singer for the honor of an Interesting Motherfucker's article now would I? The truth is, I've always been fascinated by Philip Lynott ever since hearing the above mentioned "I've Got to Give it Up." The song provides an anguished account of Lynott's battles with drug and drink and seems acutely aware of the fact that it is as much a self-eulogy as an attempt to wrestle with inextinguishable desires. And being that Lynott did die (of drug abuse) less than a decade after penning the song it came across as that much more self important and visionary and Lynott himself took on the sheen of a great literary figure - one who's life seemed to have been scripted as much as it was lived. Why, so caught up in the transcendence of Lynott's life that it was mere fourteen years later that I finally found the time to research his biography and truly revel in his career. (Hey, I had to get through my twenties first.)

Lynott was a member of that rarest breed - the Black Irish. Born in 1949 to an Irish mother and Brazilian father who disappeared months after his birth, he grew up in Dublin, mostly under the watchful eye of his grandparents. In later years he made reference the racism he encountered from his peers, but Phil was not excluded from the culture of his surroundings, indeed, he was very much an Irishman - a drinker, a brawler and a braggadocio. And even worse, a musician! Lynott was singing in bands in his teens, in various units that would feature future members of Thin Lizzy like guitarist Gary Moore and drummer Brian Downey. Eventually he got around to playing the bass and joined an early incarnation of Lizzy under the creative direction of guitarist Eric Bell. But early TL was almost an entirely different organization than what it evolved into, and it took rampant touring, several album releases and Bell's departure before the band really became Phil Lynott's Thin Lizzy.

Three guitars, a bottle of wine and thou:
Now the quintessential "Thin Lizzy sound" can be found on any of the aforemention albums, or pretty much anything they released from 1975 on. The first thing you notice is their constant use of harmonized guitars (played by any two or three of the six guitarists who frequented Lizzy's ranks) providing dense melodic lines. Underneath that Lynott's limber bass lines traversed the song. The cherry on top was Lynott's plaintive wails, his voice emulating Jimi Hendrix just as much as his hairstyle.

After the release of "Night Life" in 1974, Phil and the boys embarked on their first U.S. tour, opening for Bob Seger and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The tour had a big effect on the group, driving home the level of dedication and craft needed to run a world-class rock and roll unit. Despite the fact they were all imbibing illicit and unhealthy substances by the gallon (or needlefull), it was a level the band managed to meet and the end result was their most famous release, "Jailbreak." This was followed by a string of several other successful albums through the seventies, all of which caused the groups stock and mental state to go higher and higher. (Guitarists came and went as well, with Gary Moore quitting and rejoining the band at least four times.)

Lynott's drug use darkened in 1977 when he began a practice of bringing himself down from his cocaine highs with the use of tranquilizers. Their tour manager, Frank Murray recalled the period, saying ".he'd do all this coke to keep him awake until five in the morning, and then take a load of sleeping pills to get himself to sleep. Then there'd be someone knocking on his door a few hours later trying to get him on the bus to the next town. Consequently, he'd usually be in a really foul mood, and he'd be looking for a fight." And as Lynott became less and less a pleasure to be around tensions in the band increased and member loyalty swung low. (Though I should note, "Black Rose" my favorite Lizzy album was released in this period.) Gary Moore lamented, "It quickly became apparent to me that things were going downhill. Phil just wanted to have a good time basically, and it seemed like he didn't give a shit about performing. It got to the point where the party after the show was more important than the show itself. Phil was becoming harder and harder to work with. You couldn't get him out of his hotel room, for a start. We were always late for everything. Scott used to call us the most unprofessional professional band in the business, and he was dead right."

Groovy Side Projects:
In 1978 Phil and Brian Downey played in a side project called the Greedies which featured Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. Other side projects Lynott contributed to include a band with Bob Geldof and a child hood favorite of mine, the musical version of War of the Worlds.

Lizzy kept going and lasted until 1983 when they went out on a year-long farewell tour/drug binge. After that Phil released several solo albums (none of which I've heard, and from what I've read, I probably don't want to.) and played with a new band under the evocatively 80's name, "Grand Slam." His addictions crept forward, his wife and children left him, and his behavior became more and more unhinged. On Christmas morning in 1985 he was found unconscious and he died nine days later.

The story of Lynott's life and death is almost undistinguishable from that of dozens of rocks stars who've burned out young and I can't really say why I find his saga more compelling than Elvis or Kurt Cobain or Old Dirty Bastard or Rick Derringer. (What? He's still alive?). I think I just happened to stumble onto the legacy of Lynott when I was first discovering rock and roll and hadn't grown tired of the repeated tale of "young man makes music, takes drugs, dies" that's been played out over rock's lengthy lifespan. But in addition, few rock and roll causalities seemed as aware of their fate as Lynott. Most of his songs (and album covers) portrayed him as a rough and tumble hustler with a gleam in his eye, and as such it was often a bit of a surprise to hear some of the genuinely tender and earnest (Earnestness being one of the high crimes of rock and roll lyrics.) ruminations on Lynott's lifestyle and providence. The question that them comes to mind is whether Lynott died because of his anticipation of death or vice verse or anticipated his death because of some mystical, Irish-borne insight that allowed him to see what was and should not be.

Beats me.

Wil Forbis is the pen named shared by such noted authors as James Ellroy, Katie Roiphe, and Jim Thompson. E-mail him, I mean, them, at

View Wil's Acid Logic web log, a stirring endorsement of sex with pandas!

Additional Phil Lynott Material:

Good TL bio : Provides and enticing look at the rise and fall of a rock band.

Another good TL bio :
You can't have too many.
One of the oldest TL pages on the web, going back several centuries.

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