Ode To A Black Rocker: A Personal Reflection on Phil Lynott

Philip Parris “Phil” Lynott was the bassist, lead vocalist, primary songwriter, composer, and legendary front man of Thin Lizzy.  He was born August 20th, 1949 in West Bromwich, England and died tragically on January 4th, 1986 in Salisbury, England. Despite being British-born, he was arguably the truest Irishman in the history of the Emerald Isle. His estranged father, Cecil Parris, was a Black man from Georgetown, British Guiana and his mother Philomena Lynott was a White Irish woman from Dublin.

Given his heritage, he was a very striking individual. His ancestry included African, possible British as well as remote/distant indigenous Guyanese/Brazilian, and a ton of Irish. When I say Irish, I mean he possessed some of the purest and fiercest Celtic blood to ever run through a man’s veins since the days of Cúchulainn. Tall, dark, and devilishly handsome, he was one-of-a-kind and quite a rather unusual figure in Ireland at the time. There were only a handful of Black people in Dublin between the late ’40s and late ’70s, and I can guarantee that bi-racial or not, none of them sounded or looked quite like him.

Unfortunately, due to his unique appearance, he encountered his fair share of racism. Sadly, a notable portion of the racism he experienced occurred when we was still very young. From nuns and priests calling him a “n***er baby” as an infant to random passerbys, (once again, often racist nuns), stopping he and his mother in the street and inquiring if he was adopted and when he’d be “returned home to Africa,” he dealt with many things that no child of color should ever have to deal with. Yet, in the face of the horrible attitudes and actions of such bigoted and ignorant people, Phil’s confidence in his musical talents, deeply poetic voice, keen fashion sense, and glowing Irish pride paved his inevitable path to stardom, quickly making him Hard Rock & Heavy Metal’s first true “Rocker”, as well as Ireland’s greatest national treasure.

My relationship with Phil’s music began 20 years ago—way back in 1999—when at 5, I saw the teaser trailer for Toy Story 2. The trailer featured the 1976 hit single “The Boys Are Back In Town”. The single itself was featured as the sixth track on Lizzy’s sixth studio album: Jailbreak. I immediately fell in love with song, but didn’t have the resources to explore the band and their music because I was, well, a 5-year-old kid. Still, the song stuck with me. It wasn’t until ten years later that I discovered that a friend of mine from the all-boys boarding school I attended during my freshman year of high school had the group’s entire discography featured on his iTunes account. (The school server was set-up so that we could freely share our iTunes accounts.) I listened to a few of their greatest hits and decided to buy an album of my own.

So, with the mission of finding a “cool” Thin Lizzy album, (all of their albums are cool), I set out with my late paternal grandmother to her local FYE and quickly found a small selection of their albums. The only album to really jump out at me was Jailbreak. With its cool grey color scheme and eye-catching 70’s comic book-inspired cover art, I knew it was the right album for me. (Well, that, and it had “The Boys Are Back In Town” on it, so I had to have it!) My Nana Terri, the saint that she was, offered to buy it in accordance with her promise to buy me a moderately inexpensive CD of my choice, and did so despite the particular copy I found being outside of our initial, agreed-upon price range. After buying it, we went directly back to her place where she was gracious enough to let me listen to the first few tracks. I cranked-up the volume on her boombox and had my mind blown as I listened to some of greatest rock tunes ever recorded, but also by the realization that Phil was in fact Black.

The album quickly became my most played CD to the point were I knew every song backwards and forwards and Phil instantly became a major hero of mine. Not only was the music incredible, but for once in my life, outside of Joseph Reinhardt, (famous Belgian-born Sinti musician and younger brother of legendary Gypsy Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt), I had someone who looked like me. (Yes, surprisingly, at various points in my life, people have told me that I bear an uncanny resemblance to the late Rock Legend.)

Bearing any type of resemblance to someone like Phil was monumental for me. And without delving too much into, it did install within me a newfound sense of pride as a young, ethnically/racially ambiguous European man of color. It also gave me the confidence to continue proudly self-identifying as a huge Classic Rock fan, as most of my fellow rock aficionados and various bandmates from the groups I formed over the years could all easily pull-off the Joey Ramone/Jimmy Page/Angus Young-look, and the best I could usually do was Elvis and occasionally either Freddie Mercury or a short-haired Frank Zappa, so looking like Phil finally made me comfortable in my own skin among my own little tribe of rockers. And, more importantly, it made me more comfortable when telling people that I was actually born in Europe. (For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Roma and was born in Eastern Europe.)

Anyway, I’ve already spent far too long trying to write this, but I guess what I want to say is: Thank you, Phil. Thank you for showing me that a dark-skinned man in a sea of light-skinned people could stand out in a positive way and become a champion of two nations with histories of extreme prejudice towards Black and Brown people. Thank you for showing me, when I was still objectively thin and somewhat notably tall for my age, that a lanky, bushy-haired, dark boy could feel handsome and comfortable in his own skin.  Thank you for showing me how to dress and carry myself as a rock bassist. Thank you for making me proud of my adoptive family’s Irish heritage and making me respect my surname. Thank you for the countless hours I’ve spent in my childhood bedrooms, dorm rooms, apartments, at my best friend’s, on the subway and in my car listening to your moving ballads, Celtic masterpieces and horn-raising anthems. Thank you for inspiring the sound and look of so many amazing bands. Thank you for being the face and voice of Europeans of color, especially those of us who are bi-racial or mutli-ethnic. Thank you for making your music & lyrics part of the soundtrack to my life. Thank you for being you.

(P.S. — Philo, I promise to one day make the pilgrimage to the Southside and properly pay my respects to you at your statue.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s