Still No Show Like A Joe Show

Still No Show Like A Joe Show

Dónal Sarsfield looks to Baudrillard for an insight into Joe Dolan’s ‘Reunion’ Shows

The modern french cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard, speaking of ‘the divine irreference of images’, argues that ‘to dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn’t have. One implies a presence, the other an absence.’

Joe Dolan, one of Ireland’s best loved popular singers, died on 26th December 2007 at the age of sixty-eight. Having begun his career in the showbands of 1960s Ireland, Dolan carved out a successful international solo career for over thirty-five years. He was the Irish Tom Jones, if you will.

Douglas Kellner on Baudrillard: ‘For Baudrillard, modern societies are organised around the production and consumption of commodities, while postmodern societies are organised around simulation and the play of images and signs… His postmodern universe is one of hyperreality in which entertainment, information and communication technologies provide experiences more intense and involving than the scenes of banal everyday life, as well as the codes and models that structure everyday life.’

Dolan was unique in the Irish music business. Despite his international success (his 1969 breakthrough single, ‘Make Me an Island’, was a chart-topper in fourteen countries), Dolan preferred to concentrate on the home market. He worked hard, toured regularly and adapted himself to the music of many generations, be that Britpop or popular jazz standards. Dolan’s voice was his most distinguished and distinctive asset; a powerful tenor, it carried a natural warmth, heroic almost, with an overpowering resilience.

You see, Dolan was the good guy: his down to earth nature and humble personality off stage balanced his hip swings and grit on stage. He was at heart an entertainer and just by singing Dolan made people happy. The loyalty of his fan base, mostly female, was at times alarming. Attending three or four shows in one week in far-flung parts of the country was not unusual. His presence had a magnetism that people paid to be near, over and over again. It was this unique combination that gave his career its longevity, winning him fans across generations, something none of his showband colleagues could ever quite achieve. 

Currently, Joe Dolan ‘Reunion’ shows are being staged. Last July, 9,000 tickets sold out quickly, a memorial mass was celebrated, and Joe Dolan appeared on stage once more, albeit on a twelve-foot video screen, accompanied by his band. On Mother’s Day weekend in March, two more such shows took place. Baudrillard: ‘When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning.’

Simulation is to threaten the difference between real and imaginary. A simulacrum, argues Baudrillard, is a copy without an original, which can, in itself, become more real than that which it aims to copy. He suggests that there are four stages of simulacra: a reflection of a basic reality; a masking and perverting of a basic reality; the absence of a basic reality; and the final stage bears no relation to any reality whatsoever: it becomes a pure simulacrum.

Only in a contemporary postmodern society could the screen simulate life and could a video-projected singer draw thousands of devotees at €45 a ticket. While a Joe Dolan cover band is one thing, and an exhibition of memorabilia at a Joe Dolan museum is another, this ‘Reunion Show’ haplessly masks the absence of Joe Dolan through video projection. The audience is not so much willing to be disenchanted as to relive something that it has experienced before. And, while nobody going to the Reunion Show expects to see the singer in the flesh, it is alarming to believe that any live Joe Dolan experience is not impossible after his death. The Joe Dolan Reunion Show challenges the notion that death is really the end. Maybe it is only the beginning.

Published on 1 April 2009

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