James Joyce, Music and Mike Roddy’s Sister – what’s the story?

Aug 1, 2020

Zoom – we will miss you when this Covid thingy is finally over and done with. You have become such an integral part of our lives. You have kept us connected with friends, family and business associates.

You are so good that I have heard more than one senior mutter that they are looking forward to the end of cocooning… so they can see their families just that little bit less often!

Well, we (the FJT Wednesday Reading Group Zoomers) will never tire of this wonderful app that has helped us keep in touch and share a weekly dose of entertainment, banter and even provided an occasional learning experience.

This week, we were treated to an amazing presentation by the magnificent Mike Roddy who, becoming a virtual DJ for the session, treated us to a TOP TEN (ok there were actually 14 songs but that didn’t fit the narrative) run down of his favourite Joyce inspired songs. Mike really pushed the boundaries of the Zoom medium by punctuating his dissertation with YouTube clips of his chosen musical acts.

Mike began by grabbing our attention in true ‘shock-jock’ fashion with Northern Ireland’s alternate metal band Therapy? belting out their song, ‘Potato Junkie’ featuring the charming refrain… ‘James Joyce is F@*king My Sister’.

Having so effectively piqued our interest, things calmed down a bit as Mike took complete control and brought us on a musical odyssey that included an eclectic mix of musical genres and artists and spanned decades of our post Joycean culture.

He began by reminding us of James Joyce’s love of music and his references to various musical artists and their works in his writings. He also mentioned Joyce’s own prowess as a tenor of some talent and spoke of the bard’s musical association with John McCormack (the Michael Bublé of his time).

Indeed, just as Jorge Luis Borges had advised us to read Joyce’s works as poetry, Mike opined that one could discern a growing musicality in Joyce’s artistic expression as his writing evolved and culminated in the music that is ‘Finnegans Wake’.

‘The depth of the musical influences in Joyce’s work has long been recognised. His books are filled with citations of songs, ditties and opera arias, allusions to composers and references to instruments. In his short story “The Dead”, the ballad “The Lass of Aughrim” triggers memories of a wife’s dead lover and an epiphany for her husband. The bawdy ballad “Finnegan’s Wake” lends its name, and its dark comic spirit, to Joyce’s densest work’, Mike said.

But the real essence of Mike’s presentation was the journey he took us on as he sampled artists from Classical, Experimental, Traditional, Rock and, remarkably, even  to Disco music.

Inspired by Joyce, the featured artists could entertain us by simply putting music to Joyce’s poetry or prose or they could stretch our minds by expanding their medium just as Joyce had done with his.

As Mike remarked, ‘Is it any wonder, then, that composers, songwriters, jazz and rock musicians and music performers of all hues and stripes have found in Joyce an almost limitless resource for their own musical inspiration?’

Here is a playlist from Mike’s talk. (It comes with a warning that, some of the works below are probably best enjoyed by a listener in a … how should I put it? … a ‘mellow’ frame of mind):

  1. Bridge/Joyce: “Goldenhair” https://tinyurl.com/yxw6clct
  2. Barber/ Joyce: “Of That So Sweet Imprisonment” https://youtu.be/heQK3HFGYJM
  3. Luening/Joyce: “My Love Is in a Light Attire” https://youtu.be/dkX0Mj2XdiA
  4. Scullion: “The Fruit-Smelling Shop” https://tinyurl.com/y52z29rh
  5. Syd Barrett: “Golden Hair” https://tinyurl.com/y2xf6h8x
  6. Cage/Joyce: “Writing for the Second Time Through Finnegans Wake https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pp-ucQbbLmY&feature=youtu.be
  7. Cage/Joyce: “Roaratorio” (beginning, captioned) https://youtu.be/NYTGqI_prlU
  8. Berio/Joyce: “Thema (Omaggio a Joyce)” https://youtu.be/ccUAhG4-qOU
  9. Jefferson Airplane: “Rejoyce” https://tinyurl.com/y5flnhuy
  10. Barber/Joyce: Despite and Still, op 41 “Solitary Hotel” https://tinyurl.com/yy3mouhf
  11. Harry Partsch: “Two Settings from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake” https://tinyurl.com/y27u9bqr
  12. Michael Holohan: “The Snotgreen ‘C’ (sea)” not in public domain
  13. Amber: “Yes!” https://tinyurl.com/y2x5ub3t

Bonus Track: Therapy? : “Potato Junkie” https://tinyurl.com/yylkrhvr


Mike, of course, did more than just play the music. Like any good DJ, he gave us the background to the musical style and the relationship of each artist with James Joyce and his writings.

After his talk, there were various contributions from the FJT Zoomers.

Kevin O’Doherty mentioned several artists who have performed Joyce inspired works and, in particular, urged us to seek out Louis Stewart’s ‘Joyce Notes’.

TWT&H, James Holahan, recommended Kate Bush’s sublime ‘Sensual World’ interpretation of ‘Penelope’.

Kieran McBride surprised us all by not talking about Gogarty’s ‘Ballad of Joking Jesus’ but, instead, showed off his punk rock credentials by referring us to ‘Kitty Ricketts’ – a Radiators from Space song based on the Nighttown character of the same name. He also introduced us to ‘Roaratorio, an Irish circus on Finnegans Wake’ a musical composition by American avant-garde composer John Cage.

Because the Rolling Stones were mentioned at a different session, Andrew Basquille wanted to draw our attention to the Beatles and specifically their Sgt Pepper’s album on whose cover James Joyce’s image can be (just barely) found.

There were other contributions including a short lecture on the life and works of Percy French which was eloquently but recklessly delivered by Olive Rolestone who has now put herself under enormous pressure to expand upon the topic in a full session of her own!

The meeting ended with Mike promising to send out copies of his presentation materials – which he duly did.


Thank you, Mike Roddy, for delivering such a fantastically entertaining and enjoyable journey through the musical influence of our favourite author. My only fear is that these Zoom sessions are becoming so increasingly slick and professional that others will feel huge pressure to match the previous speakers.

Thanks also, as always, to Andrew for organising the session.

Until next time…






Stay safe.