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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
SEAN MURPHY Christy Dignam.

Lynn Ruane 'Christy, you inspired me to live longer, love deeper and fight harder'

The senator pays tribute to the late Christy Dignam who will be laid to rest today.

LAST UPDATE | Jun 17th 2023, 8:00 AM

A WORKING-CLASS HERO in a Crazy World – that is what Christy Dignam was to many growing up in working-class Dublin.

Some artists perform material, and then some artists live it. Christy lived it, and we felt we lived it with him.

Music makes the soul come alive and simultaneously transports you back in time while preparing you for the future. Thanks to Christy and Aslan’s music, thousands of young and older people felt like they had hope in a society that appeared to be against them.

This was about more than music but about the representation of the arts. Christy is in no way defined by his struggles in life, but it was often his willingness to put those struggles on display that permitted many a young person like me to own all the parts of ourselves, even the ones most difficult to face.

Mapping a people

In Christy’s song “The Man Who Stayed Alive”, the opening line is “people came to see me self-destruct on stage”, and if the Aslan frontman is talking about himself with this lyric, I would say that the destruction, he speaks about is the destruction that many who adored him felt within themselves.

He gave us an outlet for our histories and a map for our futures. This is evident when attending a concert; the room would tribally erupt to Crazy World.

As if on cue, we would individually rise to our feet, fists in the air, and the lyrics would travel up through every fibre of our being and the words “how can I protect you” became tangible in the air as we looked at each other with the promise of protection.

As I got older and became more political, Christy continued to never let us down by always remaining on the side of those caught up in the struggle. A struggle his music helped us get free from first in our minds and then later in society, through his words, a political and class struggle.

His support for drug decriminalisation and his criticism of austerity, and the classism of our lawmakers, in campaigns such as those that see statements like “welfare cheats, cheat us all”, and his constant support reminded us that when we felt his presence on his stage, it was real.

There is a Kurt Cobain quote my daughter often refers to “Thank you for the tragedy. I need it for my art”. I think of artists like Christy when I hear this quote, mainly because I believe he transformed his trauma into something special for all lucky and unlucky enough to get it.

Society has taken a lifetime to recognise that underneath peoples’ drug dependency is often trauma. However, Christy has long said this honestly when sharing about the abuse he experienced as a child and how he felt this lay beneath his self-medication.

Like a teacher or a therapist, he then supported the transformation in us, the listener, through his words and singing. His music was a resting place for our pain until we were ready to make sense of ourselves in our own words.

Lyrics for us all

In 1999, when I first started seeing my daughter’s Da, I was so impressed to learn that Christy’s Da and his Da were cousins. I was impressed because Aslan was creating world-class music, and they felt within touching distance, not only through the family but in the fact that they played in venues that were local and accessible.

I remember walking home from Tallaght Village on a drizzly late autumn night after an Aslan gig, my heels in my hand.

As I took careful steps around pebbles, I worked hard to unpick the meaning from some of the lyrics that I felt were written for us and, like all good music, had a philosophical purpose of facilitating understanding relative life.

Official Aslan / YouTube

Christy sang with so much meaning that I always believed there was something for me to understand. Lyrics like “This is your life, your time; you gotta make it.” or the lyrics of Chains were never lyrics alone. They were significant existential enquiries of life, often pushing me to think about time. The time wasted, or time that is not to be wasted, or as the song goes “Oh what a waste, and time’s still ticking away. I’m wrapped up in chains; I’m wrapped up in you”.

This was very visual for me as a young person with many confused feelings. Time is moving, but I am in chains. I am forever grateful to Christy for living his life with us; it gave the rest of us what we needed to break the chains, whatever they were individual to each fan.

If I was in this moment speak directly to Christy, then what I would say is, To Christy, in the face of this teenage mother, I want you to know you touched me profoundly; you made me want to live longer, love deeper, and fight stronger, and when at moments I didn’t feel seen, I only had to listen to you sing. I knew there was someone further along in life than me that was urging me to keep going. So, Christy, your physical presence leaves us at this time, but we all go down this time, we go with you, and you stay with us because your impact is formless, and as new generations find your music, that impact finds new hearts to heal.

Finally, thank you to Christy’s family for sharing him with us, it goes without saying that I write this tribute because of what he meant to me, but he was, of course, as father, husband and friend so much more than the public parts he chose to share with us – big love to all the Dignam family.

Lynn Ruane is an independent senator.


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