James Joyce Plays the Guitar (1915)

Joyce and guitar

The work of James Joyce has inspired many a musician—from John Cage to Kate Bush, and Lou Reed to Irish band Ther­a­py?.  The famed Irish writer was him­self a great lover of song (his only col­lec­tion of poet­ry is titled Cham­ber Music); most read­ers of Joyce know that he packed his sto­ries and nov­els with thou­sands of allu­sions and quotes from pop­u­lar and clas­si­cal songs. Few­er know that if the ency­clo­pe­dic mod­ernist had not become James Joyce the heavy­weight author, we might know him as James Joyce, singer and com­pos­er. Joyce once shared the stage with opera singer John McCor­ma­ck and stud­ied and per­formed music through­out his life.

Joyce the singer is typ­i­cal­ly pic­tured “droop­ing over the keys” of a piano (as Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny founder Sylvia Beach put it). But he also played the gui­tar, as you can see from the 1915 pho­to above (tak­en in Tri­este by Joyce’s friend Ottac­aro Weiss). Joyce’s small-bod­ied gui­tar has been housed at the Joyce Tow­er Muse­um in Dublin since 1966, in an unplayable state.

Now, Eng­lish luthi­er Gary South­well has under­tak­en a restora­tion of the instru­ment at the behest of Tow­er Muse­um cura­tor Robert Nichol­son and Fran O’Rourke, pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy at Joyce’s alma mater, Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Dublin. A musi­cian him­self, O’Rourke will per­form Joycean Irish songs dur­ing Bloom­sweek to off­set the cost of the project, accom­pa­nied on the restored Joyce gui­tar by Irish clas­si­cal gui­tarist John Fee­ley

Luthi­er South­well describes the gui­tar as “a fair­ly stan­dard instru­ment of the peri­od… not from any great mak­er of the past or any­thing like that.” In the video above from The Irish Times, see South­well, Pro­fes­sor O’Rourke, and Joyce schol­ar Ter­ence Killeen describe the state of the gui­tar and its his­to­ry. And below, lis­ten to Joyce’s only known com­po­si­tion, the melan­choly “Bid Adieu to Girl­ish Days,” sung by tenor Kevin McDer­mott.

h/t @faraway67 and @matthiasrascher

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Joyce, With His Eye­sight Fail­ing, Draws a Sketch of Leopold Bloom (1926)

James Joyce Reads ‘Anna Livia Plura­belle’ from Finnegans Wake

James Joyce’s Ulysses: Down­load the Free Audio Book

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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