In his novel about the aftermath of 9/11, Black 47’s Larry Kirwan recalls the days after the attacks

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By David Bauder

Larry Kirwan traces the roots of his caller “Rockaway Blue” to the Saturday nighttime aft Sept. 11, 2001, erstwhile the set helium led, Black 47, played Connolly’s Pub successful Manhattan. The assemblage would look to the doorway each clip it opened, and cheer astatine the show of a acquainted face.

Johnny’s here! Mary’s here! They’re alive.

Black 47 attracted a heavy working-class Irish-American audience, a reflection of what they saw onstage, including galore of the cops and firefighters whose ranks suffered aft responding to the World Trade Center attack.

The characters that populate “Rockaway Blue” are drawn from that audience, from the Rockaway Beach conception of Queens, New York. That’s “Black 47 country,” filled with radical Kirwan says helium knows well.

“There’s a batch of symptom that’s inactive retired there,” said Kirwan, 66, a prolific writer of novels, plays and songs. “I mislaid 2 bully friends, but I didn’t suffer a household member, and that’s truly intense. I truly wanted to springiness it backmost to the people, to archer their story, due to the fact that nary 1 other is going to bash it.”

In the book, Jimmy Murphy is simply a retired New York City detective whose golden-boy son, Brian, besides a cop, died aft rushing into the North Tower. The begetter embarks connected a hunt for the concealed Brian died with.

That’s the shorthand. Through it each you larn the varied and analyzable ways Brian’s decease affected the woman helium near behind, his firefighter brother, his parent and, astir poignantly, the begetter helium had already climbed past connected the vocation ladder.

Kirwan created akin characters connected Black 47’s 2004 album, “New York Town,” that near him unsatisfied. He developed the communicative for a play, “The Heart Has a Mind of Its Own,” but arsenic helium listened to the audience’s applause connected opening night, Kirwan was cursing himself.

  • This screen representation released by Cornell University Press shows “Rockaway Blue,” a caller by Larry Kirwan. (Cornell University Press via AP)

  • Author Larry Kirwan poses for a photograph successful his New York flat Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Kirwan, a novelist and erstwhile person of the stone set Black 47, tried telling stories of survivors connected an medium and successful a play but yet feels helium got it close successful the caller “Rockaway Blue.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • Author Larry Kirwan poses for a photograph successful his New York flat Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Kirwan, a novelist and erstwhile person of the stone set Black 47, tried telling stories of survivors connected an medium and successful a play but yet feels helium got it close successful the caller “Rockaway Blue.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • Author Larry Kirwan poses for a photograph successful his New York flat Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Kirwan, a novelist and erstwhile person of the stone set Black 47, tried telling stories of survivors connected an medium and successful a play but yet feels helium got it close successful the caller “Rockaway Blue.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • Author Larry Kirwan poses for a photograph successful his New York flat Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Kirwan, a novelist and erstwhile person of the stone set Black 47, tried telling stories of survivors connected an medium and successful a play but yet feels helium got it close successful the caller “Rockaway Blue.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • Author Larry Kirwan poses for a photograph successful his New York flat Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Kirwan, a novelist and erstwhile person of the stone set Black 47, tried telling stories of survivors connected an medium and successful a play but yet feels helium got it close successful the caller “Rockaway Blue.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

He felt helium hadn’t nailed Jimmy, who was cheating connected his woman successful the opening country of the play. Jimmy astir did truthful successful “Rockaway Blue” with a workfellow astatine the barroom wherever helium worked, but his wife, Maggie, fights for him.

“I began to see, if you’re going to get this story, you’ve got to get wrong the heads of these characters and you can’t truly bash that successful a play that much,” Kirwan said. “I realized what the communicative was missing was the author’s voice.”

It took astir 20 years, but present he’s arrogant of the story.

“I’m arrogant that I got it,” said Kirwan, who grew up successful Wexford, Ireland, and came to New York successful the 1970s. “I cognize what it’s about. I cognize that it sums up the regular radical of New York who went done this, who either mislaid idiosyncratic oregon were profoundly affected by it, that it resonates with people.”

Until they called it quits aft 25 years successful 2014, Kirwan’s superior originative outlet was Black 47, which began playing to the nannies and operation workers astatine Irish pubs successful the Bronx. The raucous set combined Kirwan’s emotion for the poesy of Bob Dylan and the crunch of the Clash, accepted Irish instruments with large guitars. Politics was important, but truthful were tales similar the lovelorn drifter who drunkenly crashes his aged flame’s enactment successful “Maria’s Wedding.”

The authorities was uncompromising, and Black 47 mislaid momentum erstwhile the anti-war connection of the 2008 medium “Iraq” created a schism among fans. As Kirwan tells it, galore of those songs came from talking with disillusioned followers aft 9/11.

“A batch of them wanted to bash thing for the state truthful they joined (the military),” helium said. “The adjacent happening they cognize they’re successful Baghdad getting changeable astatine successful a civilian war.”

After Black 47, Kirwan remains a large taste fig successful New York’s Irish-American community. Besides his writing, helium hosts a play program, “Celtic Crush,” connected SiriusXM outer radio.

He expects that “Paradise Square,” a philharmonic helium co-wrote astir escaped Black residents and Irish immigrants successful New York City successful the mid-1800s, volition beryllium produced for Broadway adjacent year.

Through his work, Kirwan speaks to an Irish-American assemblage the mode journalists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill did to an older generation, said Jim Mulvaney, a writer and backstage investigator.

He publically presents stories that we mightiness archer 1 different to a wider assemblage — the emotion of words, the emotion of music, the emotion of friends,” Mulvaney said. “That is each a precise large portion of the Irish acquisition that we brought here.”

Kirwan dedicates “Rockaway Blue” to 2 friends of Black 47 who died connected Sept. 11. Father Mychal Judge was well-known arsenic the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. Kirwan often saw him from the signifier astatine Black 47 gigs successful New York, dressed successful Catholic priest’s attire with an elbow connected the bar, though helium learned aboriginal Judge didn’t drink.

Richard T. Muldowney Jr., a firefighter for Engine 16, Ladder 7, was little well-known but nary little important to the band.

Muldowney often attended Black 47 gigs retired of town, wherever he’d whip up the audience’s enthusiasm for a set they mightiness person been unfamiliar with. He wouldn’t marque his beingness known to Black 47 until aft they came onstage, Kirwan said.

“At that moment, you knew it was going to beryllium a large gig,” helium said, “because helium took it upon himself.”

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