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Issue 18 – Assumption 2023


J. G. Frazer considers Thin Lizzy

On the origins of a song.


Who does not know Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”? Mr. Gorham’s guitar riff, suffused with transcendent power in which the glorious Gaelic vocals of Mr. Lynott can craft visions of Paradise itself, and the twin-guitar attack at the end, soaring higher and higher towards the heavens, are dream-like visions of worlds faded away. But those who know it know it as merely a masterpiece of rock music of the 1970s, with its magnificent riff, brutal and majestic, introducing a tale of homecoming in which the awaited boys return to their former abode to enjoy those arts dear to the hearts of young men: drinking, fighting, and womanizing.

That Mr. Lynott’s narrative is, at the very least, based in historical events requires no great demonstration. It should be enough to note that the recency of the story’s origin mitigates against any alterations to the tale by slips of memory or careless scribes, that the particulars mirror well what facts are known about the life of Mr. Lynott, and that the details it contains would enable a curious hearer, should he be so inclined, to set out for the Gaelic country and confirm them for himself. The accuracy of the lyric having been established, we may now proceed to investigate what it is that the lyric says.

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About the author

Steve Larkin

Steve Larkin writes from Long Island, New YorkHe is a managing editor of the Washington Review of Books.