Glen Hansard: Musical Comfort In A Troubled Home

Jul 12, 2012
Originally published on July 12, 2012 5:10 pm

All summer long, All Things Considered has been talking to politicians, musicians and others about one song they remember their parents listening to, and how it influenced them.

Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard says he remembers his mother listening — and singing along — to Pat Boone's "Speedy Gonzalez" while cleaning the house. But, he says, neither the song nor his mother were as lighthearted as they seemed.

"It's the classic, 'Hey, come home, quit drinking' — because that's really where my mother's cleaning really stemmed from," Hansard tells NPR's Melissa Block. "It was always after a bout of, you know, my dad coming home late and them having some kind of words, that Mother would get straight into cleaning the house."

Hansard says his mother's escapes into Pat Boone and vacuuming taught him the power of music to ease anxiety.

"She used music in the way that I imagine I approach music, which is, it's a healing thing," he says. "Music will always be salve for the soul."

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All summer long, we're talking with people about one song they remember listening to with their parents and how it influenced them. We're calling the series Mom and Dad's Record Collection. And today, we hear from Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, who was one-half of the duo The Swell Season.


THE SWELL SEASON: (Singing) Falling slowly, eyes that know me, and I can't go back.

BLOCK: That song from the movie "Once" where Glen Hansard played a street busker in Dublin, and that's how he got his start in music at age 13, playing on the streets of his home city. When I asked him for the song he most remembers from his childhood, he immediately thought of a song his mother would play for him when he was about 5.

GLEN HANSARD: My mother was kind of an obsessive cleaner, and what she would do is she would put on records on the record player and then do the Hoovering. So she would turn the records really loud. So the house was always absolutely booming with music and a Hoover and my mother singing at the top of her voice over the Hoover. Well, the song that I remember cherishing as a child was "Speedy Gonzalez" by Pat Boone.

BLOCK: So Speedy Gonzalez, the cartoon character, right?


BLOCK: The mouse?


BLOCK: A Mexican mouse.

HANSARD: Mm-hmm.

BLOCK: And the song, wow, we just have to take a listen. Hang on.


PAT BOONE: (Singing) You better come home, Speedy Gonzales, away from tannery row. Stop all your drinking with that floozie named Flo. Come on home to your adobe and slap some mud on the wall. The roof is leaking like a strainer. There's loads of roaches in the hall.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) La, la, la, la.

BOONE: (Singing) Speedy Gonzales.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Speedy Gonzales.

BLOCK: So just about every stereotype you might want all packed into one...


BLOCK: hindsight, extremely offensive song, I suppose.

HANSARD: This part here, let's check it out.


BLOCK: And as a kid, you would love that, right?

HANSARD: I thought it was the best.

BLOCK: That - I looked this up. That was the voice of the great Mel Blanc and - Speedy there, yeah.

HANSARD: Speedy. Oh, I didn't know that thing.


HANSARD: I think it's the classic thing, come home, quit your drinking, come back to your - because that's really what - where my mother's cleaning really stemmed from because it was always after a bout of, you know, my dad coming home late and then having some kind of words that, you know, my mother would kind of get straight into cleaning the house. And so in a way, this song was - it's all about, you know, come home, be a better man.

BLOCK: So the clean house was a product of marital strife.

HANSARD: I'd imagine, yeah, yeah. I never really questioned her on it.


BLOCK: It's funny, though, Glen Hansard, I think of your songs and I hear really soulful ballads and great depths of emotion, and then we hear this song...


BLOCK: ...which is just pure shtick.

HANSARD: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But, you know, you never - when you're a kid, you don't - your taste is not - you're not paying attention to what it is. You're just I like it or I don't.

BLOCK: And would mom sing along with this? Would she try doing...

HANSARD: Oh, yeah.

BLOCK: ...that voice?

HANSARD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I would run up to her and do the Speedy bit. She was my audience. But my mother was just - she was a huge fan of music. She used music in the way that I imagine I approach music, which is it's a healing thing. You know, it will always be - music will always be salve for the soul. It will always be a healing thing, but - so her relationship with music really rubbed off on us. We really cared about it.

BLOCK: She saw you become a singer yourself. What was that like for her?

HANSARD: Well, she was so proud. She loved it. My father loved music. My mother loved music. And so, you know, there were certain songs I remember like "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" with Sandy Denny and songs that she would have played when we were kids. I remember learning them for her, and for me, the proudest moments where when I could learn those songs at home, on the guitar, and then say to her, oh, I learned it. And I'd play it for her, and she would love it.

So she always had a lot of time for listening to me and encouraging me when I learned a song that she knew. So it's been great for her. But, you know, sometimes, I'll come home and I'll, you know, I'll say, you know, you're never going to believe. I met Leonard Cohen, and I got, you know, I got to sing for him. And she's just like, oh, my God. You know, she did like - and she often says like, oh, my God, Glen, the life you live.

BLOCK: Yeah.

HANSARD: Well, you know, you're out there in the world and you're doing it. And, you know, it's like you're, you know, she just - she's always in a state of wonder about it, you know? It's great.

BLOCK: And you owe it all to mom.



BLOCK: Glen Hansard, thanks so much.

HANSARD: Thank you.


BLOCK: That's Glen Hansard as part of our series Mom and Dad's Record Collection. This song is from his new CD "Rhythm and Repose."


BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.