Like many others I was totally taken by the sheer force of a movie that was The Commitments back in 1991. Maybe it was the story about a band – soul music never sounded so good on a silver screen. Or perhaps due to living in Edinburgh at the time: I was practically almost next door to Dublin where The Commitments was happening. At least, it felt like it, coming from the early 1990s Finland, after the Cold War, after the collapse of Soviet Union, Finland not yet part of the European Union, or really anything. Now I was where the magic was happening. (A few years later Trainspotting happened in my town, or actually mostly in Leith, but they did escape the police on Princes Street, the place for high end shopping and grating bagpipe music).
Upon rewatching the movie for the nth time I decided to read the novel which lead to reading the whole of the Barrytown Trilogy, Roddy Doyle’s depiction of the working-class Rabbitte family in northern Dublin. I’m reviewing here the first book only.
The Commitments is a fast-paced, dialogue-filled novel which consists of a lot of ONOMATOPOETIC depictions of BEATS and RIFFS and VOCALS. You see (and hear) the working-class sounds of the hardest-working band in Dublin when they practice and play gigs.
If you’ve seen the movie (really, do go see it after reading this review regardless of whether you have or have not seen it before), it does not differ that much from the novel. The band is formed by two friends Derek Scully and “Outspan” Forster. They recruit another friend, Jimmy Rabbitte (Jr.) to be their manager. And manage he does to help form a soul band which consists of a mismatch of a people. An outsider, Joey “The Lips” Fagan helps to lead them to be an actual band. They get instruments, a place to practise, and practise a lot they do being shit in the beginning. Gradually, they get it together, get gigs, followers, recognition, even a record deal. And certainly, as is most befitting, there is growing tension in the band. The movie does expand the singular style of writing Roddy Doyle has, and is, to me, superior. However, the source material is excellent; it so happens that the movie is sublime, no doubt helped by the musical numbers and also by depicting the working-class enviroment of Northern Dublin and the bleak economic situation of Ireland in the late 1980s, just before rising from ashes in the Celtic Tiger era in the 1990s and beyond.
The only minus in the book is slight dissing of my second-most-favourite band of all time, Depeche Mode. Luckily, I can live with that. Still, what if Jimmy Rabbitte Jr and the rest of the gang would have gone to the direction of what was happening in The Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s and The Commitments would have broken those beats in an electronic style? Think Beat Street (1984) but in Dublin and with a lighter tone. One can only dream… In the end, in its original form, The Commitments is an ENERGETIC, KINETIC, and LOUD story that you will love!