Amid illness, piper finds key to joy in Irish music

This Just In...

February 04, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

FRIENDS AND fellow musicians of Paul Levin, the pipe player in O'Malley's March, will not be surprised to hear that, five months after the brain tumor, he can still get riled up, especially when he talks about his health insurer. His weak voice gains force as Levin tells how he's not allowed a Monday night hospital stay-over when he's due in surgery the next morning at 6. "But I'm going to fight them," he says.

Bernie Siegel advises it. Levin has been reading Siegel's Love, Medicine and Miracles, an empowering book for millions of people who have learned to face terrible health problems with spiritual and philosophical vigor.

He says he's drawn a great deal of excellent advice from Siegel, including his suggestion of a good fight with the bean counters of health care. But I've a feeling Levin could write a book of his own. In addition to being a gifted player of the uilleann pipes, Irish flute and tin whistle, Levin is also a 51-year-old man of firm opinions and strong will. His band mate, the multitalented Jared Denhard, calls Levin "a charming yet challenging philosopher." And, judging from what I heard the other day, Levin's insurance company is due a dose of his attitude. The outrage is probably good medicine.

I suppose you know by now that I am trying to relate some bad news: O'Malley's March, the Celtic rock band led by the mayor of Baltimore, has been without its gifted pipe player for some months. A doctor identified the brain tumor in late summer, while Levin was on a trip to California. He had surgery on the West Coast, followed by a couple of months of radiation therapy.

"Paul hasn't played with us since August, and is feeling bad," Denhard says. "We're giving a benefit performance for him at the 8x10 [Club on Cross Street, South Baltimore] on Feb. 16."

Though he has been busy with other things the last couple of years, Martin O'Malley will sing with the band on the 16th. He formed The March with Levin's help more than a decade ago.

"Paul Levin has been a major force in the Celtic music revival," Denhard wrote in an announcement of the tribute concert. "Paul's witty, big-hearted approach to music and life has earned him the affection of countless musicians, friends and listeners. It is truly our privilege to offer this performance in honor of our dear friend. Hope we can do him justice."

Levin has been touched by this and many other gestures and kind words since his struggle began. "It's as if my friends have gathered out of the starry sky for me," he says. "You know? It's been wonderful. That's what it's all about, isn't it? People, your friends, your cousins, your uncles."

He recalls Liberty Heights and speaks of that world of his youth when I ask about his Jewish roots and his embrace, in the 1970s, of Irish music.

"That world of cousins and uncles, the world of people, a world of 2,000 neighborhood boys ... I found it again in Irish music. It's something that touches you. There's a Yiddish word, mameloshn [pronounced mama-lushin], the mother tongue. It's what you grew up speaking and hearing. I found it in Irish music. It's people music, you know? It's wonderful."

And he's a wonderful piper, the one who blew Celtic spirit into O'Malley's March. God love the lad.

Will the real Hon Man ...

Remember Hon Man, the stealthy guy who tacks "Hon" to the "Welcome to Baltimore" sign on Baltimore-Washington Parkway? Still up to his old tricks, however intermittently, Hon Man was featured in a National Public Radio report last night by former WBJC-WJHU radio diva Lisa Simeone. "It's part of my personal mission to bring all of Baltimore's weirdness to a national audience," says Simeone, host of Weekend All Things Considered.

While preparing for the broadcast, Simeone came across another Hon Man in an unlikely place -- on the faculty of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. You can look it up: He's an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Policy, and his name is Roger Hon-man Cheng. Impressive CV, but apparently no experience tacking salutary addenda to fixed signage. I know it's the Western perspective to say so, but this Hon-man is just not living up to his name.

Pasta palliative -- please

We were happy to see one of the wise old owls of Baltimore, Clinton Bamberger, take up the issue of that awful parking garage at the edge of Little Italy and point out that its design violates 30-year-old city guidelines for the area. It also violates 2,000-year-old universal guidelines for taste.

I know: It's probably too late to tear the thing down. But please, could somebody in this town show a sense of humor and daring by organizing a salon of students from the Maryland Institute No Comma College of Art to create a giant, retro-neon spaghetti bowl for the top of that thing? Such a touch of urban whimsy might make the Mostruosita at Pratt and President acceptable.

Headache hasn't abated

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