JOHNNY DUHAN’S book To The Light – Johnny Duhan Unsung, is curiously indefinable and this sole fact is perhaps the essence of its charm and powerful effect.
In fact, it is debatable if the author himself knew what kind of book he was writing. The blurb tells us that it is the “only full-scale autobiography that we know of that has been written entirely in song”. For once, however, the blurb falls far short of the mark and to simply call it a full scale autobiography written in song is to do the book a gross injustice.
The initial atmosphere is dark, the cover an uncompromising black with the sombre image of the author/singer sitting with his back to the reader facing the void of a non-existent audience. The recurrent similar images - the last one has the author facing the audience - reinforce this Cohen-like feeling of depression.
Yet, in the prologue, Duhan writes that the title ‘To The Light’ seemed appropriate as there is a celebration of light running through his work and, by extension, through his life.
The somewhat bemused reader is soon immersed in the author’s childhood in which mental illness, alcoholism, and tragedy played a prominent role. Yet the opening song (as the author promised ) is inspired by morning light gleaming through his bedroom window and immediately Duhan, with consummate skill, lays down the base line to the extended lyric of his life.
Duhan is a songwriter whose greatest claim to fame is the song ‘The Voyage’ made hugely popular by Christy Moore. Duhan’s portfolio of songs is, however extensive, imbued with a searing sense of honesty, a down to earth observation of detail, and a surprisingly deep spirituality.
That he didn’t make the big time is due, as he himself admits, to an uncompromising attitude to his work, an attitude which once caused a frustrated manager to comment that Duhan was the only person he’d encountered in a long career in the music business with “a will to fail”.
It is this same uncompromising attitude that informs To The Light and which becomes its authentic voice. There are times when the narrative irritates slightly but Duhan pushes on regardless and it is to his immense credit and skill that he pulls the reader with him to the benefit, it must be said, of the latter.
To The Light is an intimate autobiography of souls seeking to find expression and fulfilment through song. It has many different levels but is above all a tale of spirited regeneration. It should, however, carry with it a health warning as nobody will leave it down unmoved.