Monday, October 02, 2006

The Pogues & Shane MacGowan- nice Irish folk-punks

It's not just that Shane MacGowan was pogoing along to the Pistols back in the day or had dental work that would have made Johnny Lydon blush or that had his own punk band called the Nipple Erectors back in his early days or that he later hooked up with another punker from the band Radiators From Space. Even though the Pogues didn't brandish electric guitars, they were as punk as any London boys who wore slit jackets and safety pins.

Watch the DVD If I Should Fall from Grace - The Shane MacGowan Story and you'll hear SM complain about how producer Elvis Costello made him do take after take to get the right sound on their brilliant 2nd album, Rum, Sodomy & the Lash (originally released 1985, now reissued by Rhino with extra tracks). To his credit, EC did the right thing, getting great performances from not just the Pogues but also MacGowan himself.

The guy just spits vitriol. More than Billy Bragg ever did, he and his crew neatly make the point that folk or traditional music provided just as many punk roots as rock and roll ever did. And even though MacGowan wrote only half of the songs on RSL (including an instrumental), it's his tunes that are the most moving; full of death, depravity, blind anger, thuggery and killing (hell, the guy was gangsta before its time too). His songs are affected even if you can't pick up all the endless Blarney references (and there's lots of them as you can see from
The Annotated Pogues Lyrics Page).

As booze-soaked as he may have been and continues to be, he's a wise man and a poet. Read the book
A Drink With Shane McGowan and hear him divvy up the differences between the classic Western films of John Ford and John Houston, noting the hopeful utopian world of the former and the gritty realist world of the later. Guess which world he subscribes to.

One thing that also stands out from the McGowan Story film is his chronic alcoholism, which was already obvious to anyone who knew anything about the Pogues already. But what's striking is that it's seen unapologetically as if that's just a part of who he is and how he functions as an artist, as if his drinking and his songwriting gifts were inseparable. No apologies from the man himself or any of his enabling friends.

Not that it hasn't taken its toll on him. After recently seeing Flogging Molly (a fine band that wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for the Pogues) recently, I saw a Pogues reunion with MacGowan shortly after that, thinking in advance that it wouldn't be a fair comparison. I was right but not in the way that I thought. While both bands were tight, McGowan was barely functional for his show- he slurred even worse than usual and could only sings a few songs at a time before being briefly led off stage several times. Be that as it may, there was still something that the Pogues had that Molly was missing: an inspired, flawed genius like MacGowan. He doesn't just sing about the down and out lifestyle, he embodies it. No wonder that Tom Waits is a fan of his.


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