The karmic balance of the universe is maintained. Henry Kissinger has finally left us.
So has Shane McGowan.
Shane was a complicated character. His vocal delivery might be described as “a drunken snarl” and I don’t think he’d have argued that point. The main thing about Shane was his songwriting, which was superlative. I grew up listening to The Clancy Brothers, and their great renditions of old classics – and the thing about Shane’s songs is that they fit right in. You might thing you’re listening to something from the napoleonic era, or earlier, but when you look, it’s from the 80s, and songwriter: Shane McGowan. Timeless, one might say.
It was Christmas Eve babeIn the drunk tankAn old man said to me, won’t see another oneAnd then he sang a songThe Rare Old Mountain DewI turned my face awayAnd dreamed about you
I don’t believe in afterlife, but I wish Hemingway and Shane could have a good old piss-up in some French bar, circa WW2, surrounded by exhausted ring-eyed dirty soldiers basking in a moment of transcendant magic. Then, the music stops and they pick up their weapons and file out the door, changed.
I discovered The Pogues when a friend of mine started playing If I Should Fall From Grace With God, and I immediately went out and bought the album and back catalogue. It felt like a counter-weight to The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers – deliberately messy, dynamic, high energy, and drunk as a lord. Good stuff. At the time I recall The Pogues were considered associated with punk, but I don’t think that was really it – it was more that they didn’t give a fuck. Later, I cemented that opinion when I saw Shane performing The Irish Rover with The Dubliners, [yt] and his complete lack of fucks was manifest. There’s a documentary about Shane, If I Should Fall From Grace [imdb] that doesn’t really say much except that Shane’s always been a drinker. I think the revealing moment is one point where he says that once you have a reputation for performing drunk, it’s impossible to take stage without people handing you more alcohol, so your fanbase becomes part of your death-spiral. I have heard similar things from other musicians. One that really sticks in my mind is a bit Sam Kinison did about living in the 80s and the size of the lines of cocaine people would cut for him at parties – “Hey everybody, look, it’s Sam!…” Stardom destroys what it loves, it’s practically part of a ritual.
Take my hand and dry your tears, babeTake my hand, forget your fears, babeThere’s no pain, there’s no more sorrowThey’re all gone, gone in the years, babe
When I first stumbled over that performance, I went and checked to make sure McGowan was still alive; it sounded as though Clancy was writing an epitaph. Clancy himself died shortly after.
I wonder what Shane would have done if anyone asked him to autotune.