Monday, June 26, 2006

Let me go down in the mud where rivers all run dry

The Pogues

Summary: The Pogues combine beautiful Irish melodies with a punk rock attitude for a raucous Celtic extravaganza, and their music never fails to make me happy.

A Brief History of the Band (from Yahoo! Music): By demonstrating that the spirit of punk could live in traditional Irish folk music, the Pogues were one of the most radical bands of the mid-'80s. Led by Shane MacGowan, whose slurred, incomprehensible voice often disguised the sheer poetry of his songs, the Pogues were undeniably political -- not only were many of their songs explicitly in favor of working-class liberalism, but the wild, careening sound of their punk-injected folk was implicitly radical. While the band was clearly radical, they also had a wickedly warped sense of humor, which was abundantly clear on their biggest hit, the fractured Christmas carol "Fairy Tale of New York." The group's first three albums -- Red Roses for Me, Rum Sodomy & the Lash, If I Should Fall From Grace With God -- were widely praised in both Britain and America, and by 1988 they had earned substantial cult followings in both countries. Yet MacGowan's darkly romantic, wasted lifestyle, which was so key to their spirit and success, ultimately proved to be their downfall. By the end of the decade, he had fallen deep into alcoholism and drug addiction, forcing the band to fire him if they wanted to survive. The Pogues carried on without him in the early '90s, playing to a slowly shrinking audience, before finally disbanding in 1996. (More history here)

My History with the Band: As I have mentioned before, when I was in high school, MTV had an alternative music show called 120 Minutes. Every Sunday night I would tape 120 Minutes (it came on very late at night) and watch the show the next day. I learned about many bands and artists this way. At this time, my musical tastes ranged from Depeche Mode to R.E.M. -- basically anything "alternative" -- so I was excited to see a completely different kind of song on my VHS tape. The song was called "A Fairytale of New York," and features the beautiful voice of Kirsty MacColl in a duet with Shane MacGowan, the lead singer of the Pogues. This was my first experience with The Pogues, and I was immediately taken aback. Shane is one of the ugliest people in the history of the world, and his raspy, off-tune, alcohol-soaked voice collided with the beautiful melody in a way that found incredibly intriguing.

The ugliest man in music, the omni-intoxicated Shane MacGowan

And the lyrics of the song underscore the dichotomy of the voices. At first it seems like a lovely Christmas love song, but then come lines such as "You scumbag, you maggot / You cheap lousy faggot. /Happy Christmas your ass, / I pray God it's our last." And all the while, the stirring Irish melody, with its accordians, mandolins, and tin whistles, plays in the background.

So that basically set me on the path to fandom. I bought their album If I Should Fall from Grace with God, and I still consider this one of the greatest albums of all time. From the rollicking title track to the sea shanty sing-songiness of "The Turkish Song of the Damned" to the profanity-infused polka-esque "Bottle of Smoke" to the Latin-tinged "Fiesta" to the straight up stomping romp of "South Australia" (a party favorite at Grinnell), this album has enough upbeat songs to keep a gaggle of drunkards tapping their toes for hours. But the album also features some beautiful and melodic downbeat tunes, from the nostalgic simpleness of "Lullaby of London" and "The Broad Majestic Shannon" to the politically-charged hopelessness in "Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six."

I also purchased their previous album Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, which is also a brilliant spectacle to behold. This album has some more traditional Irish folk songs, accompanied by Shane's one-of-a-kind drunken singing. Every track on Rum . . . showcases the genius and the versatility of the musicians, and again combines amazingly fun upbeat songs with sad and sober numbers. For many Pogues fans, this album is the best, and for a long time, it was my favorite. One of my great college friends, Trevor, was perhaps even more passionate about this album (and their first album, Red Roses for Me, which I somehow managed to keep losing over and over) than I was, and I think of him whenever I play it.

Some people did not like the next album, Peace and Love, because it represented a bit of a departure, with other band members taking on more singing and songwritings duties. (Shane MacGowan's alcohol and drug addictions were starting to affect the band. I once read that Shane bragged that he had not been sober for a whole day since he was 14.) But I liked this album, and it had some great classic-sounding Pogues songs, and one of my all-time favorites, "My Blue Heaven."

Hell's Ditch was viewed as a return to form, and indeed this is a great album. It features everything I love about the Pogues -- Shane's drunken singing and marvelous Irish melodies. The album feels more cheery than others, and for a pick-me up, this is often my go-to Pogues album.

Then I thought the Pogues broke up, but actually Shane just left the band (or was kicked out). The remaining members put out a couple of albums, but they were nothing like the old Pogues. They did create some nice songs, including the splendid "Tuesday Morning," which I first heard in a club in Scotland. I went to see the Pogues in concert in Glasgow, and it was a great show -- the new singer, Spider Stacy, did a pretty good job singing all of Shane's old songs, but it just was not the same.

The Pogues have about three or four different best-of albums out, and any one of them would be a good start for the novice.

In high school, my friends and I would sometimes drive by the the mall parking lot (the hangout spot of Marion, Indiana), where all the kids in Camaros and acid wash jeans were blaring their Bon Jovi. We liked to cruise by with the Pogues at full blast, just because it was so different than anything else anyone listened to. After all, the band name comes from the Gaelic phrase "Pogue Mahone" which means "kiss my ass."

Now, when I load up the Pogues for old time's sake, I am still amazed at the passion, musicianship, and pure fun of this unbelievably good traditional Irish punk band.

Favorite Pogues Album:
If I Should Fall from Grace with God

The band, along with fellow drunken Irishman James Joyce

Favorite Pogues Songs:
"Medley"; "If I Should Fall from Grace with God"; "The Sunny Side of the Street"

Other Seminal Pogues Songs: "Transmetropolitan"; "Waxie's Dargle"; "The Boys from County Hell"; "The Sick Bed of Cuchuliann"; "Wild Cats of Kilkenny"; "I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day"; "Sally MacLennane"; "Jesse James"; "Dirty Old Town"; "The Gentleman Soldier"; "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda"; "The Turkish Song of the Damned"; "Bottle of Smoke"; "Fairytale of New York"; "Fiesta"; "South Australia"; "Medley"; "Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six"; "Lulluby of London"; "A Rainy Night in Soho"; "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah"; "White City"; "Young Ned of the Hill"; "Misty Morning, Albert Bridge"; "Lorelei"; "Sayonara"; "Ghost of a Smile"; "Summer in Siam"; "Rain Street"; "London Girl"; "Tuesday Morning"

Past Band Posts: New Order / The Smiths / Belle and Sebastian / Underworld / R.E.M. / The Beatles / The Boo Radleys / Saint Etienne
/ Depeche Mode / The Chemical Brothers


At 8:41 PM, Blogger Josh posited...

ah yeah. sally maclennan and obviously dirty old town although the pogues only covered it.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Josh posited...

they just don't understand i guess

At 6:37 PM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

It's ok, Josh. My band posts always get the fewest comments. My hope is that one or two readers might check out the band on iTunes or something.

But I have certainly enjoyed listening to them for the first time in a long time!

At 12:45 AM, Blogger constant_k posited...

An old man who bore an unmistakable resemblance to Shane MacGowan offered to tow my car to the shop when it died the yesterday.

I politely declined. What can I say, I have trouble trusting someone who doesn't own their own teeth.


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