Singer and songwriter Robyn Hitchcock recalled, “I remember going to the Hope and Anchor (a pub where many folk punk acts played in London). The Pogues were all on stage and ready, it was a full house, but they hadn’t started yet. Then this character shambled in through the door and shambled downstairs. I thought, ‘Jesus, you’re not letting that guy in are you?’. Then he walked on stage. That guy was Shane MacGowan.“
Shane MacGowan sings a ballad in a pub
If there is one thing that close friends know about me it’s my unhealthy fascination with self-destructive artists and their aloof behavior, which, parenthetically, I believe contributes greatly to their creative endeavors. While these artists don’t consciously plan such behavior, it is a trend nonetheless, almost a substratum throughout their whole lives. Perhaps the poster boy for such a character is Irish singer/songwriter Shane MacGowan, best known as the lead singer and songwriter for the prolific and influential Irish Folk/Rock/Punk band The Pogues. As you investigate their music further it will become increasingly clearer that The Pogues are to bands like Flogging Molly what The Beatles are to bands like Coldplay.
I admire Shane. I love his music and what his music has done. I enjoy his personality and the magic that he possesses and emits. I also find it interesting when fans love an artist so much more than the artist loves his fans, and for that matter, his music. A tale comes to mind, a fairy tale of New York, if you will. It was the night of The Pogues’ sold-out Madison Square Gardens show in New York. Leading up to this, Shane and his band had started to drift apart, driving a wedge in the band’s touring success – mainly caused by Shane’s abuse of drugs and alcohol. Backstage before the show, Shane was nowhere to be found, unless that is, you were putting down Guinness and polishing the bar with your sleeves at a local Irish pub. Shane had no intention of playing that night, as he grew sick of his band and his fans (I am reminded of the modern example of Kurt Cobain and songs like ‘In Bloom‘). Long story short, fifteen minutes before the show was to commence, a few hard-core Pogues fans, on their way to the arena, spotted Shane stumbling through the streets. He might have been a stray dog. Needless to say, they pulled Shane into their cab and made haste to Madison Square Gardens. The show went on and some lucky fans had a story for to tell their children (what entertainment those children get from the story is another question. I’ll get to that in a bit)
Music video for “That Woman’s Got Me Drinking” directed by and starring Johnny Depp
What has begun to bother me, and is the impetus for this entry, is the reputation that Shane is garnering as videos of him at his lowest become more popular on YouTube. Kids and teenagers poke fun at him, joke about his obvious intoxication and look up to him for his ability to consume alcohol, not his ability to write music and change the face of the industry. In fact, in that, they are probably completely unaware of the latter. I suppose this is the nature of the beast that is aging celebrity. As the previous generation that appreciated and grew with someone like Shane either dies off or moves on, Shane is left in the boat that everyone else has bailed out of. And as younger generations are ushered in they see a man like Shane for what he seems to be now, and not for what he surely was then. It is impossible to recognize the arch and relevance of a man when one’s perspective is only that of the second half of his life, and not the first. Imagine watching only the second half of “Gladiator“.
Hopefully, the people who admire and respect Shane MacGowan for who he was and realize that these videos circulating the net are inaccurate representations of who Shane really was will start to out-voice the drunkard youth.
Shane MacGowan by Phil at Flying Tiger Design