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January 06, 2007

Clip for the Day -- Shane and Co.

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Though I was never a huge Pogues fan, "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" is a song that really gets to me. Its exultant, "rip it up, then take it down in flames" spirit reminds me of what I loved about some punk music, and about some of the punk scene.

What a kick it must have been for the young Irish to hear Irish folk sounds put to a punk beat (and then set fire to!) by such a ragtag, wasted, and talented band.

Dig the filmmaking job on that video too. Does anybody know who made it? The cuts to the surging, ecstatic crowd are brilliantly timed and placed. The contrast between the intricacy of the music -- the fingerwork and the counterpoint -- and the power and the physicality of the emotions is heightened very cannily. And the moment near the end when lead singer Shane MacGowan points inquiringly at some people in the audience, gives them a thumbs-up, then returns to his performance with a devil's shriek seems touched by genius. Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker couldn't improve on it.

Whoever shot and cut the video also does a pretty effective job of disguising the fact that the music wasn't recorded live. Unless my ears are 'way off, that's the original studio-LP recording of the song. I mean, sure, you can tell that you're watching a visual montage set to a musical track. But for some reason you don't care. I didn't anyway. Confection that it is, the video feels more like a live performance than most live-performance videos do.

Some telling details about the defiantly self-destructive MacGowan courtesy of Wikipedia:

MacGowan got his first taste of fame when, in 1976 at a Clash concert, his earlobe was bitten off by a girl he had previously been kissing. A photographer snapped a picture of him covered in blood and it made the papers, with the headline "Cannibalism At Clash Gig", turning him into a local punk legend ...

He was introduced to alcohol at the age of five by his aunt on the promise he would not worship the devil; she also introduced him to cigarettes at the same time. MacGowan first tried whiskey when he was 10 and continued to drink heavily from that point on.

And a classic back-at-ya from the ever-unrepentent Shane: "The British press have been giving me six months to live for the past twenty years."

I suspect that Shane has used that particular line more than once ...

Long ago, I wrote about (and recommended) a very moving Sarah Share documentary about Shane MacGowan called (you got it) "If I Should Fall From Grace."



posted by Michael at January 6, 2007


You enjoy it, which is enough, and what other people say should not detract from that. But...

I've always thought the Pogues were a potentially-terrific group ruined by a crummy singer who depended on a (carefully cultivated) bad-boy imgae to disguise an almost complete lack of vocal talent or charm (contrast with the remarkably innovative English-accented anti-style of Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols).

And, as usual in these instances, MacGowan's 'rustic Oirish' seems to be a put-on since he was brought up in London, and attended Westmister public school - which is one of the original nine oldest-and-poshest upper class 'public schools' in England.

None of which would matter if he could sing in a way which didn't rely on unvarying, brazen, roaring, oafish showing-off. Other than that, a good band...

Posted by: Bruce G Charlton on January 7, 2007 10:50 AM

McGowan spent his first six years in Ireland. He spent one year as a scholarship student at Westminster school and was expelled. His family may have been middle-class (not sure) but wasn't upper-crust. He also wrote most of the Pogues' songs. I like his singing style fine (not much to argue about on singing style, you like it or you don't), and the band would have been bland without him, as I think they know.

I don't get the Johnny Rotten part at all. Not a very interesting singer.

Posted by: John Emerson on January 7, 2007 2:15 PM

Oh man, MacGowan is one of my all-time favs. That guy was a motherfucker of a songwriter, lyrics especially. This song is one of his best. I get weepy just thinking of it. I blame my Irish side for that.

Bruce, of course his voice is awful, technically speaking. In concert, even in his prime, he mostly mumbled the words in between swigs of whiskey, but he put on quite a show and the musicians in the band are absolutely top-notch. Seriously, check out the lyrics.

Shane is probably the most chronicled performer in pop music, as you can see him in the crowd in footage of the very earliest Sex Pistols shows, before he even had a band. An ultimately sad character, but a character nonetheless.

As for Rotten, well, that guy was an incendiary genius. I could go on and on about this.

Posted by: the patriarch on January 8, 2007 6:37 PM

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