Monday, October 23, 2006
Which in Gaelic means, "kiss my ass."
I saw the Pogues at the Wiltern last Friday, and their rowdy Irish/punk music kicked butt.
Sure, lead singer Shane McGowan slurred most of his brilliant lyrics. During intrumental bits he wandered around the stage, struggling to walk in time with the music, haphazardly pointing his fingers at the ground, almost in rhythm.
But he remembered nearly all the lyrics! And every other member of the band played with a professional intensity and verve that had the whole crowd bopping. Some of them moshed in the pit down below me (I was up in the loge seats - far above the plunging animals, thank you!), and wrapped their beefy arms around each other to sway in long lines during the slower songs.
The Pogues are a band who can get you bouncing to their pounding beat without using an electric guitar, who can make your heart beat faster with a mandolin and an accordian. Lead singer/songwriter Shane McGowan is a notorious drunk (to quote one of his own songs "the miserablest son of bitches bastard's whore") but he can reference everyone from Coleridge to Donleavy to Bredan Behan with a romantic Irish fluency not found anywhere else. His songs talk about hell, ghosts, prostitution, drugs, death, horse racing, dog racing, and every form of alcohol known to man. (There were five green bottles/ Sitting on the floor./ I wish to Christ/ I wish to Christ/ That I had fifty more.") But he can also be intensely romantic, even sweet, conjuring beautiful images of misty mornings or the sound of the haunting corncrake's cry. Hell and heaven intermingle everywhere. A sweet, quiet lullaby with will whisper, "May the ghosts that howl/ 'Round the house at night/ Never keep you from your sleep./ May they all sleep tight/Down in hell tonight/ Or wherever they may be."
In the song "Turkish Song of the Damned," on their masterpiece album "If I Should Fall From Grace with God," Shane sings "I come old friend from hell tonight/Across the rotting sea./Neither the nails of the cross/nor the blood of Christ/can bring you hope this eve." Not only is the "rotting sea" a direct quote from Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," but Shane throws his own crazy ideas about god and hell and Jesus into the mix. He's a Catholic, if not a good one. But then -- he's Irish.
In the far more romantic song "Fairy Tale of New York," Shane and Jem Finer write these classic and typical opening lines: "It was Christmas Eve, babe/ In the drunk tank/ An old man said to me/ Won't see another one..." This lovely song is a duet, and the woman responds at one point: "You scumbag, you maggot/ You cheap lousy faggot/ Happy Christmas your ass/ I pray God it's our last." The song then swoops into a lyrical chorus and finishes with her saying: "You took my dreams from me/When I first found you." He replies: "I kept them with me, babe./ I put them with my own./ Can't make it all alone/ I've built my dreams around you." It's an amazing Poguian mix of anger, alcohol, romance, and poetry.
We all expect the toothless Shane to expire from drink at any moment. But he's lasted this long. Maybe I'll get another chance to see them in a rabble rousing concert one day.