Saturday, March 18, 2006

wearing of the green

St. Patrick's day, & I "celebrated" – one's celebrations are necessarily circumscribed in single parent state – by watching about three-quarters of Jim Sheridan's fantastic Shane MacGowan documentary, If I Should Fall from Grace. I have trouble with the last bits, where the chronological unfolding of MacGowan's career meets the "present" of the circa 2001 interviews, and it becomes clear how the razor-sharp lyricist and snarling, perfectly-timed singer of the Pogues' Rum Sodomy & the Lash and If I Should Fall from Grace with God has become a toothless, bloated, drink-soaked celebrator of his own past. I discovered the Pogues at their apogee, right between Rum Sodomy and Fall from Grace, and they led me backwards to the more subtle and musically sophisticated Irish musicians that had opened up Irish "traditional" music in the 1970s – Planxty, the Bothy Band, De Danaan, and so forth. (I have little interest in the flourishing sub-genre of pub-celtic-punk that's followed the Pogues, tho I'm certainly keen on bands like the Levellers & Oysterband who've learned certain lessons from Shane & co., & taken them in particular political directions.) I often wonder how much the extraordinary popular efflorescence of "celtic" music in the late 1980s had to do with the Pogues' explosive mixture of first-rate songwriting, post-punk energy, & rather hokey Irishiana.

Shane's career has been patchy since the date in the early 1990s when the rest of the band tossed him out. The Snake, released in 1997, is not a bad record at all; The Crock of Gold (1997) is actually rather excellent, and the 2001 St. Patrick's Day live album, Across the Broad Atlantic, is musically exciting thruout (tho Shane's enunciation leaves much to be desired). I have not yet written the boy off, tho I suspect his internists have given his liver up as a hopeless case. Shane appears to have cast off his band of the last decade (the supiciously familiar-sounding Popes), & as I write, he's playing a show with the recently reunited Pogues in New York City.

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