Shane McGowan - The Pogues - Tribute
Sunday, December 3, 2023
A tribute to Shane McGowan of the Pogues
by Wil Stenburg
https://www.facebook.com/wstenberg - November 30th 2023
I'm sharing this because its such a great tribute -
I woke up in the early morning to the news about Shane, and immediately thought, for some reason, about the way he spoke of his childhood years in Tipperary, where his extended family lived in a small cottage without running water that doubled as an IRA safe house.
Here in rural Ireland young Shane lived in an atmosphere of myth and magic, faerie and saints, rosaries and revolution, beer and whiskey, profanity, prayers and intense familial love. He was drinking beer, betting on horses, and praying to the angels and saints at five years old - that is when he wasn't romping around in the muddy fields or the deep green woods. He spoke of these times with an aching, tender longing.
When he won a literary scholarship and left to live permanently in England, the sense of dislocation was intense. To hear him tell, it was as though he had left a tribal society with deep roots and traditions to be thrust into an alien, industrial hell, faceless and without love. Then of course there was the explicit anti-Irish racism of the time. The end result was a total breakdown, institutionalization, tranquilizers and electric shock therapy. I guess they might have thought he was just another crazy Paddy who would slip between the cracks and never be heard from again. They were wrong and what rose up would spit in their faces and overtake them with its ferocious and unyielding beauty.
The Pogues were his answer to this dislocation, a cry of rage and pride, an assertion of worth and a visionary mission. By taking Irish music into the nascent punk movement, he was both a preservationist and a radical innovator. But it wouldn't have meant so much without his songwriting. At one point there was a website that annotated his lyrics, so rife are they with allusions to Lorca and Genet, Irish revolutionary politics and ancient Celtic myth, pop culture, history and geography. Shane was a literary genius, and those who paid attention knew. But most of all his songs had heart, and a longing - a longing in the deep heart's core. I feel perhaps it was a longing for home, a home that in some ways no longer existed.
You'll hear a lot of talk in the press about the drinking and drugs. Fair enough. He did a lot of both. But honestly you can walk into any dive bar worth its salt and find some old man who has been relentlessly abusing himself for fifty years. It's not really anything to talk about - unless he's also written some of the greatest songs of all time.
These days, everything is medicalized. And of course Shane was an addict and alcoholic. But he always claimed that derangement of the senses was his path to creative inspiration and frankly it's bullshit to say that never works. It does however have a price and I mourn that his final couple of decades seem to have been bereft of songs. He burned hard and bright until there didn't seem to be much left to burn. That was his choice. His final years seem to have been spent in a wheelchair watching television. Occasionally Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen would stop by to meet their hero.
But I can't complain about what he left us. We weren't entitled to any of it: he gave it freely.
He gave it as a poet, a singer, a bard.
A shaman, an exorcist, a druid.
A rebel, a lover, a scholar.
Before Rome's disastrous intervention and Britain's colonization, there was an Irish Christianity that grew organically in Ireland and had pagan roots. The Christ of this tradition was different from the Christ of Europe. He was a Druidic Christ who rode the winds, who howled with the wolves in the wildwood, who spoke with spirits by secret brooks - and also a Christ of the hearth, the fire, the mug of ale shared between friends. He was a holy trickster, a magician, a storyteller, and God.
It's this Christ I like to imagine welcoming Ireland's greatest son home tonight, to a heaven that looks a lot like Tipperary.