Source: Concert LiveWire
Author: Tony Bonyata
Copyright: © Concert Livewire 2003
Poet. Entertainer. Pub philosopher. Drunk. These are all the full-time professions of the enigmatic Irish singer / songwriter Shane MacGowan. Although not necessarily in that order. While Shane spent most of his youth in England, he is admittedly Irish through and through, making no qualms about his ill-feelings of England. The young Shane grew up with a love of early American garage / punk bands such as The Stooges and The New York Dolls, but it wasn’t until he first saw the Sex Pistols perform that he realized what he had to do. After forming his first punk band The Nipple Erectors, he went on to start the band Pogue Mahone (Gaelic for “kiss my ass”), which coupled Shane’s snotty punk attitude with the more traditional sounds of Irish folk music. Later shortening their name to simply The Pogues, MacGowan and company built a fervent following of fans, which also included many stars such as U2, Elvis Costello, The Clash, Sinead O’Connor, Johhny Depp and Nick Cave, among others.
The band’s decision to become more progressive in their later years didn’t sit too well with MacGowan, who was also at the time becoming more and more unreliable – showing up to gigs drunk beyond repair or, worse yet, not showing up at all – which ultimately led to the band firing him.
Since then MacGowan has formed his own band The Popes, who continue to follow in the spirited (in more ways than one) tradition of the early Pogues material. He’s also had his share of personal troubles over recent years, including the 1999 fatal heroin overdose of 25-year old friend Robbie O’Neil in his London home, the recent deaths of close friends Joe Strummer (lead vocalist from The Clash) and Kirsty MacColl (the singer / songwriter who performed with The Pogues on their 1987 hit “Fairytale of New York”), not to mention another close friend, Sinead O’Connor, who turned MacGowan into the police after witnessing him snorting heroin in his London home.
Livewire’s Tony Bonyata tracked down this elusive artist in his Dublin flat to discuss topics that run deep throughout Irish history – music, drink, death, politics and, yes, even leprechauns (although Shane’s are not exactly the mischievous, fun-loving little men in green that we’ve come to expect). Not sounding too far from Ozzy Osbourne in tone, MacGowan seemed to be on a mental plane somewhere between slightly sober and stammeringly shitfaced, as he stuttered, slurred and added the questioning phrase “yeah?” to the end of nearly every sentence uttered from his lips. That, combined with his distinctive laugh which sounded as if he had violently shaken a can of Guinness and then popped the top into the phone (krrrrsshhh sshhh), made for a very unique chat indeed. (And just in case you’re wondering, even though it may have been 3,700 miles away, our interviewer had the decency not to let his guest drink alone).
Livewire: The last few years you’ve played in The States around St Patrick’s Day. Is there a reason why you’re performing closer to home [in Dublin and London] this year?
Shane: Yeah, because we’ve played in America every fuckin’ year before. And we always lose money when we play there, yeah?
Livewire: Do the Irish treat St Paddy’s Day the same as over here in The States, because we get pretty crazy over here?
Shane: No, it’s always been more of a religious holiday over here. It’s really an [Irish-American] immigrant thing, the way you celebrate it over there, with the fuckin’ green Guinness and stuff, yeah?
Livewire: Do you consider yourself a folk artist?
Shane: No! I play Irish popular music, yeah? Calling it folk is like putting it in a box. It’s a living tradition, you know?
Livewire: And you wouldn’t necessarily call yourself a rocker then, because that puts you in a box as well then?
Shane: Exactly, yeah. But I mean, we swing and we rock and… well, you know what we do, yeah? And Irish music does that. Irish music is guts, balls and feet music, yeah? It’s frenetic dance music, yeah? Or it’s impossibly sad like slow music, yeah? Yeah? And it also handles all sorts of subjects, from rebel songs to comical songs about sex, you know what I mean, yeah? Which I don’t think people realize how much innuendo there is [in Irish music]. If you listen to a Dubliners record or a Clancey Brothers record the songs that aren’t about drinking, or shooting the Brits, are gonna be about fucking (krrrrsshhh sshhh). Like maids when their young with an old man, you know what I mean? Comical songs about getting hung, you know what I mean? We’ve got a black sense of humor (krrrrsshhh sshhh). Which is perfectly suited to New York. I think that’s why we’re understood in New York, much better than we are anywhere else in America.
Livewire: What’s your take on some of the newer Irish-American bands, such as The Tossers, Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphy’s?
Shane: Well, I’ve worked with Dropkick Murphy’s before. But the band I really like is called Lancaster County Prison. They’re really good.
Livewire: Do you feel that these bands lifted what you were originally doing with The Pogues?
Shane: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Livewire: What’s an average day consist of for you?
Shane: Well…[stammers], I mean…today’s a day off. But normally I’m doing a gig or I’m recording, or I’m doing a television appearance. If I’ve got a few days off I’ll be working on new stuff, or whatever, yeah?
Livewire: Speaking of new stuff, are you working on anything now?
Shane: Yeah, we’re in the middle of recording an album.
Livewire: With The Popes?
Shane: Yeah! That’s my band!
Livewire: Do you feel closer to your work with The Popes more than The Pogues?
Shane: No. no, no, no! The Popes are just doing what The Pogues were doing until it went wrong, you know?
Livewire: Do you think that The Popes are doing it as well?
Shane: (Pause) Well, we’re doing it a lot better than The Pogues were doing it the last few years. I’m not into progression. I’m not into fusion. I’m not into any of this shit, yeah? I’m just into doing what we do, you know what I mean, yeah?
Livewire: Do you feel stronger to any particular album that you’ve made with The Popes?
Shane: No. I’ve never put out an album I didn’t actually like. With The Pogues, at least the first three albums I’ll stand by completely, yeah? Because I was in artistic control then, yeah? And the last couple of albums I’ll stand by anything that’s got my name on it, yeah? But I’ll stand by anything that is on The Popes’ albums, you know? I wouldn’t put stuff out that I didn’t like. I don’t put out bad music. And I can tell the difference. I know that.
Livewire: Do you feel that your recent book A Drink With Shane is the definitive story on yourself?
Shane: Yeah, well, that was not written by me, yeah? It was A Drink With Shane MacGowan. Just what it says. It’s not an autobiography. It’s not a biography. It’s just a garbled bunch of tapes of me out of my brains talking to my missus, yeah?
Livewire: So you don’t feel that it’s an accurate account of Shane MacGowan?
Shane: I think it’s a funny book. And you should take it as a funny book. It’s all true, yeah? How ever fantastic it might seem, yeah? But there’s a lot of historical inaccuracies and things like that, you know? She sort of left out all my early life in Ireland, and stuff like that, and went straight to the rock ‘n’ roll and the sex and the drugs and…
Livewire: Straight to the throat.
Shane: Yeah, yeah.
Livewire: What’s your drink of choice?
Livewire: Too many to choose from?
Shane: Well, Irish Whiskey, I suppose…and actually Gin I quite like. I drink Gin or Whiskey. And I like the stuff that you got over there like… Schnapps and shots and those kinds of things, you know what I mean?
Livewire: The ones that get the job done quicker.
Shane: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I like it that way.
Livewire: Would we know any of your current drinking mates?
Shane: Well, right now I’m in Dublin where you bump into people all the time, you know? I saw Ronnie Drew [from the Dubliners] a few nights ago. Well, actually all over I bump into people all the time.
Livewire: You’ve worked with quite an impressive list of artists in the past, such as Nick Cave, Sinead O’Connor and The Jesus and Mary Chain, to name just a few. Do you have any plans for other collaborations in the near future?
Shane: Yeah, sure. I just did a couple of tracks with Ronnie Drew. And I’m probably gonna have quite a few guest stars on this album. We’re just trying to get an album that’s as exciting as our live performance. It’s impossible, obviously, but that’s what we do every time we record an album.
Livewire: When can we expect to hear this new material?
Shane: When it’s finished! (krrrrsshhh sshhh). Actually it should be out in the summer.
Livewire: And you don’t think that you’ll be touring over here in The States to support it?
Shane: Well, maybe I will. Who knows…of course, we probably will. We’ll probably do the East Coast anyway.
Livewire: I hope if you make it that far you won’t forget about us here in the Midwest.
Shane: Yeah, yeah, sure. As longs as…(pause)
Livewire: You don’t have to take a bath on it?
Shane: Well, even if we do have to take a bath on it, if the album is being distributed properly then its worth it, you know? But at the same time I’m not going to waste my time trying ‘break’ America, you know what I mean? Too many people have died trying to break America. America doesn’t break unless it wants to (krrrrsshhh sshhh), you know what I mean? We’ve got a great following out on the East Coast, but I think we’re more of a cult band everywhere else, yeah? And that’s already fuckin’ far more people than there are in England and Europe, you know. It’s a lot of people anyway.
Livewire: I caught your show with The Popes in Chicago a couple of years ago, which was incredible. I did, however, think it was strange that at one point you somewhat matter of factly turned away from the audience and vomited onstage. Was this a first time for you, or just another night.
Shane: Well, I mean, that happens every now and then, you know what I mean? The excitement and you have a few drinks before you go onstage, you know? You try getting up there and jumping around in front of thousands of people!! (krrrrsshhh sshhh)
Livewire: Its just that it seemed so natural.
Shane: Well, it was. It was. It wasn’t unpleasant, you know? I just did it and carried on, you know? In the early days with The Pogues a lot of us used to puke onstage, because we used to drink a helluva lot before we went on. We used to practice puking at the right time, you know, ‘where’s the stop?’ (krrrrsshhh sshhh). Between words, you know what I mean? Or in-between a chorus and a verse.
Livewire: So you’ve pretty much got this puking thing down to a science then?
Shane: Yeah. I try not to miss a word, you know? (krrrrsshhh sshhh).
Livewire: In the music and media world you’re sometimes viewed as this self-destructive mythological being ready to drop at any moment.
Shane: They’ve been saying that for the last 25 years and here I am talking to you on the phone, you know what I mean?
Livewire: So you feel this a misunderstanding of yourself?
Shane: Yes! I’ve pissed on those bastards graves! (krrrrsshhh sshhh). I mean, if I’ve been self-destructive for 25 years, as they’ve let on, yeah?, how come I haven’t destroyed myself yet? (krrrrsshhh sshhh sshhh)
Livewire: I understand that your friend Sinead O’Connor got you arrested a couple years back after she saw you snorting heroin in your own flat.
Shane: That’s right, yeah.
Livewire: Did this end your relationship with her?
Shane: No, but it ended my relationship with heroin.
Livewire: So you’re telling me that you’re totally clean now?
Shane: Yeah! Of that, yeah.
Livewire: Well, congratulations.
Shane: I’m not recommending to people that they should rat their friends out to the police, you know what I mean? At the time I was furious, obviously, but I’m actually very grateful to her now.
Livewire: You’ve lost a lot of friends to drink and drugs over the years.
Shane: Who hasn’t? Haven’t you?!
Livewire: Actually, no, I haven’t.
Shane: I don’t think that I’ve lost any more than anyone else who’s played in bands for years, yeah? I’ve lost family to drink. I’ve lost good friends to drugs. But in concerns of the percent, most of my family and friends either lived to a ripe old age or are still alive. My mother and father are still alive and still drinking (krrrrsshhh sshhh krrrrsshhh sshhh). And several of that generation, yeah? The generation before that lasted well into their fuckin’ nineties, most of them, yeah? And there’s even some of them that are still murking around, that I run into that I knew as a kid from that generation. I’ve lost a few friends to drink in Ireland. And I’ve lost a few friends from the music business to drugs, you know? I don’t think it’s any more than normal, no. A lot of these friends that you’re talking about were liked by a lot of people. I had a lot of friends – like Joe Strummer and Kirsty [MacColl] – neither of which had anything to do with drugs, actually.
Livewire: Were you very close to Strummer?
Shane: Yeah! And to Kirsty. But neither of them died from drugs. So I’ve lost a lot of people to other things as well. People die, you know?! It’s a fact of life. (krrrrsshhh sshhh).
Livewire: Do you ever think about your own mortality?
Shane: Yeah, I reckon I’m gonna go for over a hundred, yeah? If I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go.
Livewire: So it’s not something that you worry about then?
Shane: No. I have no intentions on checking out anytime in the near future.
Livewire: Happy to hear that. I know that you mentioned the band Lancaster County Prison earlier. But outside of the more traditional Irish music is there any other new music that turns you on?
Shane: Well, they’re not traditional Irish! They’re rocking and they’re…listen to them! You mentioned the Dropkick Murphy’s and all those bands, but these guys have got the real savagery, you know, yeah? They’re pissed off, you know?
Livewire: Okay, but outside of any Irish influences.
Shane: Well, I still love Nick Cave. What he’s doing, yeah? I still love Johnny Cash and what he’s doing.
Livewire: What do you think of Nick’s new album?
Shane: Nocturama? The new Nick Cave album? Um…I mean…they take awhile to get into – Nick’s albums, you know? But I think it’s fine, yeah. I just like Nick Cave, you know? I always have. I always will.
Livewire: Do you still pal around with him?
Shane: Not really for a long time, no. He lives over in England by Brighton-by-the-Sea and he’s trying to have a quiet life sort of thing. But I’m trying to get ahold of him to interview him for the Sunday Independent [Irish newspaper] about religion (krrrrsshhh sshhh).
Livewire: Well, there’s probably no better guy in the music world to talk to about religion than Nick Cave.
Shane: Apart from me (krrrrsshhh sshhh). You see, we’re both religious maniacs.
Livewire: If I could be a fly on the wall for that interview!
Shane: (krrrrsshhh sshhh) Yeah, I’m gonna do it. ‘Cause we’re both sinners who know we’re in for redemption (krrrrsshhh sshhh)… but don’t do anything constructive about it (krrrrsshhh sshhh). The human condition, you know?
Livewire: You painted the cover for your Crock of Gold album. Do you still paint?
Shane: Yeah, yeah. It’s one of those things that…. I’ve been through a lot…yeah, right, a lot of people have died over the last few years and I suppose after that Crock of Gold album is when it started happening, you know? And I’ve been pretty down in a lot of ways. I haven’t been painting as much as I used to, you know what I mean?
Livewire: So was your painting somewhat of a therapy for you when people were dying around you?
Shane: What, you think it’s that bad that it looks someone in a nuthouse painted it? (krrrrsshhh sshhh) I think it’s quite a good painting, personally.
Livewire: Would you consider it Expressionistic?
Shane: It’s a picture of some leprechauns standing around a crock of gold. That’s what leprechauns really look like!
Livewire: After how many pints? They look like gremlins.
Shane: They’re not nice little guys. They’re devils! They’re little devils!
Livewire: So are these the type of leprechauns we’re to expect over here this St. Patrick’s Day? Little Devils?
Shane: You’ve got them over there, for fuck sake! They wear turbans (krrrrsshhh sshhh sshhh). No, they don’t. They got fuckin’ white hair and they look like a bad comedian and they’ve always get their dad behind them telling them what to say (krrrrsshhh sshhh sshhh).
Livewire: Bush, the American Leprechaun?
Shane: He’s an absolute fuckin’ idiot! I just hope the Arabs can hold their temper, you know? I mean, he’s taking on like nearly half the world, ’cause it’s Islam, you know, yeah? It’s like he’s doing Al Qaida’s job for ‘em, yeah? What do you think? Do you think it’s going to happen anyway?
Livewire: I certainly hope not.
Shane: So do I, but you’re over there, you know what I mean! I mean everybody’s against it here and everywhere else. You’re quite good at blowing away your leaders when they’re doing a good job, you know? (krrrrsshhh sshhh). Why can’t you do it when they’re doing a bad job? (krrrrsshhh sshhh krrrrsshhh sshhh). You have done quite a few tosses, but only on the good ones, you know? (krrrrsshhh sshhh). I mean, look at your ’60s record – Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, fuckin’ Malcolm X…Jesus Christ! (krrrrsshhh sshhh krrrrsshhh sshhh). You should repeal it so you can get it back to bloody three terms so you can keep a guy like Clinton when you get one, yeah? Bush isn’t going to do three terms, don’t worry about that! (krrrrsshhh sshhh). Are you going to stop him if he does? (krrrrsshhh sshhh). That’s the way you do it, you know. (krrrrsshhh sshhh).
Livewire: What’s your immediate plans right now?
Shane: I’m leaving for holiday tomorrow just to relax. I haven’t been on holiday for years. So I’m going to Morocco, and I might shoot around the place a bit. Or I might just observe it from a fairly safe distance. I can’t write about the stuff that’s eating away at me when it’s still eating at me. I’ve got to be somewhere where I can have a good time to write disturbing songs.
Livewire: So while you’re physically getting away from it, you’re also bringing what disturbs you along?
Shane: Yeah, I’m bringing my demons with me and I’m dispelling them in the chilled out, laid back atmosphere of Morocco.
Livewire: Chilling out with your own leprechauns?
Shane: That’s right! Yeah (krrrrsshhh sshhh).
Author: Michael Malone
Copyright: © Playboy.com 2001
Though he’d surely scoff at the suggestion, Irish troubadour Shane MacGowan is the rare rock icon who could actually be labelled a poet. Amid the shit, piss, vomit, whores, gamblers and evil spirits of both the alcoholic and demonic variety that dominate his lyrics are some of rock music’s most poignant takes on love and heartbreak. And who else could pen a song like Fairytale of New York, a Christmas duet where lovey-dovey sentiments degrade into barbs like “You’re a bum, you’re a punk, you’re an old slut on junk,” and “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot?”
In the flesh, MacGowan is a jumble of visual contrasts — rail-thin limbs attached to an oversized gut, along with the famously toothless face that’s alternately cherubic and elderly. The former frontman for the Pogues, a band that brought together the strange bedfellows of punk and Irish traditional music, MacGowan possesses a taste for excess that surpassed even that of his old bandmates, whose frenetic music was fueled by stout and whiskey.
MacGowan split with the Pogues in 1991 and took up with a rough-and-tumble bunch of Tipperary tipplers cheekily dubbed the Popes. Their live shows invariably see MacGowan, like an escapee from an iron lung, stumble upon the stage, hours late, clutching the mike stand for support. To call Popes shows bacchanalian does not do them justice. Fans in tweed hats and harp tattoos pogo, hug, sway, raise glasses and tumble to the beer-slicked floor after throwing punches that wildly miss their mark. The fans are not the only ones slicking the floors — a late March gig at Chicago’s Vic Theater saw MacGowan ignominiously barf on the stage, then growl, “That feels better,” and continue with the show. Think of Mardi Gras, St. Paddy’s Day and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one — like the Pogues before them, it’s one of the most fun live shows you’ll ever see.
Born on Christmas Day 43 years ago, MacGowan gasps and wheezes like an old car struggling to start, with a laugh that sounds like he’s coughing up a bristly fur ball. Sadly, you can’t help but wonder how long it will be before MacGowan’s name and mug appear in the obits and his giddy, boozy live shows are mere memories. After MacGowan stood us up following a St. Paddy’s gig at New York’s Webster Hall, we got him back by waking him up in his Hell’s Kitchen hotel room. Though Keith Richards is generally considered the rock star most in need of subtitles, MacGowan makes that Stoner sound like an evening news talking head. He finishes his statements with “D’ya know what I mean?” and actually waits for your answer. During our chat, MacGowan ruminated on life after the Pogues, his all-time jukebox selections and the perils of letting your missus write your bio. At least we think he did.
Playboy.com: Do you still get a kick out of performing?
Shane MacGowan: That’s why I do it. It’s a lot of fun making records, d’ya know what I mean? But there’s an art to playing live. It’s a great feeling. It’s indescribable. It’s what I love. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. PB: Is there an age when rock stars should stop taking the stage?
SM: I’m not so much a rock star, d’ya know what I mean? We play Irish music. There’s really no age when you stop playing Irish music. Even if I retired from playing onstage, I’d still be singing in pubs.
PB: Is there a sense of responsibility to your fans to stay alive?
SM: I’m in pretty good shape. I don’t drink anything like what people imagine I do.
PB: How many drinks in a given day?
SM: I don’t count. In Irish terms, I’m not a particularly heavy drinker.
PB: What’s your poison these days?
SM: I like wine, and a lot of the time, I drink Peach Schnapps. It’s only 21 percent [alcohol].
PB: That sweet stuff’ll rot your teeth.
SM: I haven’t got any teeth.
PB: Which of your songs are you most proud of?
SM: Personal favorites?
SM: Well, the obvious ones are Fairytale of New York, Rainy Night in Soho, things like that, yeah? Then there’s London You’re a Lady, Down All the Days, White City, Lullaby of London, The Broad Majestic Shannon.
PB: You’ve got a book, A Drink With Shane MacGowan, coming out in June. Tell me about it.
SM: I didn’t write it, my wife [Victoria Mary Clarke] did. It’s a bunch of interviews that she did while I was drunk. I said a lot of things about people that I wouldn’t have said if I hadn’t been drunk and talking to my wife. But what’s done is done, and I think it’s a good book. It’s entertaining. Know what I mean?
PB: How long have you known your wife?
SM: Actually, we’re engaged. We’re getting married this year. We’ve been going out for, uh…she reckons 14, I reckon 17 years. It’s somewhere in between.
PB: You’re at a bar that has a jukebox that features every song in music history, four plays for a buck. What do you play?
SM: That’s a personal question. Can I just reel off the first four I think of? PB: It’s your money.
SM: Raglan Road, by the Dubliners, Wichita Lineman, by Glen Campbell, Downtown Train, by Tom Waits. [Pause] A song called Inion an Pailitini (The Palatine’s Daughter), by Sean O Riada and Sean O SÈ.
PB: Are you still in contact with your old Pogues mates?
SM: Yeah. Spider Stacy [tin whistle, vocals] plays with us occasionally. I might be doing something with Terry Woods [banjo, violin] in the near future.
PB: It seems as though you’ve surpassed them in terms of popularity.
SM: Spider has his own band, and the rest of them have got various projects. But at the moment I seem to have the highest profile.
PB: Any chance of a Pogues reunion tour?
SM: It’s very unlikely. Who knows? Maybe some day in the future, but there wouldn’t be much point in it at the moment.
PB: Are you a churchgoer?
SM: Occasionally, yeah. I’m a believer, and I pray every day.
PB: Will you be going to heaven?
SM: [Pause] Either heaven or purgatory. Definitely not hell. [Laughs, then phone rings] There’s a call coming through, and I don’t know how to take it. Let me just ask my missus, yeah? Hang on a minute.
PB: No problem.
SM: Hello? [Phone rings again]
PB: Still us, Shane.
SM: She doesn’t know what to do either. Tell ya what, if I put the phone down…. There, it stopped. Keep going.
PB: Read any good books lately?
SM: The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien. And now I’m reading Broadway, by Damon Runyon.
PB: Do you get a lot of groupies at your shows?
SM: Yeah, but I don’t avail myself of them. I’ve done it in the past, many years ago.
PB: Do you ever have to pay for a drink anymore?
SM: I very rarely have to pay for a drink these days. D’ya know what I mean? The bars I go to, there are so many people there who will buy me a drink, or it’s on the house. If we’re in Ireland, people buy me drinks, and when we’re on the road, a lot of times fans will see me and buy me a drink. Occasionally, I’ll buy myself a drink, or I’ll buy other people drinks, ya know? Yeah? But I do get a lot of drinks bought for me, if that’s what you mean. That’s how I get a reputation as such a big drinker — I always have these glasses in front of me, people always putting them on the table, know what I mean? PB: I guess your fans feel like it’s an affirmation for them, buying you a drink.
SM: Yeah, and that’s very nice of them. I’m not complaining at all.
PB: So who’s the biggest wanker in rock?
SM: I’m not gonna slag any other musicians.
PB: Surely someone out there deserves a slag.
SM: There is, but I’m not gonna say it.
PB: How do you get charged up before going onstage?
SM: I’ll spend about a half hour in the dressing room, just me and the band, having a drink, relaxing until we go on. We don’t hold hands and shout.
PB: What will be your lasting legacy?
SM: I don’t know. People say that Fairytale of New York will be played at Christmastime forevermore, but who’s to say?
PB: What’s the best pub in Ireland?
SM: That’s a ridiculous question. There are hundreds of great pubs in Ireland. Thousands.
PB: What are some of the better ones?
SM: A few of my locals down in Tipperary, yeah? Finney Ryan’s, Martin Lachan’s, the Eagle’s Nest.
PB: Are these all within walking distance of your house?
SM: If you’re a good walker, yeah.
PB: Would you consider yourself a good walker?
SM: I used to be a helluva walker, yeah. I used to walk 15 miles to the dance. But I can’t say I do that anymore, d’ya know what I mean?
Source: Rolling Stone
Author: Andrew Dansby
Copyright: © Rolling Stone 2001
Shane MacGowan is rumoured to be a man with a plan. After his departure from the Pogues, MacGowan has predominantly existed below the rock radar. Five years ago, there was the unleashed fury of The Snake, his first album with the Popes; but sadly it was forgotten shortly after its release. Crock of Gold, his second post-Pogues outing, barely touched these shores. Meanwhile, MacGowan would sporadically tour the U.S. before packed venues of delirious, starved fans, but for the most part, he left news of his doings to British tabloids, which chose to eschew music coverage for a watchdog-like role on MacGowan’s hyper-publicised dance with drink.
The Shane MacGowan who rolled through New York City last November rendered the Brit death-watch reports absurd. He and the Popes blazed through a set of tunes both Pogue and Pope, U.K. and American, Ewan and Hank. And that is the sort of lightening MacGowan hopes to bottle when he and the Popes roll back into New York City and perform on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), followed by the Irish Bartender’s Ball (March 19th), both shows at Webster Hall. The goals: a live album and ultimately a fresh start.
For a guy who was believed to be as certain a dead pool bet as Chris Farley and Ronald Reagan, MacGowan is doing just fine, thankyouverymuch. Still full of piss, vinegar and music, he seems to be concentrating his efforts on putting his musicianship back on the tracks. At New York City’s Grammercy Tavern, MacGowan offered a little ball busting about a Backstreet Boys magazine cover (“You used to have Keith Richards and Jim Morrison on the covers, you know. Anyway the bottom of it will fall out like [makes squeaking noise] sooner or later, you know.”) before touching on his St. Patrick’s Day performances, his next album and his upcoming book, co-written with his wife, A Drink With Shane MacGowan.
So a year ago, I heard you were working on a double album titled 20th Century Paddy. Is that still in the works?
Yeah, but we’ll probably put a live album out first. We’re going to record some shows around St. Patrick’s Day and make a live album.
You guys sounded great on your last outing.
Yeah, well it’s the best lineup I’ve ever had right now. And I’m not knocking all the bands I’ve had over the years, but the chemistry is all there, you know what I mean? There’s two guys who have been there from the start. There’s Bob the bass player, he’s been there a long, long time, though he wasn’t the original bass player. Andy was the new boy, but he’s definitely the best drummer we’ve ever had. And Mick, the accordion player, is rather new, but he’s definitely the best accordion player that we’ve ever had. So all the musicians are of equal standard. And everybody gets on well. There’s a chemistry.
Is it a comfier fit than the days with the Pogues?
No, I mean there wasn’t anybody in the Pogues that I didn’t like. We never really auditioned back then. It’s always been friends or friends of friends all over. We were friends, that’s how a band gets started, you know what I mean?
So will your next studio release still be a double album?
It’ll definitely be half-traditional and half original, but no, it’ll probably be a long single album. There’s no need to record a double album. There could always be “20th Century Paddy Part Two” some day [laughs].
In your book you downplay the lyrical aspect of your music somewhat. Do you find that’s changed as you’ve gotten older?
No, it’s just that the music was at least as important as the lyrics, or more so. They’re equally important to me. What I am is a musician. The fact that I like, well, yes we do have a high standard of lyrics. That’s not particularly because of my songs, but because of the old Irish songs and old country songs we’ve done. We’ve done “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond and now we’re doing “Angel of Death” by Hank Williams. We’ve done [Gram Parsons'] “Streets of Baltimore,” though we haven’t recorded that.
The book is basically formatted as an interview of you by your wife. Did you find it too personal?
Yeah, it was all that. And there’s various inaccuracies that need to be worked out. Well, not inaccuracies, it’s just that I’m not very good discussing and expressing myself. It’s not at all a biography, though. It’s an interview, but conducted by my missus, who is a writer and has been a journalist. So she had no mercy, you know what I mean [laughs]? The main thing is that I don’t like talking about myself particularly. I’ll discuss a good funny story, but there’s a lot of stuff I regret saying and a lot of stuff that we’re weeding out.
Do you worry that because of that, people will read too much into your lyrics?
I don’t mind that, because the main thing that I’m good at doing, as far as words are concerned, is not speaking or doing interviews, and I’m certainly got no interest in writing an autobiography. Or even a biography, really. But it’s fun writing.
Was it easier to write with your wife?
It made it easier, but if it had been somebody other than Victoria, then I woulda watched what I said a lot more [laughs]. There’d be in a lot less trouble now. So she would get everything with a tape recorder. When I was drunk. When I was just sitting at home with my missus. Ranting your way about this and that and telling her stories I certainly wouldn’t tell you [laughs].
Did she ever surprise you with the tape rolling?
Oh, no, no, no, no. She didn’t have to tell me because I was so out of it that I kept forgetting everything [laughs]. She kept reminding me, she kept saying, “Are you sure you want to say that?” and at the time I’d say, “Yes I want to say that. It’s true.” And now I look at it in cold print, and think, “Oh God.”
But I assume you get last editorial say.
Yeah, it’s fuckin’ lucky, you know what I mean [laughs]?
We have wrestlers topping our bestseller list, maybe there’s a chance for you to have a breakout book.
Books by wrestlers.
How do you write about that [laughs]? What are these books about? Are they like memoirs or something?
Sort of, they’re about growing up to be a wrestler.
Ah, that’s bullshit, not wrestling. Wrestling used to be interesting. There was a bit of sham involved, of course, but there was some real wrestling involved. They’re just characters now. It’s unrecognizable. There’s no fighting in American bloody wrestling. They just yell at each other and jump around like overweight ballet dancers.
Source: Irish Voice
Author: Tom Dunphy
Copyright: © Irish Voice
TOM Dunphy talks, or rather listens, to ex-Pogue frontman Shane MacGowan who, not surprisingly, has a firm opinion on everything from Northern Ireland to Catholicism.
I’VE been forewarned. “Call him in two hours time — but he might tell you to piss off,” manager Joey Cashman tells me as he gives me the phone number.
Dutifully, I phone the number in London precisely two hours later. It’s picked up after six rings or so.
“Allorgh?” a groggy voice answers.
I identify myself as the music writer for the Irish Voice.
“Whaddya wanna know?”
Hoo boy. My interview with the ex-Pogue — perhaps the most gifted, boozily poetic Irish songwriter ever — is off to an inauspicious start. Shane MacGowan sounds none too happy to be bothered by an American music writer at his home. Undaunted, I reply with a snappy comeback. “Um, how about the title of your next album?”
“It’s called Twentieth Century Paddy,” Shane MacGowan says. “We’re all twentieth century paddys. It’s the history of paddys in Ireland, England, America . . .”
And we’re off. For the next hour or so, Shane MacGowan holds court on a vast number of topics. I get the sense early into the conversation that one doesn’t interview Shane MacGowan so much as one tags along for the ride. He’s in an expansive mood — he claims to have had a bust-up with his girlfriend of fourteen years, Victoria Clarke, so perhaps that explains it — but on this evening, on a telephone three thousand miles away, Shane MacGowan is downright talkative.
So what’s Twentieth Century Paddy going to be like? “It’s going to be a double album, yeh?” MacGowan says. “One album is going to be old numbers like ‘Carrickfergus’ and ‘Spancil Hill.’ There’s broken hearted love ballads — a Carolans-type instrumental called ‘Victoria Clarke,’ some O’Riada-style things . . . It’s not going to be blasting paddy-beat the whole way through, y’know what I mean?” (MacGowan’s management is shopping for a new American deal, following ZTT’s unwillingness to shop the brilliant Crock of Gold in the States.)
Why the title? “It’s for the millennium. F— the millennium,” MacGowan growls. “It’s just another year, y’know? Another year the Brits are in Northern Ireland, y’know? When’s it gonna end?”
The subject of the North rankles with MacGowan like none other. “That David Trimble is an out-and-out Orange fascist thug,” he spits. “The Nobel Peace prize — give me a break. The Unionists are always throwing a spanner in the works. But the majority of the regular people, all they want is safety, peace, and work. And that’s what they’ll get if the border goes, the Brits draw out, and there are thirty-two county elections. And the government doesn’t have to be in Dublin. F—ing move it to Dundalk.”
“The thing about Gerry Adams, is that when he talks, right, he means what he says,” MacGowan continues. “He’s actually saying something, he’s telling you something, he’s answering the question. Every other politician, they sidestep, they talk for three minutes and say f—ing nothing . . .
“The IRA have given their word — they’ve always been men of their word,” he says. “Whatever you think of what they’ve done, whether you agree with their methods, the reasons were purely . . . always patriotic.”
Barely pausing for breath, he continues. “The IRA is not going to wait forever. In five years time there’ll be a different bunch of people and they’ll have different ideas — younger, angrier, and pissed off — and they’ll see that this has been one big Unionist wind-up. That’s how you get your bloodbaths. The way for Britain to avoid that is to pull out with dignity.”
“In this century we got the twenty-six counties. In the next we’ll get the six more,” MacGowan says. “Then there won’t be any need for the IRA anymore. The British Army can go home, shag their wives, look after their farms, whatever. And the only ones who’ll be pissed off are Trimble and Paisley and the madmen of the UDA.”
“But we got ‘em back, anyway,” MacGowan says. “Now we bloody own the place [England]. We own all the pubs, the dance halls. We run the drugs — well we fight the blacks for the drugs (laughs). But I’m too old for that shit.” But if Shane MacGowan admires what the Irish have built in London, he loathes what’s occurred in Dublin. “Y’know, a French newspaper said in 1900 that Dublin was one of the poorest cities. In the year 2000 it’s one of the richest. But it’s got no soul, there’s no character left. It’s a hole.”
What does he think about the situation in Kosovo? “I think they should have sent ground troops into Kosovo f—ing weeks ago and just wiped out the Serbs straight away and grabbed him [Milosevic] and tried him for f—ing war crimes!” MacGowan says. “There’s been ethnic cleansing there for f—ing months! What good is bombing? Why are they so scared of sending in ground troops? They weren’t scared to send ground troops into ‘Nam. I mean, the
English weren’t scared about sending ground troops into f—ing Northern Ireland in 1968, were they? Look what that started.”
I suggest that in this post-Vietnam era, neither Tony Blair nor Bill Clinton wish to stand the political heat of body bags returning home on television. “I know nobody wants to f—ing get the blame!” MacGowan exclaims. “But when people are getting massacred down there, it’s not a matter of who gets the blame. The politicians have to have the f—ing guts-that means they have dedicated their lives to helping people who are helpless against bullies and aggressors! If they put ground troops in Kosovo they’d wipe out the Serbs in a f—ing week. They’re supposed to be the f—ing policeman of the f—ing world — they’re not supposed to allow f—ing bullies to go in and commit genocide against other f—ing races.”
“Tony Blair is particularly good at it,” says MacGowan of the British prime minister’s slick media savvy. “I think he’s a natural.” And Clinton? “I think he’s studied the English, actually,” MacGowan asserts. “The Brits are much better liars than the Yanks…”
“The only politician anybody ever believed was Kennedy, anyway,” continues MacGowan. “Kennedy, Martin Luther King — civil rights always turns out in bloody war. Where’s his dream now? When is a change going to come– as Sam Cooke said — for blacks in America? Anyone who does tell the truth gets a bullet in the head, y’know what I mean?
I tell MacGowan the story about the original Kennedy coffin that was
revealed last week — that the original bronze coffin that bore his body from Dallas back to Washington was buried at sea in 1966, at the request of Bobby Kennedy, so it wouldn’t become a macabre collectible. “That’s one of the sickest things I’ve f—ing ever heard,” shouts MacGowan. “So they shot it full of holes to make it sink? And what, put a flag over it pretending he was in it, and dropped it into the sea? F—, they should have melted it down and given [the pieces] to beggars in the street.”
SO WHAT does Shane MacGowan think of this year’s Fleadh? (Visa problems have kept MacGowan grounded in London — he missed a Fleadh show in San Francisco. He’s expected in Chicago, Boston and New York, though.)
“Who’s headlining?” MacGowan asks.
“Hootie and the Blowfish,” this columnist replies.
“Hootie and the bollo- Blowfish?” Instinctively, MacGowan nearly says ‘bollocks.’ “I have no idea who they are. Are they Irish?”
I inform Shane MacGowan that Hootie and the Blowfish are not an Irish band — they are, instead, a wildly popular American band best known for insipid, least-common-denominator songs about hand-holding and unrequited love.
“God, that sounds f—ing awful!” MacGowan proclaims. “I thought this was an Irish festival — what the f— is that?”
Not an uncommon thought. What kind of music would Shane MacGowan book for a Fleadh? “The Fleadh should be Irish, or Irish and country, really,” he says. “Country music is so popular in Ireland, it’s Ireland’s second music. “Ray Lynam is a good country singer, an Irish George Jones.”
I tell Shane MacGowan of George Jones’ recent drunk driving mishap — he seems surprised that Jones was driving a truck. “I thought he’d be driving a big Cadillac or Buick or something,” says MacGowan. “Though I suppose a Mustang would be a bit hip for him.”
Does Shane MacGowan drive? “Very badly, I crash every time I drive,” he says. “I haven’t got a license — but I might persuade someone to lend me their keys, take it out for a spin, y’know? They’ll regret it in the morning . . .”
And how does he feel about America? “I just don’t like America past New York and New Orleans — there’s no place to hang around, yeh? ”
“I hate the bloody highways,” he adds. “I hate Burger Kings, I hate
hamburgers, I hate Greyhound buses. I’d have liked to have been in America during the Jazz Age, or the Golden Age of Hollywood.”
THE voice is different now. In the earlier part of our conversation, MacGowan’s thick London accent was groggy, slurry, trailing off. There are still many pauses, but MacGowan seems engaged. He’s looking forward to visiting New York. “Someone was asking me the other day why did the Irish lose out on organized crime in New York to the Eyeties and the Sicilians? I said it was because we’re always too busy kicking the shit out of each other to get f—ing organized, innit? But we’ve still got the bars, still got the police, y’know what I mean?”
MacGowan, a Catholic, concurrently believes in Taoism, the Chinese religion which stresses an inner path to spirituality. “I don’t believe in the Hebrew God, some big hairy bastard with thunderbolts,” says MacGowan. “The tao is the chaos from which the yin yang starts to make sense. The tao has no shape, no form, it cannot be named. It’s within us and without us, as George Harrison said. It’s everywhere and everything.”
That said, he still looks to Catholicism, especially as a songwriting
inspiration. “You can find God in a pub,” he asserts. Is that what inspired “Church of the Holy Spook” on The Snake? “Actually,
‘Church of the Holy Spook’ is straight down the line what it says — good ol’ Irish Catholicism was good enough for my dear old dad or mum or granny, if people died for it, then it’s good enough for me,” MacGowan says. “I don’t believe in the Holy Trinity — but I do believe in the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spook is just a friendly way of saying Holy Ghost.”
So it sounds like you’ve studied the world’s religions, then, Shane? “I
haven’t studied them!” he retorts, disdainfully. “I haven’t studied. I’ve just thought about it. All I can do is go by the words of Christ, who was the only talker we had, for f—’s sake. Buddha didn’t speak. The Holy Ghost didn’t speak. But I think it all boils down to the same thing — it’s all about unity, love, compassion.”
THE interview seems to be winding down. “Are you Irish?” he asks. “Are you from the Irish Post?” No, the Irish Voice. “Ah, there’s so many of those f—ing papers anyway . . .”
A BBC documentary on MacGowan’s life, called The Great Hunger, aired last year. What did he think of it? “It was inaccurate — I didn’t care for it,” he states. Of the title, he says, “I hate that sort of shit. Why not call it ‘Shane MacGowan — King of the Ceili’ (laughs)?”
“Or just Twentieth Century Paddy . . .”
Shane MacGowan and the Popes are playing the three remaining Fleadhs — June 12 in Chicago, June 19 in Boston, and June 26 in New York City.