Pope of all The Pogues

Source: Sunday Independent
Author: Barry Egan
Contributor: Ingrid Knetsch
Copyright: (c) Sunday Independent 93

Barry Egan bar-crawls that dirty old town with the Pogue-turned-Pope philosopher, Shane MacGowan

Dessie 0’Malley, alas, wasn’t the only poor soul to get a dig in the snot on Tuesday night last. At 3am or thereabouts, a beau monde consisting of Shane MacGowan, author Victoria Clarke, ex-Maghill editor Luke Clancy and my good self were doing our damnedest to enjoy ourselves in Lillie’s Bordello. There was a modicum of drink involved. Our progress was momentarily hampered, however, by English chanteuse Lisa Stansfield, who kept insisting the erstwhile Pogue acknowledge her existence. Inevitably, she took sufficient umbrage at this to come over and suggest that Shane slap her in the face. He obliged, albeit meeckly. Not to be outdone, Lisa asked MacGowan could she hit him back. And when she did, the singer with the beautifully titled Popes couldn’t have thought that the resulting punch would have nigh boffed his teeth out. It was lucky, then, that we had a full compliment of ice in our ice bucket to help soothe Shane’s bloodied, if not quite broken, hooter.

Midnight the following evening in La Stampa in Dublin and the only drunk in the whole place is … me. Shane is in top form. He’s shaved off the beard and now looks younger, healthier. Perhaps the healthiest MacGowan has looked in his 35 years.

Next to these ingurgitating – and not to say inglorious – yuppies, MacGowan cuts a strangely noble figure. The words out of his mouth, however garbled, are close enough to what the Irish chiefs of bygone eras would have said, faced with similar circumstances. Over the course of three nights abroad in the taverns of the capital, the songwriter talks of the Ireland of his youth and his parents. And how – like O’Leary in the grave – that vision of Ireland has long since rotted into dust.

“There’s McDonald’s everywhere. Even in Tipperary. That’s always the first sign,” he observes. “The Americanisation of anywhere leads to the loss of a nation’s soul. I’m not saying I don’t hate every fucking thing the English did to Ireland but they never managed to get rid of the Irish soul. Ireland’s not as good as it was, probably because the people died or moved away, and the towns died.

Are the Irish who had to move to England because people like Charlie Haughey couldn’t find them work in Ireland angry ar this country, Shane?

“I can’t be a spokesman for the rest of the London Irish, but I know a lot of them who are very bitter, yeah, especially the ones who’ve been in prison. The anti-Irishness is not as strong as it was in the Seventies in London because Londoners are too busy hanging each other nowadays to pick out any particular social group.”

Is England doomed culturally?

MacGowan quips that he doesn’t remember it “ever having a culture”. “I’m told it did have one at one stage but not my kind of culture. Y’know, constipated, aggressive, violent in physical, mental and spiritual ways. But the more Irish people move away and influences are exerted by people like Germans, English and Americans, the more Ireland loses ist soul.”

Does that make you sad?

“No, it makes me angry. It’s sick. I’ve given up being sad about Ireland. In fact, I was never sad about Ireland. I was always angry and sick.”

When you strip away all the drink-related trivia in the press about this pawky thirtysomething, you’ll find perhaps one of Ireland’s few echt spiritualists. From his cuttings, you expect a ramblin’ dipso spreading pestilence and obscenity wherever he goes, ot to quote from a poem by Charles Bukowski, “a hell-fish in the night, swimming upward, sideways down.” What you get instead is a thoroughly – whisper it now – nice, if a little feisty, rake who will sing songs in restaurants on the spur of the moment /’Dirty Old Town’). nd produce coppies of books by Baudelaire at midnight in nightclubs and demand that you read them for the clucidation of all present. A gentle-eyed compendium of spirituality and good nature, the Tipperary lad is impervious to his detractors and, if anything, seems to take satisfaction in life as some sort of self-achieved spectacle of unqualified joy. Depression is surplus to requirements. Only the most soulless of homo sapiens would fail to notice, or envy, this spirit in Shane. Hell, you should have been there …

In Le Caprice we sang along to the piano player’s interpretation of ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’: him banging his teaspoon off a cup to the rhythm, Victoria doing the same, and me clinking a Guinness glass off a teapot. Then he did his not-bad impersonation of Robert de Niro hearing the phone ringing in the opium den in Once Upon A Time In America.

The he made the Dennis Desmond-terrifying suggestion that The Fleadh in Tramore on July 3 and 4, of which Shane is an integral part, is “the best bill since Woodstock or Monterrey”. Apart from everything else, Shane seems the most naturally-at-ease-with-himself person you could encounter of an evening in a fancy eaterie. “Is that a problem?” he laughs. “I do my very best to enjoy life.” How? “By doing whatever I want as much as I possibly can without hurting other people.” “If Shane’s got any philosophy, it’s that everything comes back round, and whatever you do comes back to you. That’s karma, simple.” interjects girlfriend Victoria Clarke. “He’s a classic example of someone who’s always been very good to people. Not just financially, he’s incredibly generous in spirit as well.”

Shane looks a little embarrassed at this character analysis. “I had a whole family in Tipperary who were incredibly generous in spirit, ” he blushes. “They were beautiful people. They were old people, so they’re dead.”

He talks about his dad, about his “thousands” of cousins scattered like seed “all over the world, of New York, and Thailand, and Joyce and Yeats, and God. He would be a great fella to have on your side in a game of Trival Pursuit. Especially should the subject be Japanese culture. On the Yuko Mishima, the author who committed hara-kiri in the Japanese army HQ in Tokyo, Shane is formidable. “He thought the Japanese nation had lost ist soul. He hated the way the country was being run by bread-obsessed capitalists and finally found that he couldn’t write anything angry enough, so he topped himself. He committed ritual hara-kiri.”

Would you ever consider committing ritual suicide?

“Naah!” he laughs. And jolly good, too.