Saint or Sinner?
When I first heard of the Pogues, I'd already been listening to punk since about 1980, and Irish trad. since about 1983. They were described to me as "the Sex Pistols meet the Dubliners," and I thought: "that's for me!" Mind you, I've not actually ever been a fan of the Pistols, as they struck me as being all marketing on MacLaren's part and no actual talent. But the Clash's "London Calling" had opened me up to the possibilities of punk, and frankly the musicianship on that album was impeccable. There is a stereotype, and I'd even go so far as to call it a cultural prejudice, that no punk player can actually play worth a damn. The Clash (and the Pogues, to get back on target) belie that prejudice. Both are very tight bands.
With the Pogues, the underpinning of a talented band juxtoposed with a wild, unpredictable, rough-and-ready vocalist made for at least two albums worth of incredible music. I was hooked by the mad energy of "Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash," but what really impressed me was the beauty and lyrical worth of much of "If I Should Fall From Grace With God": the title track, "Broad Majestic Shannon," and especially "Turkish Song of the Damned" and "Fairytale of New York," which paradoxically is heart-breakingly beautiful because of, not in spite of, the roughness and imperfection of Shane's singing. And I've got to disagree about Kirsty MacColl on this song: she snarls right back at Shane, which is just the right tone for this song, it's just that her voice is much prettier. God bless Christy Moore for introducing this song to a broader audience who might never give the Pogues a second thought because of preconceived notions of what the label "punk" means, but I'll take the original, thanks.
"Turkish Song of the Damned," on the other hand, might well be playable in a more traditional manner, but with its wild energy still intact.
So, would I want to hang out with Shane, or for him to marry my daughter? Certainly not. Far too many demons, far too much chaos. Does listening to his music carry me away into its world and its stories, the way all great music does? Certainly yes. I will still be listening to the Pogues with delight and astonishment when I'm ambling around in my walker at the home, 50 years from now....