If I Should Fall From Grace With God
If timelessness is one of the measures of a song’s inherent greatness, equally so must be its ability to endure heavy rotation and still sound fresh. Fairy Tale Of New York by The Pogues was released 29 years ago, and is still being played relentlessly every December on TV, radio and duke boxes all over the land. It remains the best Christmas song of all time despite it becoming the festive jumper of seven inch singles. As catchy as the Beatles and as real as Tom Waits, a tale of life beneath the underdog where love, addiction and black humour jostle to keep the soul winter warm.
The songs co-author, Shane McGowan, celebrates his 59th birthday on Christmas Day. I first became aware of the annual rumours of his impending death in the mid-eighties, a period when Shane was in the grip of a muse so powerful, that for a while, he was way-out in front, in terms of being one of the finest word-smiths ever.
My therapist informs me I’ve seen The Pogues 44 times
Enough times to know how great the band really are and how together, most of the time, McGowan is, and how ill-judged it was to go and see them on my own in Norwich whilst tripping. (I had never been to Norwich before). Shane’s disdain for touring was at its height on those Peace & Love shows, his rebellion finding expression in the Bodhran and the clutching of a Casio keyboard. An instrument I was convinced was secretly communicating with me despite it not being plugged in.
Suffice to say the night was as messy as a Poguemahone show in '82.
I had the pleasure of carrying home an inebriated Pogue once, and also getting steaming with Shane; no one carries him home
When I asked Shane what he would like to drink, he requested a bottle of wine and the evening panned out accordingly. I was honoured to be invited back his flat but I never quite made it, nor did I catch the 5.15 to Brighton - Who fans feel my pain.
Now, before I disappear up my own memory lane, the point, if there is one, is to consider whether Shane’s lyrics, without the musical invention, talent and creativity of the rest of The Pogues, still stands up as poetry?
Unreservedly, the answer is yes. Shane joins Dylan, Ray Davies, Townshend, Morrissey, Weller, Curtis, Tom Waits, Gene Clark and others, as a genuine Poet within the rock 'n' roll tradition. Whose words stand strong as poetic works without hook-line or chorus, whose very words sing the spirit.