When I first heard Shane MacGowan’s voice it was through the speakers of my brother’s stereo. It was “Old Main Drag” a song of an absolute trauma and survival. “Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash” was the first record I ever owned by The Pogues, which for a young poet with Irish heritage, was like finding a treasure trove of beautiful writing rich in history. From there I devoured the catalog and Shane’s other works.
MacGowan had this brilliance to turn old folk songs into something new and exciting but still keeping to honoring the traditions. The Pogues opened me up to Irish music, folklore, and to search further into my own family history. It challenged me to write not just emotionally but as a storyteller. Shane MacGowan, an Irishman, was a masterful artist who could paint a scene of romance, war, or debauchery with a poetry that made even the most grotesque line so beautiful.
I’ve cried to MacGowan’s words, and I’ve laughed at his unmatched wit. Like Oscar Wilde, he mastered the satirical humor that seems an Irish blessing and curse. With The Pogues, MacGowan brought one of the most unique and absolutely fun live shows ever. As Shane once said, “We play better when we aren’t drinking, but we don’t have as much fun.”
MacGowan was a true believer in living life to the fullest while being real about the pain the universe delivers to us throughout the struggle to survive this life.
“I’m just following the Irish tradition of songwriting, the Irish way of life, the human way of life. Cram as much pleasure into life, and rail against the pain you have to suffer as a result. Or scream and rant with the pain, and wait for it to be taken away with beautiful pleasure . . .”
The fact is Shane MacGowan was iconic in his own right. As a punk poet, he was already a legendary voice. With his music while popular in certain circles was mostly for a certain audience. He wrote Irish music and songs that told stories of struggle, but celebrations of life in the face of it all. He was a rebellious voice of freedom and a loving soul who embraced traditions, heritage, and the wrestle of the sacred versus secular.
In the end, MacGowan’s was a lovely man who loved his family and friends. He was devoted to his wife, and a man of faith. An artist who gave the world a catalog of incredible songs that will live forever. In the tradition of Irish writers, his lyrical contribution to the world should be considered poetry that everyone should be encouraged to read along with the great Irish writers.
My feeble attempts to encapsulate MacGowan‘s life and contributions doesn’t even begin to shed light on his importance to songwriting. He was instrumental to my own songwriting and poetry. Also helping guide my young mind to learn more about history and my own heritage. it’s immeasurable. So, I’ll just leave you with the words he wrote.
“If I should fall from grace with God,
Where no doctor can relieve me
If I’m buried ‘neath the sod
But the angels won’t receive me
Let me go, boys
Let me go, boys
Let me go down in the mud
Where rivers all run dry”