Friday, December 1, 2023

RIP Shane McGowan

Remember when you used to hear one song that would be so good that you would go out and immediately buy the CD or album? In my teens, "Fairytale of New York" was one of those songs. It isn't just arguably the best Christmas song ever, but it's among the tops in the punk cannon. And while the album it's on, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, never held my full attention, it does include the superb title track and "Thousands are Sailing."

Vocalist Shane MacGowan always teetered somewhere between having huge punk vitality and being emaciated, wobbly, and literally getting hit by various cars. He was one of those how-does-he-keep-surviving Keith Richards rocker types. And he made it through 65 whiskey-soaked years before succuming to pneumonia this week.

Bursting from London's humming punk world of the 1970s, his band The Pogues (who have plenty of other great tunes, especially on The Essential Pogues) really didn't get big until punk was later fading. Bringing a bit of world beat, from the Irish world that he knew best, ended up being a perfect fit into the band's punk sound. The formula worked from the 1980s and into the 1990s before, after nine years, he was kicked out of his own band for his drug, alcohol, and mental and physical health problems. 

MacGowan's great legacy may be summed up in this line from his obituary in The New York Times:

The Pogues’ emergence had generated a backlash from musical traditionalists in Ireland. The great Irish singer Tommy Makem called the band “the greatest disaster ever to hit Irish music.”

Now that sounds like something to cheer about as we celebrate MacGowan's life!

Also in the same category of punk greats we lost this week is Scott Kempner, guitarist for The Dictators, who passed away at age 69. Although perhaps most known for their anthemic cover of The Stooges' "Search and Destroy," my favorites are "Stay With Me," which has a lightning-flashing lead, "(I Live for) Cars and Girls," with its demented Beach Boys sound, and "Two Tub Man," with its almost-KISS-like sound. RIP Scott Kempner.

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