Double Shot of Celtic Soul
Source: Book Magazine
Date: March / April 2001
Author: Helen M Jerome
Copyright: © Book 2001
SHANE MacGOWAN ON:
I like Picture of Dorian Gray and I love his quotes, I love his wit. But I don't like his plays and I don't like his other stories, but I love "The Ballad of Reading Gaol." It's a brilliant poem, one of the best poems ever written.
There's Shakespeare and a few good poets, the Brontës and Thomas Hardy. And I like Dickens, but that's it. I think Jane Austen and George Eliot are a pile of old crap.
One of the greatest books ever written. The end is brilliantthat's the whole point of it, the sadism and the brutality and the degradation. And then the final salvation at the end is what makes it a great book.
I don't like Swift, I wouldn't regard him as a real Irish writerhe could be from anywhere.
They're fairy stories. Nice, light reading. He's a fun, comic writer. I only really know The Commitments, The Van, The Snapper and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. For a good laugh he's a great read and that's it.
I love Damon Runyon, Raymond Chandler and
He's much better than James Ellroy. Bunker is the real stuff, if you want to read realistic, modern American crime fiction written by a man who knows what he's talking about because he spent half his life inside.
Conrad doesn't get mentioned enough. He always gets lumped in with the English writers whereas he wasn't, in fact. He wrote in English, but he was Polish and spent most of his life at sea.
I'd recommend anything by Graham Greene. Although he was born and bred in England, he hated the bloody place and spent most of his time abroad. He was an alcoholic and a junkie and hated England worse than death.
Great. Another example of an English writer who turned his back on England in order to be a great writer. Under the Volcano is a brilliant book and he wrote lots of other books as well, a lot of seagoing books. He was a bit like Conradthe dark side of the seafaring tale.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T.E. Lawrence, which
I've read before. And I'm also reading The Tain by Thomas Kinsella [the oldest prose epic in the Western World]. I tend to read quite a few different books all at the same time.
FOUR DECADES ago, Brendan Behan, Irish playwright and memoirist (Borstal Boy), could be found propping up any bar in Dublin. That was before he died of alcoholism at age forty-one, of course. The pub would have also been the best place to seek out the late Flann O'Brien (aka Myles na gCopaleen)columnist, novelist (The Third Policeman, At Swim-Two-Birds) and career drunk.
Now this model of the heroically inebriated Irish storyteller lives on in Shane MacGowan, original singer and songwriter for the legendary Irish group the Pogues. Behan and O'Brien are two of MacGowan's favorite writers, and he seems a natural brother to them, living ondespite all oddsin the family tradition. "Shane's writing has reached some real highs," says Shanne Bradley, an artist and a collaborator in MacGowan's first band. "He is now an established part of romantic, mythical and historical Irish writing . . . may he not dry up."
It's shocking to meet MacGowan. But through the ever-present haze of smoke that surrounds his homeless-person exterior is an articulate, widely read forty-three-year-old punk poet. He has defied science, outliving numerous peers despite his self-confessed rock-star excesses in drink and drugs.
Like any besotted patron occupying the next bar stool, MacGowan is not shy. He has strong opinions on almost everything, and he shares it all in A Drink With Shane MacGowan, a transcription of a series of rambling, off-the-cuff conversations with his long-time partner, journalist Victoria Mary Clarke, that Grove Press will be releasing later this year.
Outside of his song lyrics, the book is the closest MacGowan has come to autobiography. As we speak he is going through the book's final edit, staying near his parents' home in Tipperary and looking forward to an upcoming March tour of the States with his new band, the Popes. He's also mourning the sudden, tragic death of his friend Kirsty MacColl, who sang with him on "Fairytale of New York," a song he co-wrote for the Pogues that has become a Christmas classic in Great Britain.
Born in England, MacGowan spent the first idyllic years of his life in rural Ireland, where, at an early age, he was immersed in the country's heritage through music and literature. At age six, he moved back to southern England, where he had a relentlessly miserable time. He won a writing prize here and there, and he was expelled from Westminster School, the prestigious 800-year-old privately endowed school attended by the likes of playwright Ben Jonson and Sir Peter Ustinov. He always counted the days until his next vacation in Ireland.
MacGowan's life changed in 1976 when he discovered punk music, started an innovative fanzine called Bondage and eventually blended the lyricism of Irish folk music and poetry with the attitude of punk rock's premier group, the Sex Pistols. He fronted and composed for a succession of bands, starting with the Nips, followed by the Pogues and now the Popes. He's recorded eight albums in all, along with numerous singles and videosand he released a book of his lyrics in the UK called Poguetry: The Lyrics of Shane MacGowan.
MacGowan says he writes when "I'm completely out of it. It could be in a bar, it could be at home, it could be on a train, it could be in a jail. It suddenly goes ‘bing' and starts coming out." In addition to the songs he's always working on, he has plenty of short stories that could be published. "It's a case of editing them," he says, "and there'll be some poetry in there, and some autobiography as well. They'll be stories that people have told me; that's how I write my songs. They're either about myself or stories that people have told me in bars."
And how would this Irish poet-cum-rock star rate himself as a writer? "Brilliant! Like any entertaining drunk you've ever met in a bar."
Details on Shane MacGowan's childhood, early punk days and eclectic literary tastes can be found in the complete article, "Double Shot of Celtic Soul," in the March/April 2001 issue of BOOK.