On the subject of booze and the muse, I spent a while with an old friend the other week. We talked a lot about The Pogues while driving around the west of Ireland with The Boys from the County Hell banging out of the stereo.
I saw The Pogues almost as often as some of their roadies during their first couple of years. When a near-perfect band appeared aimed firmly at the second-generation-Irish-Behan-obsessive, I almost started believing in god again.
It was too good to be true at the time.
But my passenger in Mayo knew more about them than I do. You'd almost say that she could ...er... write a book on the subject. So I tried out a few theories, and I've remembered a few more since. I'm writing them down so I can remember them.
The first is on the over-emphasis on Shane MacGowan's drinking. If the hard stuff was the midwife to Brendan Behan's work, I always thought that Shane MacGowan's drinking often eclipsed his talent as far as the public were concerned.
It did so in two ways. Firstly, the quality of his songwriting was under-reported. OK, The 'Fairytale of New York' is widely feted, but some of his best songs are largely ignored. And others - like 'Rainy Night in Soho' - that critics point to as evidence of his talent - aren't that good. All of the evidence points to the fact that few critics have actually listened to Shane's songs enough to have recognised just how good they are. 'Rainy Night...' has the veneer of a classy song. But there are too many cliches and 'moon-spoon-june' rhymes in there. On the other hand, that 'Lullaby of London', or 'Dark Streets of London' or 'London You're a Lady' (there's a theme emerging here) have not put him in contention for an Ivor Novello award is proof positive of this.
I've always found the acknowledgement that he has had to be slightly patronising. He's always been treated as a bit of an idiot-savant, or as a puckish sideshow at best. And this was because of the highly publicised (er...OK, the impossible to ignore) excesses. Shane wasn't taken as seriously as he deserved because the press - and the larger part of his audience - took more interest in his self-destruction than in this work.
The second way that it effected his work was that it must have effected his judgement on practical issues. He allowed decisions to be made about himself and the direction of the band that no other 'breadwinner' would have accepted. If, say, Elvis Costello had been bossed into endless touring (at the expense of his health) and had large parts of the artistic direction of The Attractions taken out of his hands, he'd have been looking for a new band in very short order.
Shane should have left The Pogues after the release of their third LP.
(Sorry - there's more of this on the way. Like it or lump it.)