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Clip: A Ramble Through the Mind of the Pogues’ Poet

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  • Carl Z.
    A Ramble Through the Mind of the Pogues Poet By ANDY WEBSTER Published: March 13, 2007 BOSTON,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 14, 2007

      A Ramble Through the Mind of the Pogues' Poet

      Published: March 13, 2007

      BOSTON, March 10 — "He knew he was totally mediocre, he was a measly
      old poet, Wordsworth, and never made it at anything like Coleridge,"
      Shane MacGowan said, adding, "He had really bad teeth." Mr. MacGowan,
      the principal singer of the Celtic rock band the Pogues and a man
      fabled for his thirst, affinity for illicit substances and terrible
      dentition, has sympathy for Wordsworth's friend Coleridge, who
      alienated Wordsworth with his opium use. Like Coleridge, Mr. MacGowan
      has his appetites and he too is known for his way with a verse.

      The Pogues are in the United States for their annual St. Patrick's
      tour, hitting cities where their fan base and Irish enclaves are
      strong: Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Next the group
      goes to the Roseland Ballroom in New York, with gigs on Wednesday,
      Thursday and Saturday, St. Patrick's Day. (The band plays in
      Philadelphia on Friday too.)

      A reporter had waited close to an hour in the bar at the Ritz-Carlton
      here before Mr. MacGowan — resplendent in an untucked
      black-and-white-printed tropical shirt, primitive neck jewelry and a
      gaudy red and black cowboy hat — shuffled in with Joey Cashman, his
      longtime assistant. Mr. MacGowan, 49, asked the waiter for Irish
      breakfast tea, and drank with a trembling hand.

      It might be said that Mr. MacGowan speaks in a Joycean stream of
      consciousness, but a conversation with him is closer to a pinwheeling
      ramble with a very well-seasoned regular at the corner pub. He speaks
      in a flurry of digressions, uttered in a semi-slurred Irish-London
      accent that is tough to decipher at times. When, during one tangent,
      the term "British Isles" arose, Mr. Cashman was quick to correct it.

      "Don't use the phrase British Isles," he said. "It's England,
      Scotland, Wales and Ireland." He added, "If you say it any other way,
      he'd probably throw his glass at you."

      Mr. MacGowan still possesses the morbid streak he has had since his
      days as a punk rocker in his first band, the Nipple Erectors. In
      another tangent, speaking about "The Butcher Boy," Neil Jordan's film
      version of Patrick McCabe's darkly satirical novel about a boy's
      murder spree in County Monaghan, he said with a rasping chortle, "It's
      great if you don't actually know everything that happens in every
      Irish town every day of the week." He said he loved Mr. Jordan's
      adaptation of Mr. McCabe's "Breakfast on Pluto," about a London drag
      queen in trouble with the I.R.A. in the 1970s. He said it brought
      "back nostalgia for mass killings and bombings, you know what I mean?"

      Hours later the Pogues were onstage at the Avalon, playing to a
      sold-out house. Fans were carried aloft over the mosh pit, as the
      eight-man band pounded out frenzied jigs and reels with a controlled
      fury. Workouts like "Fiesta" and "Sally MacLennan" prompted stomping
      and fist pumping; "Dirty Old Town," a tune by the folk singer Ewan
      MacColl and a longtime Pogues signature, became a deafening singalong.
      More than once Mr. MacGowan, staggering, knocked the microphone off
      its stand or knocked the stand over altogether, to good-natured
      laughter. But his voice was sure, and his bond with the audience

      After the show the band retired to an anteroom upstairs. The Pogues'
      accordionist, James Fearnley, sat next to Mr. MacGowan on a couch,
      protective of him, as is everyone in Mr. MacGowan's orbit, it seems.

      The group, whose first album, "Red Roses for Me," appeared in 1984, is
      five years into a comeback after a 10-year separation during which Mr.
      MacGowan sang with another group, the Popes, and the other band
      members put out middling albums as the Pogues. Mr. MacGowan reunited
      with the group in 2001 for a few Christmas concerts in Britain. Since
      then the band has been playing live with increasing frequency in
      Europe and the United States.

      Mortality has dealt harsh blows to the Pogues in recent years,
      specifically the deaths of Kirsty MacColl, a singer-songwriter and an
      occasional collaborator, and Joe Strummer, who produced their album
      "Hell's Ditch." A stabilizing force in Mr. MacGowan's life is Victoria
      Mary Clarke, a writer and his longtime companion.

      "We've been engaged for 20 years," he said. Despite "two or three
      breakups," he said, Ms. Clarke can be "very serene." The couple have
      moved to Ireland after years in London.

      Ms. Clarke's book "A Drink With Shane MacGowan," an as-told-to written
      with him, offers, if one-sidedly, clues to the breakup of the band, a
      topic Mr. MacGowan tactfully skirts in conversation. Mr. MacGowan said
      an album of new material was "almost certainly" going to be produced.

      While age and old habits have taken their toll on Mr. MacGowan, his
      feistiness remains undiminished. Asked about the prospect of Irish
      reunification, he cited Ian Paisley, the Unionist leader in Northern
      Ireland and a staunch opponent of the republican cause: "Ian Paisley
      is one of the best agents the I.R.A. ever had. He's done more for
      returning the six counties than anyone else."
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