Out & About

Oh, to be around in the glory days of the Drunken Irish Bastard, when chinless messiahs such as James Joyce, Damon Runyon, John Ford, Stephen Foster, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Eugene O'Neill were fighting and fucking and falling down all the way to the top. I don't know what happened, but all of a sudden--about the time of the presidency of the Anti-Mick, Dwight Eisenhower--it was no longer cool to stagger around, slur epithets, and pee into the potted palms of the El Morocco Room while horrified autograph seekers looked on in horror. Christ, look what happened to poor Declan MacManus (slave name: Elvis Costello) when he tried to revive Drunken Irish Bastardry in the late 1970s. Poor guy got his glasses knocked off by Bonnie Bramlett just for mouthing off. You shoulda heard what Brendan Behan used to say about Ray Charles.

But then along came Shane MacGowan and his band of Pogues to rejuvenate the DIB movement in the mid-1980s. The guy would write amazing songs, brilliantly rich numbers that start where the dreams end. Such tunes as "The Body of An American," "Bottle of Smoke," "Fairytale of New York," and "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn" were like toasts at a wake, a lift in the midst of so much sorrow. As MacGowan struggled to put his soul into words, the listener was taken to a place in the heart that had almost been forgotten. After five sometimes-brilliant albums with the Pogues (and almost as many great live shows) the hopelessly drunk MacGowan skidded right out of the group. But waiting to hoist him back up were a group of harder-rocking, tough-Mick types whom Shane dubbed the Popes, so as to reclaim connection to the group that wouldn't have existed without him, yet kept the name.

After a pretty decent record called The Snake, which ended up on several top-albums-of-1995 lists, MacGowan sort of drifted away again. It was drugs and alcohol again, and the problem got so bad that his friend Sinead O'Connor notified the authorities. That was about a year ago. So the ads promising Shane MacGowan and the Popes are coming to town this week aren't mere mentions. They're banners shouting that Shane MacGowan is not only still alive, but well enough to travel. Seeing that name on the schedule of events is great news. He smiles through rotten teeth, dressed to swill in an off-white T-shirt and baggy black suit. He's the man who knows too much about the thing he can't name, and it drives him crazy until the liquor finally rescues him and the ghosts take him home and put him to bed. The Drunken Irish Bastard is back.

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Michael Corcoran