I’ve been on a bit of a mourn since this past Thursday when I heard the news that Shane MacGowan, lead singer of the Pogues and punk poet extraordianaire passed out of this world. Sometimes news has a way of hitting you in places you didn’t expect it to. This certainly did. It has affected me greatly and I’m still examining it as it unfolds. I never knew Shane MacGowan by way of personal introduction, but somewhere in the formative years of my youth he appeared on the horizon much like Halley’s Comet, a once in a lifetime event burning brightly and moving like a bat out of hell across the sky. He could be found at the intersection of my personal identity and the music that I was immersed in since I was a boy at home.
My father, Paul, was a lovely man and had an affinity for the sonic sounds that were his birthright being a second generation Irish-American. He paid it forward to us kids and the sounds of Irish Traditional Music were a fixture in our home throughout our growing up. Being of a time right after disco and when punk-rock was gaining a foothold and then the second wave of the British Invasion of music via New Wave, Shane MacGowan and the Pogues appeared to us and never looked back. They were something of a bridge between the Traditional Irish Music we had heard all those years and the new punk music that was forming up around us.
We were taking the sentiments of nostalgia and the memory of injustices that were inflicted upon our ancestors and were learning that we could take those things and allow ourselves the expression of some outright hostility and anger towards those that would do us harm. Our identity forging over centuries of toil and immigration still had a way to go. This punk poet brought the lyrical light of his cigarette to the fuse of our minds and let us explore the feelings of alienation, despair, anger, resentment and the complication of reconciling these within a framework of learning to be a bit of ourselves in a new world.
He made it okay to be brash and outside of societal acceptance and reminded those of us that didnt’ feel quite comfortable within our skin that it wasn’t only the beautiful people that held sway in this world. There was a place for anyone to shout out about the madness of living and that it was certainly more than okay to do so. There are too many words to share, too many songs, too many lyrics that emphasize what this artist has meant to me personally in my lifetime.
I was in my car and on my way to work when I heard the news of his death. I immediately started to feel tears form up and spill out of my eyes. The grief is too much, because I know what we’ve lost. I’ve held MacGowan in admiration ever since those formative years, and in my pantheon of irreverent humans with exceptional insight on humanity (which includes Shane MacGowan, Charles Bukowski, George Carlin, and Dave Chappelle) Shane was a legend. I’ve always been enamored by those that could convey the simplest ideas about our lives in the simplest way possible, but using clever direct and impactful words to express the pain we share.
Shane MacGowan was a rouser, he had no problem saying fuck you when it was needed, but better yet, he reminded us that under our vulnerability beats a human heart that loves and is always holding hope that better days will come. I will miss the possibility of him gracing us with more of his talent, but didn’t have to hold that sentiment too long, as I’ve just learned that there will be posthumous releases of new material.
I know that by many measures Shane was not a perfect man and suffered greatly through his battles with addiction, but I’m certainly glad that he came along, and would say that he is the perfect embodiment of the Irish spirit that resides in those back home in Ireland and within those that have gone out into the world for myriad reasons. Life may be ugly in spots, but it is worth living and all things are a bit more possible over the music of great friends sharing a pint.
Godspeed, Shane! Thank you for the music, the words, and the perspective.