Pogues and rogues: the mad ones and me.

March 11th, 2013

A personal history of dangerous attractions.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Jack Kerouac

A few weeks ago, while folding laundry one night, I watched the 2003 music documentary Out of Ireland on Netflix. It briefly covered The Pogues, who were London-Irish, but whose songs drew heavily from Irish traditional music. If you remember them at all, you remember their brilliant frontman Shane MacGowan, and that he, like his wiki page (screenshot above), had “some issues.” I had to google his name right away  to find out if he was even still alive.

According to the wiki with some issues, he is not only not-dead, but maybe even sort-of-somewhat well. I’m glad. I would have bet against it, based on the shape he was in when I saw the Pogues perform live, at the height of their notoriety, in Toronto in the late 80s, around this time:


I was nineteen years old, and living in the big city with my much-older boyfriend (actually, in the suburbs–as near as we could afford to the big city). Look at what a little kid I was. My parents must have been dying. My boyfriend was a rogue, but a sweet guy at heart.  We were two Newfoundlanders far from home, and we seemed to be the only people in the audience who really knew how to dance to that kind of  music. Or thought we did. I remember us whirling around and around to the fiddle music, like a couple of mad gypsies.

In recent years, the rogue and I have reconnected on Facebook. From what I can tell, he works off the coast of North Africa, takes a lot of exotic vacations, and owns several expensive vehicles. I think he may be a pirate. Either way, it looks like he has landed on his feet.

The performance that night was wild — a roller coaster careening right at the edge of its rickety rails.  As much as I adored the music (and was mostly fixated on Spider Stacy, on whom I had a huge crush), it was worrisome to watch MacGowan staggering around, out of control, while the fans roared their approval every time he raised the bottle to his lips . It was very clear that things were headed downhill from there for the music, which was a shame, because it was and is absolutely brilliant.

It’s such a familiar feeling now. All my life I’ve been drawn to brilliant people who lose control. I’ll run hand in hand with them up to the edge of the cliff, taking in the dizzying view, and then I can’t believe it when they jump right off. Every single time. I mean, what the hell? I thought we were having FUN. I get frustrated. I get fed up. I wash my hands, and walk away. Then I run off hand in hand with the next brilliant, out-of-control person I meet.

Why, I lament, does this keep happening to me?

Except I don’t think it is happening to me. I’m beginning to look at my part in this pattern. Maybe I get something out of it. Maybe I enable it. Maybe I’m addicted to the vicarious thrill. Or maybe the comparison makes me feel like a paragon of self-control — a virtue I prize greatly. Probably too much.

I don’t know. I wish we could all have our merry dance with the devil and not lose our souls. I wish the most beautiful souls weren’t so easily lost. I wish all the rogues would land on their feet.

And I wish we could have more of this:


5 Responses to “Pogues and rogues: the mad ones and me.”

  1. Bob Hallett says:

    The Pogues’ marriage of punk spirit and irish melody has been a shinging example to a whole genertaion of musicians. You are not the only one drawn to that partcular flame, many of my colleagues are still searching for that same blend of poetry and Celtic energy. I reccomend Mike Scott’s biography about his time in the Waterboys, a similar character drawn to the same dark wellspring, but one who has fared better. And for what it’s worth, I have worked with McGowan many times over the past 20 years, the most recent last spring in Australia. He looked and sounded better then he has for a decade. He may be walking in Brendan Behan’s footsteps, but the man is made of stern stuff.

    • Kyran says:

      You can’t know how happy this makes me. I love any deviation from the same old sad story! I’m looking forward to getting brought up to speed. Also, this is one of those times I just love the coziness of this webbed world. It’s lovely to be able to wonder aloud and have the wondering answered with firsthand news. Thanks, Bob. 🙂

  2. marilee pittman says:

    Fergus sand “Dirty Old Town” at the March Hare. It wasn’t quite dangerous enough…

  3. Bev says:

    Here’s a different take on The Pogues. When living in the LA area, I saw the name of this band on the board at the Hollywood Bowl and did a search about them when I got home. I learned that “The Pogues were founded in King’s Cross,[3] a district of North London, in 1982 as Pogue Mahone—pogue mahone being the Anglicisation of the Irish póg mo thóin, meaning “kiss my arse”.” An Irish pub near where I now live in the Chicago area has a burger on the menu called the “póg mo thóin” and I have sent my sister and her family t-shirts with that printed on the back from that pub. What…Why…you ask? Our maiden name was Pogue! Thanks for posting about them; I love that others remember them too.

  4. Karen says:

    “I think he may be a pirate” made me laugh out loud. I think I need you to find out what he actually DOES do now. Because definitely a bullet dodged if he is.

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