"Fairytale of New York," by The Pogues, with Kirsty McColl (1959-2000),* on "If I Should Fall from Grace, with God," on Warner Special Imports (1997). ASIN: B000005S6B
Nollaig Shona Daoibh. Seasonal release, of this classic song, is expected to end 2008 in the number one spot on Irish and UK charts, again. Released in 1987, it peaked at number two. Supposedly, MacGowan and Jem Finer homage a 1973 novel, by J P Donleavy (b. 1926), "Fairytales of New York." The homage is a stretch, but, in a convoluted way, possible. Donleavy is best known for "The Ginger Man" (1955), published by Maurice Girodias at Olympia Press, Paris.
The lyric comments on delusions of success women and men bring when they move to New York City. The Donleavy book deals with the weird and bizarre, yet linked, experiences of an Irish immigrant in New York City. Donleavy is less concerned with success than is MacGowan and Finer, whose Christmas Eve in the drunk tank is an apt metaphor for the the plight of those who hold tightly to delusions of overnight success.
Click here, for a 17 March 1988 performance video, with McColl. This video is looped, dubbed, ala Brian Wilson, but still outstanding. MacGowan is hammered, his natural state, and McColl is at a loss, much of time: watch her face. (Video takes a moment to load, depending on your connect speed.)
MacGown and Finer write less of Christmas than the quest for celebrity and wealth. The original video hangs on the opening line, "It was Christmas Eve, babe, In the drunk tank," mostly oblivious to the larger meaning. The video, featuring a young Matt Dillion and New York Police Department (NYPD) Pipe and Drum Band, inextribly links the lyric to the season. Click here to watch the original music video, from 1987.
"Fairyales of New York" preys, well, on Irish melancholy. The song usually closes a "Pogues" concert. Even on a humid July night, in Provo, steamy tears flow from the eyes, of those in the audience, down their tired cheecks, as the last refrain repeats, almost infinitely.
Click here, though, for a raucous version, with Ella Finer,** recorded at the "Fillmore," in San Francisco, on 10 October 2006. This version isn't looped. Shane is almost intelligible. The performance packs a punch, and Melua is tops.
Click here for a live performance, of "Fairytale New York," featuring Sinead O'Connor, from 11:55 pm on 24 December 2007, in Dublin. This is the most emotionally cogent version, of "New York Fairytale," the audience drowns in melancholy and whiskey. Audience members audibly sing along. This arrangement seems a tad pumped, likely to better integrate O'Connor.
I think little, of O'Connor and she sings flat as a pancake, here; so far off key she may as well be in New York City. Still she fits, perfectly. Her voice and attitude compliment MacGowan, to a tee. She hides, nicely, in Santa gear, and holds up Shane, literally, during the dance segment.
Click here for the weakest version, of "Fairytale of New York," featuring Ella Finer, daughter of co-composer and member of the Pogues, Jem Finer. This version was recorded on 20 December 2008, at Brixton Academy (02 Academy Brixton), in South London. Jim Finer is on the far left, but mostly out of frame. Ella Finer seems out of place. She hardly looks at Shane, during the dance sequence, and can't wait to leave the stage.
"Fairytales of New York" legitimizes the commercialization of melancholy. The lyric tells of hopelessness and dysphoria, utter inevitable failure. As the tears of self-pity stream down the faces of a mid-summer night's audience, ignored is the abject exploitation of Christians, pockets picked clean at Christmas time on the promise of success riding themselves of guilt that does not exist.
Videos confirm the classic, cult status of the song and the band. Pay attention, the performances can run chills up and down your spine, never mind what truth is or is not revealed or latent purpose exists for the lyric. Good gawd, can the Irish, my forbearers, make much melancholy noise for money or what.
On the off chance, you don't know, Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan (b. 1957) is an Irish genius. This isn't an oxymoron, when applied to him or Brendan Behan (1923-1964), for example, or Séamus Seoighe (1882-1941). Born 25 December, in Kent, England, MacGowan lived in Tipperary, Eire, until he was six years old and, lately, in Dublin. Mostly, he seems to live in the state of inebriation. (Click to enlarge above photograph.)
His lyrics, poetry, in fact, reflect Irish working class life, past, present and future. Listening to McGowan, it's easy to conjure the image of thousands of Irish immigrants, mostly from the Cork area, imported to build the Rideau Canal, from Ottawa to Kingston, 200 years ago. They froze and died through 20 winters. In the summer, they sweltered, in heavy humidity, dieing in droves from Malaria. Exploited and wasted, lives discarded, they haunt, I hope, the descendants of those who selfishly, mercilessly, sent them to an unnecessary and early death.
McGowan is renown for his substance abuse, which, by comparison, makes Keith, Moon or Richards, and Brian Wilson seem amateurs. His deterioration is evident in the 2006 video. In the 1988 video, there's much more strength in his voice. His comments, at the end of the 2007 video, most strongly suggest his state. Still, in the 2008 video, some vigour seems restored.
Click here for an eccentric, idiosyncratic, probably spontaneous and, perhaps, heretical performance, of "Fairytale of New York," by "Coldplay." If nothing else, this performance confirms the lyric and music are now fully in the public realm, and meaningfully so. Performance on Sunday 21 December 2008 at the O2, Dublin, Eire.
*Kirsty McColl was the eldest daughter of folk singer, Ewan McColl (James Henry Miller: 1915-1989), who wrote "The First Time, Ever I Saw Your Face" and "Dirty Old Town." Kirsty died, pushing her sons out of the path of a speeding boat, on 18 December 2000. Her family was vacationing at Cozumel, Mexico.
** Thanks to Rick Roman for catching an error in attribution.
Streeter Click is editor of GrubStreet.ca.
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