· By David Katznelson
Paddy Rolling Stone
“Nonconformity is the highest evolutionary attainment of social animals.”― Aldo Leopold
Today the Signal is featuring the first candid interview Shane MacGowan has given to a press person in over a decade (or so the reporter, Simon Hattenstone, writes) (see below). While it is a candid interview, it could have been so much better…leaving the standard questions behind and tapping into the passions that MacGowan would more likely open up about. Hattenstone writes that it was suggested by Shane’s long-time partner Victoria Clarke that he stay around for a few days to get more opportunities for a great interview…and he declined the invitation. It seems to me that the reporter did not have the gumption to truly seize on the opportunity given to him…and that missed opportunity screams from the interview.
And besides, asking Shane what he thinks about his past drug and alcohol abuse has been covered in two documentaries, a book, and other articles in the past. Why focus on the known when there is so much to get from this weather-beaten artist who is always creating, always engaging with life’s deep meanings. What is the deal with the sensationalist headline as well???
Regardless, memories have been flooding in for me since reading it. There is mention made of the legend that Shane set the John Belushi room of the Chateau Marmont on fire with a dropped cigarette. It was in that room sometime before that I first met Shane. I had licensed his record to America and helped him change the sequence and the cover to suit more what his vision was, and not that of the domineering label he was on in the UK, ZTT. I got in trouble for doing so and made a friend out of Shane MacGowan that has lasted til this day.
Charlie Maclennan (RIP), who traveled with Shane—who had formerly traveled with Phil Lynott—opened the door to the Belushi bungalow and let me in. He led me to the back part of the vacuous living room where Shane was sitting atop a couch, strumming a guitar with a cigarette in his mouth. He had his head tilted slightly downward and raised his eyes to greet me, slowly picking some strings as he did. I had been a fan of his…of the Pogues…since I was a teenager…first seeing Shane and the Pogues at the Fillmore when Joe Strummer was touring with them. Signing Shane MacGowan the Warner Bros. US seemed inconceivable to me…meeting him even more so. And Shane was as every bit larger than life as I hoped he would be.
Back in those days I was always younger than the artists I worked with, artists that I had generally loved in my formative years in college. So the A&R gig was the ultimate fan situation, creating a unique relationship between artist and label rep: it was ALL about artistic freedom (that being said, the great Mo Ostin encouraged this approach, knowing it would ultimately produce the kind of records people wanted). Shane and the wonderful Victoria (who Shane sings about on The Snake) took me under their wing, and even allowed me to be a part of the next studio venture, which would become the final Shane MacGowan and the Popes record, Crock Of Gold.
We had the recording session in the UK set…with Tackhead’s Adrian Sherwood behind the mixing board, recording in the same room the Sex Pistols supposedly recorded Never Mind The Bollocks. My eight-hour flight to England was full of anticipation, getting to see the great Shane MacGowan record a record. However, I landed at Heathrow to find out that the session had been canceled: Shane had fallen off a barstool and broken his hip.
Instead of going to the session, I went to the hospital. And with nothing on my calendar besides the not-happening recording session, I hung out with Shane in the hospital, talking to him about Sam Peckinpah movies and Irish poets. Besides his Victoria and manager Joey Cashman, I had a solo audience with this brilliant human who was very sweet to put up with my questions and inquiries.
The record finally got produced (and I took another trip across the water) a few months later, with Shane’s band using the extra time to lay down incredible tracks for the new batch of songs he presented them with. Shane was not in the best shape at the time, but he got his vocals down and finished off what I still think is an overlooked gem in his catalog (just take a minute and listen to the first three paddy-themed songs...classic stuff).
I have so many memories of my time with Shane: getting to be a part of a conversation between him and Little Richard at the Hyatt Hotel bar before his show at the House of Blues, having him put his arm around me and telling Barb—shortly after we had begun dating—that I was a good guy…the time he silenced a crowded Irish bar in the outer crust of Beverly Hills to wish me a happy birthday. Hanging with him is the best.
Shane MacGowan has traveled through a dragon’s den and has come out tarnished but alive. And while he boasts a take-no-shit attitude, he has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I have met in my music business dealings; he is a loyal friend. The interview below is a good read, but it does not come close to touching the true core of Ireland’s greatest living bard.
It was Bessie Smith’s birthday last week and it has caused me to dig into her great catalog of music. As it is written somewhere (sorry I cannot quote it): she was only recording for a brief span of twelve or so years, but her impact on music is so very deep. Bessie Smith’s hometown of Chattanooga is honoring her with a monument to mark her greatness. And why the hell not…she was all of that!
And speaking of Shane MacGowan, his friend Johnny Depp’s club The Viper Room has come to its end. When I was seeing bands nightly during the 90s, the Viper Room was a usual stop, with unknown bands using it to showcase their wares while legends would strut their stuff as well. The Afghan Whigs played to a packed house after their tour with Aerosmith had been upset for some reason or anther. It was singer Greg Dulli’s and my birthdays at midnight…mine being my 30th. And as the clock struck twelve, and Greg made the announcement about what that meant, calling me out as a fellow celebrator, chaos followed…fun chaos…the kind of chaos that could only happened at the Viper Room.
A definite interesting assortment of rarities with the most expensive being sold for $50,000: “AbeBooks’ 10th most expensive sale of all time. A rare first edition set of the official accounts of Captain James Cook's three voyages published in nine volumes in 1773, 1777 and 1784 respectively. These books were 18th century bestsellers with readers eager to learn about the other side of the world.”
While we are on the subject of rare books…and it having been Charlotte Brontë’s birthday yesterday…how about taking a gander at an unpublished small book going for 1.25 million. Whoah.
“(In Toward Perpetual Peace) Kant drafts six preliminary articles aimed at reducing the chance of war. These include not making peace treaties while secretly plotting war, forbidding annexing another state or interfering in its internal affairs, abolishing standing armies with their associated danger of stoking arms races, the limiting of foreign debt, and forbidding acts of war so heinous they prevent future peace.”
Alright, the new Nicolas Cage film, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” looks incredible. I like Cage more and more as the years go on…
by Louise Gluck
I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows, she literally talks to God.
She thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth she's unusually competent.
Brave too, able to face unpleasantness.
We found a caterpillar dying in the dirt, greedy ants crawling over it.
I'm always moved by disaster, always eager to oppose vitality
But timid also, quick to shut my eyes.
Whereas my friend was able to watch, to let events play out
According to nature. For my sake she intervened
Brushing a few ants off the torn thing, and set it down
Across the road.
My friend says I shut my eyes to God, that nothing else explains
My aversion to reality. She says I'm like the child who
Buries her head in the pillow
So as not to see, the child who tells herself
That light causes sadness-
My friend is like the mother. Patient, urging me
To wake up an adult like herself, a courageous person-
In my dreams, my friend reproaches me. We're walking
On the same road, except it's winter now;
She's telling me that when you love the world you hear celestial music:
Look up, she says. When I look up, nothing.
Only clouds, snow, a white business in the trees
Like brides leaping to a great height-
Then I'm afraid for her; I see her
Caught in a net deliberately cast over the earth-
In reality, we sit by the side of the road, watching the sun set;
From time to time, the silence pierced by a birdcall.
It's this moment we're trying to explain, the fact
That we're at ease with death, with solitude.
My friend draws a circle in the dirt; inside, the caterpillar doesn't move.
She's always trying to make something whole, something beautiful, an image
Capable of life apart from her.
We're very quiet. It's peaceful sitting here, not speaking, The composition
Fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
Going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering-
It's this stillness we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings.