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The ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil’s in the chair

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To quote the man who married his bass player and produced his band’s best album, one couldn’t call this unexpected, but it is sad nonetheless:

Shane MacGowan, the frontman and songwriter of the Irish punk band the Pogues, died this morning (November 30), BBC News reports, citing an Instagram post by his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke. A spokesperson confirmed the news to the BBC, saying the musician died peacefully with his wife and and sister by his side. MacGowan was 65 years old.

MacGowan was best known for his tongue-in-cheek, cranky delivery as the frontman of the Pogues, chronicling the misadventures of Ireland’s residents and diaspora in raspy, whiskey-ravaged tones. Coming up in the early 1980s, he and the Pogues welded Irish pride with the volatile, rebellious energy of punk, often incorporating the nation’s classics and pop tunes into their repertoire. Their legendary bacchanalian antics, on and off stage, were as much a part of the band’s philosophy as the music. As MacGowan told Melody Maker in 1991, “The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks. They spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does.”

[…]

With new guitarist Philip Chevron, the Pogues tapped Elvis Costello to produce their second album, 1985’s Rum Sodomy & the Lash. Although the album was fairly popular, the band struggled to steer through their proximity to fame. After the sessions, O’Riordan married Costello and quit the band, bassist Darryl Hunt joined in her place, and MacGowan earned a reputation for excessive indulgence in substances.

In 1988, they recorded their third LP, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, featuring the classic Christmas single “Fairytale of New York,” featuring Kristy MacColl. In the decades to follow, the song routinely landed on the charts, going platinum four times over in the United Kingdom. The Pogues recorded four more albums: 1989’s Peace and Love, 1990’s Hell’s Ditch, 1993’s Waiting for Herb, and 1996’s Pogue Mahone. During that final stretch, however, MacGowan’s substance use plagued the band as he missed tour dates and failed to promote records. He was kicked out in 1991 and did not return until the Pogues’ reunion in 2001, which continued until a 2014 split due to infighting. As MacGowan put it in an interview with Vice, “We’re friends as long as we don’t tour together.”

Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash is the kind of near-flawless masterpiece that is hard to top, and I wouldn’t say he was ever able to. But all of the Pogues albums have their moments, “Fairytale in New York” deserves its standard status (R.I.P. Kristy too), and I’ve always had a soft spot for his solo album The Snake, which sounded excellent when I listened to it earlier today. R.I.P.

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