Whiskey on Sunday & tears on our cheeks: Pour one out for Pogue Shane MacGowan

I first heard the Pogues at age 15 on KXCI’s Sunday afternoon Celtic Crosscurrents show. 

Shane MacGowan and company were frequently on the playlist of this “traditional” music show, which balanced the usual Irish and Scottish folk ballads and British Isles proto-prog with a heavy dose of post-punk-era Celtic rock ala Big Country, Hot House Flowers, the Waterboys, the Alarm, early U2 and the like. 

The show also always snuck in a bit of sedition as well, including a weekly sign-off insulting the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. But that’s another story.

A few listens in, and my teenage self managed to get to the record store to acquire a cassette copy of “If I Should Fall From Grace With God.” I might have skipped a cafeteria lunch or two to come up with the funds, but it was worth it. 

I wore that tape out, my soul alight at the melodic cacophony of songs like “Fiesta,” “Turkish Song of the Damned,” and “Sit Down By The Fire,” fists shaking in righteous indignation at the injustice cataloged in “Streets Of Sorrow” and the immigrant plight of “Thousands Are Sailing,” heart breaking in the spaces of the lyrics of “Lullaby of London,” “Fairytale of New York,” and the gloriousness that is “Broad Majestic Shannon.” 

More brilliant albums made their way into my collection over the years. Namely, the rest of the Pogues catalog (“Rum, Sodomy and the Lash” being the best) and the first couple Shane MacGowan and the Popes compilations. The music remained part of my perpetual comfort soundtrack for years on end. My notions of the man behind it all were mixed, as I imagine was the case for many fans.

Fellow Pogue Spider Stacy’s memoir of life with the band, which I read a few years back, paints a picture of Shane that should surprise none of us. A gifted and brilliant lyricist, deep thinker and prolific reader. A talented, but inconsistent (and sometimes sloppy) musician. A valuable but difficult friend and coworker, the way that addicts so often can be.

I remember being gutted watching a stumbling, slurred and all but unintelligible Shane perform with  the Popes on the old IFC Henry Rollins show in the early 2000s. I was conversely overjoyed to see MacGowan’s biopic documentary of a decade or so ago, in which he documented his proud Irish heritage, rough London youth, his life as a musician and rabble-rouser and his efforts to more or less get his shite together. 

In his last decade, with the help of his partner and eventual wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, the former bandleader fixed his famously broken teeth, weaned off of substances and seemed to have found some peace at last until a few days ago, when a widely publicized hospital bed photo of MacGowan began to make the rounds of social media.

Despite a positive spin by Clarke, celebrating Shane’s release from the hospital, a cursory glance at his sickly pallor and rail thin countenance made it clear that our man was not long for this world. And, sure enough, today the news came as expected. 

Shane MacGowan has died and the world is poorer for words today. Raise a glass of whatever is your poison, and grin like a madman, even if your smile is less than perfect.

The Walrus is John Polle

Tucson musician John Polle (Whispering Wires, Dirk Wednesday, Monsignor Wednesday’s Guitar Mass) just might be the hardest working multi-instrumentalist in Tucson music these days. Case in point: the latest releases from Polle’s current projects the Websites and the Gem Show, both of which are, or will soon be, available for your listening (and purchasing) pleasure this holiday season.

The Websites – “Hit Counter”

First on deck is the latest by the Websites, a duo composed of John Polle (aka “John 1.0”) on drums and vocals and John Sweeden (“John 2.0”) on “guitar and riffs,” are a band that is on the one hand crazy-talented and catchy as hell, and on the other hand inherently ridiculous. 

In the tradition of bonkers geniuses like the Dead Milkmen, They Might Be Giants and the Beastie Boys, the Websites could not write a “serious” lyric to save their lives, but are just as unlikely to play a bad live show any time in this particular universe. The thematic content of their output consists of odes and laments to digital living, with topics ranging from malware to online shopping to the quest for human customer service interaction.

“Hit Counter,” the cyber-themed pair’s second EP, reiterates the band’s signature promise to break up and stop performing in exchange for one million (after taxes) so if you don’t agree that this is one of the more entertaining local records you’ve heard in a while, you kind of have recourse. For a price.

The rest of us broke local record collectors will do just fine to grab a digital copy of this little gem and enjoy the Devo meets Beefheart times the B52s vibe of such tunes as “AI Captain,” “1-800-LIf-Hack,” and the extra special weirdness that is “Dolphin Simulator.” 

The Gem Show – “A Mountain”

I have seen the future and it is on colored vinyl.

Full disclosure here, since the last time I reviewed a release by Tucson’s the Gem Show, your friendly neighborhood music scribe has developed a sort of a band sibling relationship with the band as two bandmates of mine (Tony BallZ of Spitegeist and Stephanie Levi of Not Sorry, respectively) are currently in the live lineup for the group, along with Exbats/Wanda Junes/No Stones alum Bobby Carlson. 

Does this make a difference in my assessment of the Gem Show’s music? 

That’s for you  to say, dear reader. While Tony and Bobby (as well as recording engineer Jim Waters) do make significant musical contributions to this record, as a bandleader John Polle tends to write, record and often play the bulk of what ends up on any given Gem Show album, including the upcoming release “A Mountain.” Thus, I’d daresay that the point is moot this time around.

Moot. But definitely not mute.

This is music best played LOUD. 

Whereas the Websites are winking and playful, the Gem Show is power-pop-flavored garage rock, serious as the heart attack Polle sometimes appears to be having mid-gig whence in the depths of intense on-stage drummer/vocalist gymnastics.

The main bandmate-in-law privilege your trusty reporter does lay claim to is having seen the test pressing and heard the entirety of the album. It’s a banger.

But until you get your hot little record hoarding hands upon the colored vinyl release, you can check out the title track “A Mountain” on Bandcamp in the sidebar of this very column.

Stay tuned until next time for more record reviews from Tucson’s finest, including Freezing Hands, Class and more. And in the meantime…

Check your local listings…

If you’ve got a gig coming up and you’d like your event listed in this space (or if your local band has a major announcement or a new release) drop me a line at [email protected].

Have a gig that I didn’t list? Refer to my previous column Tucson Sounds: I hate the ‘Gram – a local music love story for this columnist’s thoughts on the current state of local music promotion. 

And try to hit me up next time, so I know.

Friday, Dec 1

  • The Working People, Sewer Bitch, Alex Wilkerson and Them – 10pm @ Che’s Lounge

Saturday, Dec 2

  • Buckets, Shit Knife, High Rise II – 7pm @ Blondie’s
  • A Winter’s Evening with Ryanhood – 7pm Hotel Congress

Sunday, Dec 3

  • Gnarwhal JRZ, the Dirty Licks, Debra’s House – 8pm @ Thunder Canyon Brewery
  • Black Cat Bones – 4:30pm @ Hotel Congress
  • Laura Jean Band – 4pm @ Che’s Lounge

Tuesday, Dec 5

  • Steve Roach’s Ambient Lounge – 7pm @ Hotel Congress

Thursday, Dec 7

  • Outlaw Mariachi – 7pm Hotel Congress

Coming Soon…

Gem Show, Drunk Bastard Glee Club, Saguaronauts – Friday Dec 8, 9pm @ Brodie’s

Thelma and the Sleaze, Stuntdriver, Lenguas Largas – Saturday Dec 9, 8pm @ 191 Toole

Cash Lansky, Big Ox, Cruz Ocho, KlassicMCee – Saturday Dec 9, 8pm @@ Thunder Canyon Brewery