There will be plenty of more qualified people to offer proper last rites to Shane MacGowan of The Pogues in the coming hours and days, especially those from the punk, rock, and traditional Irish folk realms who are more intimate with the details of his life and contributions.
But it’s hard for a country fan to not get a little misty-eyed and reminisce fondly upon this man who contributed grandly to the traditional roots music world, despite his personal struggles that like his notoriously crooked teeth, were part of his legacy as well.
Traditional Irish folk is a seminal building block to original country through the Appalachian influence and Irish immigrants. With the way MacGowan preserved, revitalized, and revolutionized Irish music throughout his career with The Pogues and beyond, there is definitely a cross-genre similarity between MacGowan and the post-punk revivalists of country who helped save the music and spark the independent insurgency coming out of the ’80s and ’90s.
Despite the stereotype of MacGowan and The Pogues being punk primarily, major sections of their catalog were most certainly traditional Irish folk, and exclusively in nature. MacGowan was a banjo player himself, and other traditional instrumentation is prominent throughout the music that MacGowan contributed to through The Pogues and later The Popes. Shane took a dedicated pride in preserving and popularizing his Irish roots, not dissimilar to how country and bluegrass artists do the same with their original influences, including ones brought over from the Old World.
Along with Shane MacGowan’s personal contributions, there would be no Dropkick Murpheys, Flogging Molly, or a dozen other Irish-infused roots and punk bands from the United States if it weren’t for The Pogues. And despite the band firing him at one point, there would be on Pogues without Shane MacGowan. Shane’s legacy was far from isolated to Ireland or the UK, or simply to Irish and punk music.
Specifically, Shane MacGowan and The Pogues had a long working relationship with alt-country icon Steve Earle. When you hear the iconic Irish-inflected opening of Earle’s “Copperhead Road,” don’t think that wasn’t influenced by MacGowan and The Pogues. And if you have any question about that, check the liner notes of the Copperhead Road album to confirm Steve Earle recorded the song “Johnny Come Lately” with The Pogues themselves.
That same year (1988), Steve Earle wrote the liner notes to The Pogues’ most successful album, If I Should Fall From Grace with God. Shane MacGowan was born on Christmas Day in 1957, and many consider the song “Fairytale of New York” with Kirsty MacColl from that album an under-appreciated Christmas Carol.
As we enter the Holiday season, it’s sad to hear of the passing of Shane MacGowan on Thursday, November 30th at the age of 65.
Thank you for the music Shane MacGowan, from a country fan.