MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Finally, on the show today, a St. Patrick's Day present if you are a fan of Irish punk. For the first time in over 15 years, The Pogues, including hard-drinking lead singer Shane MacGowan, are touring the U.S. The final shows are in New York City this weekend, and NPR's Mike Pesca says Irish eyes are smiling.
(Soundbite of song "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn")
THE POGUES: (Singing) ...who was cursing all the yids. At the sick of Cuchulainn we'll kneel and say a prayer, the ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil's in the chair.
MIKE PESCA reporting:
Once you see the mouth from which the noises emanate, you begin to understand. In a British poll, Shane MacGowan's teeth were voted fourth most incredible rock star body part. Elvis' pelvis was five. The teeth have been called crooked as medieval tombstones, but that describes a very lightly populated cemetery. Teeth like these indicate fighting, for which MacGowan is known, and drinking, for which MacGowan is legendary.
He told a documentary filmmaker that he came to London a healthy lad from Tipperary, but London ruined him.
Mr. SHANE MACGOWAN (The Pogues): I came over here, degenerated into a school-shrewin'(ph) drunkard and drug-user and thief.
(Soundbite of song "The Old Main Drag")
THE POGUES: (Singing) When I first came to London I was only sixteen...
PESCA: And, as always, he punctured it with a laugh to chase the banshees. MacGowan's worldview is a mix of anger and wistfulness, almost an instant nostalgia, with lyrics that often say something like, we're living here now, but some day it will be a memory. No one questions that he is a genius songwriter, a compelling performer and a frustrating band mate.
Mr. PHILIP CHEVRON (The Pogues): People have given Shane six months to live every year since he's been 19. He's now 48, and he's still here, and he's going to be singing at most their funerals.
PESCA: Pogues guitarist, Philip Chevron says The Pogues' sound and attitude sprang from the circumstances of London in the '80s.
Mr. CHEVRON: There was a lot of terrorist-related Irish racism. It's not dissimilar to this sort of anti-Muslim feeling that you sometimes get these days, however misjudged and misguided it is. The Pogues came around at a time where I think people felt the need to just celebrate Irishness, celebrate the fact that their ethnicity is different from the rest of the British. And we kind of tapped into something, an era where people are more determined to stand up and say this is who I am, I'm not going to be what you label me as. You know.
PESCA: The name Pogues is shortened from a Gaelic phrase, which Chevron explains.
Mr. CHEVRON: Well, strictly speaking, Pogue Mahone means kiss my arse.
PESCA: MacGowan was more knowledgeable about Irish music than his bandmates. He would teach them songs that were generations old and also write new ones. The other Pogues often couldn't tell the difference, mistaking tunes like Streams of Whiskey for something that James Joyce might have heard as he drank in the pubs of Dublin.
(Soundbite of song "Streams of Whiskey")
THE POGUES: (Singing) Last night as I slept, I dreamt I met a Behan. I shook him by the hand and we passed the time fo day. When questioned on his views...
PESCA: Today, MacGowan sounds more like this.
(Soundbite of song "Streams of Whiskey")
THE POGUES:(Singing) Last night as I slept, I dreamt I met with Behan. I shook him by the hand and we passed the time of day. When questioned on his views, on the crux of life's philosophies, he had but these few clear and simple words to say...
PESCA: From a recording of The Pogues from 2001. In a concert in Atlantic City last weekend, MacGowan staggered around the stage, swigging beer and some brown liquid from a glass bottle, which he did manage to skillfully balance on his head. He was as exasperatingly evasive as always. I caught a glimpse of him in a towel before the show, but all attempts to interview him before and after were thwarted. Attempts to meet him in New York were stalled by late tour buses from Boston or sound checks that weren't quite right or streams of whiskey flowing. The Pogues' four-city tour: the East Coast finishes this weekend, but instant sellouts indicate a longer version may be in the works.
Until then, if you want to see MacGowan live, he's a pretty recognizable figure in both London and Dublin, and by all accounts, he's not known to turn down a free drink.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.