The Pogues' James Fearnley on Shane MacGowan, the difference time can make, and the diary that became his new memoir
Mixing a high proof distillation from the sounds of traditional Irish folk music with the piss and vinegar attitude and energy of punk rock, The Pogues burst upon the music scene in London in 1984 with Red Roses For Me, and further established themselves with the albums that followed, such as Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (1985), and what many consider to be their masterpiece, If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988).
The band’s output showcased their stellar musicianship and the masterful songwriting talents of singer Shane MacGowan, whose reputation for wild antics and marathon bouts of drinking took on mythic proportions, and eventually lead to a decade-long estrangement within the band.
The epic rise and fall of the “Boys From The County Hell” has finally been properly chronicled, and by perhaps the best person to do so — Pogues accordion player James Fearnley himself.
Drawing on years’ worth of personal diaries, Fearnley’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Story of The Pogues (Chicago Review Press) was released last month in the United States, and paints a thorough and deeply rich picture of what life was like as a member of one of most raucous — and supremely talented — bands in rock history.
“I kept a diary because I really enjoyed looking at things and experiencing things and knowing that later on I was going to put it down in words, so it made me pay attention — I like to pay attention,” says Fearnley.
“Years and years ago somebody said, ‘If somebody is going to write a book about the Pogues, it’s going to be you, James.’ And I heard that a few times, I was always the guy down in the breakfast room in the hotel scribbling away in my notebook, and in tour buses as well.”
The book came about after Fearnley had taken some writing workshops when he moved to Los Angeles, and Shane MacGowan kept appearing as a subject in his work.
“I think there is a sense of understanding that you come to, about the people that you write about and my reactions to them and my feelings with them, particularly about Shane, who is an extremely inspiring person to write about.”
Fearnley says that the many years that had passed since the original break-up of the band provided some helpful distance from the situations, and a new outlook on what took place in their lives.
“It’s useful to approach one’s experiences back then without so much luggage of self-worth, or lack of self-worth, that one had back then, and to have a look at what was actually going on. I think it’s one’s curiosity about things that helps you kind of move through, rather than get stuck in self-judgement or beating yourself up.”
After producing a large amount of material from the writing workshops, a friend had read some of it, and offered to pass it along to an agent; from that point on, the book came along fairly quickly — but as Fearnley points out, it took a long time to get to that place.
“It’s been in the air for quite a while, it came out of this slow, simmering, cooking process, I suppose — it wasn’t like I just said, ‘Oh, this is what I’m going to do now.’”
Steeped in detail, the different chapters transport readers to varying times in the life of the Pogues; it starts at the end of the story, where the group had to decide that it had come to the point where they had to fire MacGowan.
Fearnley’s descriptions of the moments leading up to the sacking should make fans feel as they were there in the room with them, in this case a tense situation punctuated with minute elements of information that one might not expect, but that provoke an immediate reaction — after building the scene, he adds a simple sentence, “The room smelled like toothpaste.” A detail that might night seem very important, but that lends the reader a sensory experience jumping off from the page.
“If you are going to write something, use all the sense. I scanned around to remember, what my senses were in that room, and that was the one that came up first,” says Fearnley.
Based on just some of the stories included in the book, the fact that the band members all survived the tumultuous 1980s and 90s is nothing short of a miracle — though guitarist Philip Chevron, to whom the memoir is dedicated, passed away last year from cancer.
“We did a couple of shows before Christmas in England last year without Philip there, and knowing that he would never come back, they were very emotional. I’m going to miss him.”
Fans can be assured that The Pogues’ story will live on forever now though, meticulously archived in Fearnley’s fascinating chronicle.
“I always liked Philip Larkin, he said about his writing was that it was an act of preservation — writing to preserve an event or emotion that he had had,” says Fearnley. “I suppose in writing a memoir, that’s an act of preservation in itself, so I felt that was my job, to bring everything to bear on making it sort of live again in a way.”
June 9, 7:30pm
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