top of page

Search Results

81 items found for ""

Products (12)

View All

Blog Posts (67)

  • The Sotted, Sentimental Swagger of Shane MacGowan and the Pogues

    The list of cultural seats for the Irish-American diaspora usually starts and ends with New York or Boston. Chicago maybe. But Tulsa? Not so much. Yet here is where you’ll find the only scheduled U.S. showing - fresh from its debut in Dublin - of a critically acclaimed exhibit on Shane MacGowan and the Pogues, the Irish hooligans who somehow channeled the fury of late-70s British punk rock through a mesh of Celtic lyricism and the slightly violent joy of communal Irish pub singing. It turns out Tulsa is the perfect home for “They Gave the Walls a Talking: The Extraordinary Story of the Pogues and Shane MacGowan,” according to exhibit curator Niall Stokes, also the founder of the Irish popular music journal Hot Press. The reason is simple, Stokes told me in a brief interview at the exhibit: Tulsa is home to the Bob Dylan Center. “Dylan had a lot of influence on a guy who was influenced by punk rock, but was also looking for a way to connect it to his Irish roots and his Irish identity,” Stokes said. “There is no better home for an exhibit about the work of the Pogues and Shane MacGowan than the Bob Dylan Center.” Dylan and MacGowan, who died late last year, were unapologetic outsiders who followed “The Muse” where she led them – Dylan through his whole career, but especially when he “went electric” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965; MacGowan and the Pogues when they layered do-it-yourself punk rock swagger over traditional Irish music. One of the more interesting Dylan-MacGowan connections is the late Irish folk balladeer Tommy Makem. He and the Clancy Brothers were close friends and mentors to a young Bob Dylan in the early 1960s in Greenwich Village, where they often shared the stage together in places like Gerde’s Folk City. And it was Makem, only 20 years later, who famously declared the Pogues to be “the greatest disaster ever to hit Irish music.” Not that they cared. The original name of the band, Pogue Mahone, comes from an anglicization by James Joyce of the Irish phrase “pog mo thoin,” which means “kiss my ass.” Stokes’ exhibit, augmented in Oklahoma by items donated by Victoria Mary Clark, MacGowan’s wife, does an excellent job of exploring both MacGowan’s early aspirations at literature and poetry, as well as the band’s brawling appeal. One display case shows MacGowan’s precocious childhood composition books. Another contains the battered drinks tray that Pogues’ tin whistler and ‘percussionist’ Spider Stacy used to bang on his head in time with the music. The DIY ethos embodied by Stacy may have set the Pogues apart from traditional Irish groups. But they fit right in among their heroes, the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Indeed, just as Clash bassist Paul Simonon famously learned his instrument to join the band, the Pogues’ James Fearnley was handed an accordion – either in a box or a laundry bag, depending on who’s telling the story - and told to learn it if he wanted to join. Jem Finer told Stokes that the “great liberation” of being in the Pogues was that “you were given permission to play and learn as you went along. You didn’t have to be a musician to get involved and make the noise,” Stokes said. Despite the early criticism from some corners of this “noise,” the Pogues wound up taking well-deserved credit for reviving interest in traditional Irish music, and paving the way for bands like Flogging Molly, the Young Dubliners, and the Dropkick Murphys. And they were eventually embraced enough by the establishment that a joint performance of the “The Irish Rover” with the Dubliners became a hit on the British charts in 1987. Certainly the band’s biggest hit and most memorable song is “Fairytale of New York,” in which MacGowan was joined on vocals by Kristy MacColl. The song was co-written by MacGowan and Finer, and the exhibit contains several loose-leaf pages of hand-written lyrics with chord changes. Just as in the Dylan museum one floor below, artifacts like these are a great reminder that songs like this did not exist in the world until someone thought them up and wrote them down. The exhibit also features an excellent playlist of Pogues performances on video, including of this song. MacColl’s performance is lovely. MacGowan’s, with its gentle slur and almost-on-key swoon – “It was Christmas Eve, babe/In the drunk tank” - is perfect. The exhibit also illuminates one of the most important aspects of MacGowan’s background – that he was an Irishman who grew up in London. His happiest childhood memories were of his grandparents farm in Tipperary, but he was an urban punk. The place where he was raised was not his home. One of my favorite moments in Martin Scorcese’s excellent Dylan documentary “No Direction Home” is Dylan himself talking about this same feeling. “I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be,” Dylan said. “So I’m on my way there.” Irish-born actor Liam Neeson also captured MacGowan’s Dylanesque artistic fearlessness, observing that he “took aspects of the Irish culture and Irish music, kicked it up the arse with a great sense of pride and joy and rebelliousness, and sent it out into the world. And it was feckin’ great.” Unlike the staggeringly prolific Dylan, MacGowan and the Pogues gave us just a handful of albums. But they were great albums, with a singular style. It was worth a trip to Tulsa to remember them. Pro tip: A short walk from the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa is McNellie’s, a fine Irish pub and the perfect spot to raise a glass to Shane and the Pogues.

  • The Rocking Chair

    A writer's attachment to an heirloom in his family's Narragansett Beach Cottage stirs up fond memories and a connection to Civil War history. (Note: This essay was published in the November, 2023 issue of Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.) I am sitting in a rocking chair that I’ve sat in every summer of my life, starting in August of 1962. (That was a few weeks after I was born, so I was sitting on someone’s lap.) The chair is in the living room of the small Rhode Island cottage that was built in 1939 by my great-grandparents, John and Harriet Carpenter. They put it on high ground overlooking Point Judith Pond in Narragansett, after their previous summer “camp,” which sat closer to the ocean near what is now Roger Wheeler State Beach, was swept away in the Great Hurricane of 1938. I am now one-sixth owner of both this cottage and, I suppose, this rocking chair, an inheritance that is bittersweet coming after the deaths of my mother last year and father the year before. My sister and I are part of the fourth generation to own it, sharing the title with two of our cousins and our Aunt Anne. Owning a family cottage with an expanding group of people can be tricky, and we’ve had challenges. But it remains a happy place, and there is something very comforting about sitting here. It is one part vacation home and one part family museum. Like so many multigenerational cottages in Rhode Island and elsewhere, it is a living time capsule. I take my new role as part owner seriously and find myself more worried about things like fire hazards and winterizing plumbing. A beautiful but modest structure, it has three bedrooms downstairs — two of them in a converted garage — and two upstairs. There is one bathroom, with a tub inside that’s mostly used for washing small children and dogs. The only shower is outside, off the back of the house, where we wash off the sand and salt from the beach. The chair I’m in is a simple wooden rocker with a caned seat and back. A blue cushion offers extra padding. The armrests are flat wood, but one is marked with hundreds of small, deeply worn notches. The chair belonged to James Carpenter, John’s father and my great-great-grandfather, who was a luthier by trade. He used to sit in the chair to cut his violin strings — hence the notches. I know thisbecause I was told so as a child by my father, who was told so as a child by his father. I, of course, have told it to my own children. James Carpenter was a Civil War veteran who tried to enlist in the Union army at seventeen. His parents withheld their permission, and he contented himself with marching around the county with a small musical band, drumming up recruits until he turned eighteen. Then it was off to war with the 7th Rhode Island Infantry Regiment. He started out as a fifer, but eventually became principal musician. We have a fife that was presented to him at the Battle of Fredricksburg. Musicians were an important part of military life in the Civil War, both for keeping up morale and communicating crucial orders in the thundering mayhem of battle. James Carpenter and his fellow Rhode Islanders were present at some of the biggest battles of the Civil War, suffering an 80 percent casualty rate. About 1,000 left in 1862. A few hundred came back unhurt, at least physically. Earlier this year I stood on the ground at Marye’s Heights, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. A few feet from me was the stone wall that protected thousands of Confederate soldiers as they raked the Union troops for hours in one of the bloodiest massacres in U.S. military history. James Carpenter was among those troops. According to an excellent history of the regiment I found among my father’s books, the men of the 7th Rhode Island fired until they ran out of ammunition, then collected cartridges from the dead and wounded around them and fired some more. When the ammunition was gone, they “deliberately and with rousing cheers fixed bayonets,” preparing to charge the wall and fight hand to hand. Instead, they were ordered off the field as darkness fell, “being the first brigade to reach it and the last to leave it.” After visiting the battlefield, I walked quietly among the sprawling federal cemetery nearby. After the war, young James settled back into his hometown of Peace Dale, in the far southern tip of Rhode Island. He married Mary Hill and they had two children, adapting to a long, quiet life. He directed a popular community band. He played music at the Peace Dale Congregational Church. And he made violins until he died in 1918. I love this rocking chair because it reminds me of movie nights and sing-alongs and lively political debates among my, ahem, enthusiastically bipartisan extended family. I remember my grandmother in this chair, here, sitting quietly while the family buzzed around her, or singing softly in her beautiful soprano if someone was playing the piano. I remember my father in this chair, smoking a pipe and reading the paper, or perhaps leading us all in the singing of random college fight songs and Irish ballads. I remember my mother in this chair,asking her grandchildren if they wanted any more to eat, or reminding us all — with pride and not for the first time — that great-grandmother Harriett was “an honest-to-goodness socialist.” I remember my wife in this chair, reading a book or rocking one of our children to sleep. A few years ago, I wandered out to the lawn for happy hour, another camp tradition — never a drop before 5 p.m., full steam ahead after that. As I sat down in the late afternoon sun, I looked up at the small patch of roof that extends over our kitchen. You can climb onto it from a wooden fire-escape ladder, which my daughter had just done. “Sally,” I said to her, “I’d tell you to get down, but I used to love to climb up there as a kid.” Almost on cue, my eighty-six-year-old father emerged from the house and joined me. He handed me his gin and tonic while he carefully lowered his frame into the Adirondack chair, then he settled back and looked up. “Sally,” he said, “I’d tell you to get down, but I used to love to climb up there as a kid.” That is this cottage in a nutshell — simultaneously frozen in time and lumbering forward, summer by summer, accumulating both new and repeated memories. Now I sit in this rocking chair and remember the Fredericksburg cemetery. I remember thinking then that I wouldn’t exist if James Carpenter was buried there. None of us would, from my great-grandfather down through my cousins and our children. None of this would. No bocce games on the lawn. No cocktails in the setting sun or friendly stop-and-chats from dog-walking neighbors. No games with cousins, or jokes from uncles. No solemn assurances to Grandma that wiffle balls can’t possibly break windows. No toddlers splashing in wading pools. No lobster dinners in the too-small kitchen or morning coffee on the breezy porch. Time for our family could have stopped on that battlefield. It’s easy to buy “souvenirs” near Civil War battlefields, among them actual bullets and musket balls that were left behind. Millions of them were fired in the war, so they were everywhere when it ended. “This was a rebel bullet?” I asked the old man at the shop in Fredericksburg. “Yes,” he said. “That’s from a British-made Enfield rifle.” “Why is it white?” “That’s what lead does when it sits in the ground. That’s how we know it’s authentic.” I bought it for three bucks and carry it in my pocket, amusing myself with the notion that it was one of the many that whizzed by the head of a young man from RhodeIsland that day. James Carpenter was lucky. So am I.

  • Potter Rocks the Ryman all the Way Down the 'Mother Road'

    A real rock and roll show broke out at the Ryman Auditorium the other day. And we were lucky to be there with pretty good seats. Grace Potter may have gotten her first big break singing with Kenny Chesney on “You and Tequila” in 2011, but her musical style has more in common with the big 70s blues jams than Top 40 country. And her mixture of showmanship, authenticity, and ripping guitar riffs had the Ryman crowd on its feet for most of the show. The theme was “Mother Road”, the name of her excellent new album and the overall vibe of a woman at mid-life who has seen a lot and is still happily searching. The backstory of the album is that she found herself in a Covid funk after relocating to her native Vermont with her family during the shutdown. An old-fashioned western road trip got the creative juices flowing, and the album was the result. “Down mother road Once again I turn to you Cause you know how I feel, mama You've been run over too Can I lean on your shoulder? 'Til my feet find the ground, yeah Wherever I'm headed Mama, don't let it be down” That’s from the title track of the new album, which she featured heavily. Early in the show she acknowledged that her songs and style may be a bit spicy for the Mother Church of Country Music. I wonder if this is why she didn’t play “Masterpiece,” which is a great culmination to the new album, and which pulls no punches when recalling youthful bad behavior. She also didn’t play “All My Ghosts,” another racy youth confessional which I would have liked to hear. Those were the only complaints, though. Potter began the show in a fringe leather jacket, which she replaced with various other glittery fashion choices as the show progressed. But she did it all with a wink and a smile, leading to a moment about half way through the two-plus hour set when she sat down on the drum riser and took off her high-heeled go-go boots, performing the rest of the evening in an unlikely combination of a sparkly checkerboard mini-skirt and two layers of ski socks. The highlight of the show for us was a rocking new song called "Ready, Set, Go" - played mid-way through the set but destined, in our opinion, to become encore material. The last few lines sum up the sentiment of the song, and "Mother Road" album overall: "As I wind down my proclamation I can promise you my friend There's magic hiding everywhere if you just let it in (ready, set, go) There's a moral to my madness in this story here, I guess Is that there's nothing wrong with saying "no" but Try a little bit of "yes""

View All
bottom of page