An Annotated Pogues Lyrics Page -
If I Should Fall from Grace with God
"It's coming up three boys
According to sailing legend, a man overboard would come to the surface three times before succumbing and drowning. This read, I think, makes some sense given the preceding verse of the song:
Where no murdered ghosts can haunt me
If I rock upon the waves
Then no corpse can lie above me"
The imagery of going down for the third time is pretty common in the literature. For instance, here's Emily Dickinson's take on it (from poem 92 in the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ISBN: 1-58734-007-0)
As the attempt to rise.
Three times, 'tis said, a sinking man
Comes up to face the skies,
And then declines forever
To that abhorred abode
Where hope and he part
(Shane MacGowan/Jem Finer)
"I come old friend from hell
This image and line closely follow a similar verse in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (you know, the poem with the "water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink" line):
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay. "
The whole meter of the lyric -- aside from the chorus -- follows the same pattern as the poem. For that matter, the general imagery and theme of the song closely follow that in the poem (for instance, in the verse below you can substitute an albatross for the captain's arms). If you're suffering through some English Lit class, when you read the poem hum this tune; it's kinda funny. For more on this poem and the Pogues, see "Fiesta" below).
You left me on the deck
The captain's corpse jumped up
And threw his arms around my neck..."
Thanks Tom for the heads up, I completely forgot about the poem until you mentioned it.
(Shane MacGowan/Jem Finer)
The title for this one comes from the novel A Fairytale of New York (1973) by Irish-American author James Patrick Donleavy (b., 1926). The novel itself was based on an earlier short story and a play "Fairytales of New York" (1961) that Donleavy also wrote. He was born in New York to Irish parents and relocated to Dublin following World War II. He became active in the Dublin art scene, traveling in the same circle as Brendan Behan (see Auld Triangle), and eventually gained Irish citizenship. His best known work is probably The Ginger Man (1955). Fairytale is still in print from Atlantic Monthly Press (ISBN: 0-87113-264-8). The imagery of the song doesn't have any strict parallels with the novel, but the overall theme is similar in that both address the elusive nature of the American dream. In the novel, the narrator reveals that his fairytale of New York was the story he told as an orphaned child: "When I was a little boy. Left in a brand new foster home. I went out playing the afternoon around the block got lost, so busy telling all the other kids a fairy tale of New York. That my real father was a tycoon and my mother a princess..." (p. 341).
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
and then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew ..."
The "Rare Old Mountain Dew" is a traditional Irish drinking song, usually done in a very upbeat style (the Pogues recorded a version of it with the Dubliners and released it on the "Irish Rover" 12-inch single). So the scene in the drunk tank was probably not as morose as either the music in "Fairy Tale" would suggest or as the narrator's flashback may want to admit. This song is also a good example of Shane using his command of the traditional material to illuminate his own lyrics, in that the song is not only a great drinking tune and appropriate for a drunk tank, but the lyrics in the first stanza reappear under a different guise in Shane's chorus.
Click the link to open a window for the full lyrics for "Mountain Dew."
Continuing with "Fairytale"...
Were singing 'Galway Bay'
And the bells were ringing
Out for Christmas Day"
The NYPD choir is the New York Police Department choir.
"Galway Bay" is another traditional Irish tune. Lyrics reproduced below. The more "traditional" version is on the left. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem have a version (on the right below) that's funnier, and probably more in line with the sentiments of the opening verse of "Fairytale," but one which I have a hard time envisioning the NYPD choir singing.
Here's some background info from Jem about this tune: "I'm indebted to Marcia Farquhar for the story line that spawned this song. I'd written a banal Christmas duet and she put me on the right track. I wrote a second song with her narrative. Shane took the melody from the first song, the lyrical thread of the second, added his own magic ... and after several years of attempts to record it we finally got it."
Here's some thoughts from Jem about this instrumental: "To be honest I just wanted to write the Leonard Bernstein bit but I thought I'd never get away with it without a bit of Irish thrown in! The combination turned out to be quite interesting. (Later with Gridlock I was amazed no one complained ... 100% Pogues play hard bop. Probably the first jazz track with a hurdy gurdy on it!)."
"The island it is silent now
I received an email from Vince (thanks!) that prompted an immediate Homer Simpson moment (you know, the classic hand slap to the head accompanied with a D'OH) concerning this verse. Given the song is about immigration to the US (more on that below) I always took this opening verse as referring to the starting point of the trip to the states, specifically Ireland. Heck, I even heard the third line as "faminished land" and took it as a reference to the potatoe famine that sparked the first major wave of Irish immigration, with "the torch" being, well, a torch, perhaps on the sands of the beach (as Shane described elsewhere, see "The Dunes, the dead in the famine were often buried in mounds on in the beach; also see "Down in the Ground where the Dead Men Go).
I didn't notice my error until I was about to correct Vince in his message. As he noted in his note to me, "the island" here probably refers to Ellis Island, the debarkation point for most immigrants coming from Europe to the U.S. The immigration center on Ellis Island operated from 1892 until it closed its doors in 1954 and is no longer the main immigration entry point to the U.S. (that appears to be the Rio Grande... just kidding). It's open as a museum now (the link above takes you there), and if you're in the area, it's a worthwhile trip. For what it's worth, the first immigrant to be processed at the facility was 15 year old Annie Moore, from Ireland (I think County Cork). By the way, if you have relatives that immigrated to the U.S. during that period, the museum has a search engine that lets you find details of their arrival.
The second line likely refers to those who died in transit to the U.S. (more on that below too). In the next line, "the torch" could refer to the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Island and Ellis Island are in close proximity to each other). "Looking backward," in a sense, from the vantage point of the statue, if a passenger died in transit, the light of liberty (presumably that which attracted the immigrants) would shine on the dead. One last grammatical nitpick, should that be "whom" rather than "who" in the last line? Throughout most of the site I try not to offer much in how to interpret the song, but this one I find difficult to separate the explanatory bits from interpretation. So if the preceding is correct, then the image in the next two verses would be Lady Liberty posing some questions to an immigrant, who, we soon learn, did not make the voyage successfully.
Did you rid the streets of crime
Were your dollars from the white house
Or from the five and dime
The first two lines refer to "traditional" jobs for Irish immigrants in the states -- railway construction/maintenance and the police force (which is why the cop in all those eartly to mid twentieth century Warner Brothers cartoons and Hollywood movies invariably has an Irish accent). I'm less confident in the third line, but it might refer to work for the federal government (although that's a bit unlikely since in the late 19th/early 20th century the federal bureaucracy was much smaller than it is today and there just weren't that many jobs (comparatively speaking). I also doubt it refers to life on the dole since we had no welfare system in the states during this period. Paired with the last line, it might refer to basic class divisions; that is, were you upper class (the white house) or lower class (the five and dime). "Five and dimes" were once a fixture in the downtown shopping districts of most American cities until the 1980s when Walmart and the discount behemoths began to blot the landscape and drive them out of business. Some of the better known chains were Woolworth's (the last to close up shop), McCall's, and Kresge's. They were smallish stores (especially compared to the Walmart's of today) that offered inexpensive (nickel and dime) wares.
And did they still make you cry
Did you count the months and years
Or did your teardrops quickly dry"
This line of questioning cuts to the heart of the immigrant experience; namely, the emotional conflict between yearning for the old sod and recognizing that it was the problems of the old sod -- poverty, unemployment, etc. -- that prompted the decision to leave.
On a coffin ship I came here
And I never even got so far
That they could change my name..."
In this verse we get the reply from what is likely the corpse of the faminished man mentioned in the first verse. He did not survive the voyage so he's unable to answer the questions asked. During the wave of emigration brought on by the Great Hunger (see "Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go"), "coffin ships" were ships sailing to America, packed from stem to stern with the indigent and the sick. They earned their name by the horrifically high death rates on the trip across the Atlantic. Here's a journal account of a voyage in 1847.
Once here in the States, most Irish immigrants were advised to conceal as best they could the fact that they were Irish, and a name change -- especially dropping the "O" part -- was common (my family name went from O'Morain to Moran).
Again across the ocean
Where the land of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery ..."
U.S. immigration policy underwent substantial changes in the twentieth century, with the Immigration and Naturalization Reform Act of 1986 being the most relevant in this context (this song was released in 1988). Beginning in 1921, the "open door" policy in effect for much of the 19th century (and captured so beautifully in the poem emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty) was replaced with a quota system by country (the quota was set at 3% of the present immigrant population in the U.S. from that particular country -- although there were no restrictions on immigration from within the western hemisphere). Anyone who wanted to immigrate to the U.S. needed some luck to garner one of the spots set aside for his/her respective country. The lottery here, then, is one for the "green card" given to legal aliens.
As you whistled it so sweet
And in Brendan Behan's footsteps
We danced up and down the street..."
Given the reference to Behan who died in 1964 (see "Auld Triangle"), and the general sentiments of the song, I think "The Blackbird" could refer to two possible songs. The first and perhaps most likely is a traditional Irish ballad called " The Blackbird" (the first link gets you the melody; click here for the full lyrics -- thanks to Ed for tracking them down).
It might also refer to the Beatles tune, "Blackbird," which was released on the "White Album" (1968) and seems to fit with this song as well (the first link gets you the melody, click here to open a window with the full lyrics).
Giving it our best regards
Tipped our hat to Mr. Cohan
Dear old Times Square's favorite bard..."
Broadway and Times Square
comprise the heart of the theatre district in New
York City. There's a statue of George
M. Cohan in Duffy Square
(thanks Sean...I'll look for it next time I get up
there). Cohan was an early twentieth century
American composer of such classic tunes as "Over
There," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Yankee Doodle
Boy," and, of course, "Give My Regards to
Broadway." You can get midi files of these and
others at the link I provided.
Broadway and Times Square comprise the heart of the theatre district in New York City. There's a statue of George M. Cohan in Duffy Square (thanks Sean...I'll look for it next time I get up there). Cohan was an early twentieth century American composer of such classic tunes as "Over There," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Yankee Doodle Boy," and, of course, "Give My Regards to Broadway." You can get midi files of these and others at the link I provided.
(Shane MacGowan/Jem Finer)
The cd and album releases I've seen give writing credits for this one to Shane and Jem Finer. In the Best of the Pogues sheet music book (ISBN:0-7119-2902-5), the credits read "Original Words and Music by Kotscher & Lindt," with "new words and music by Shane MacGowan & Jem Finer" and it lists a copyright date of 1957 for the original. The "Lichtensteiner Polka" by Edmund Koetscher and Rudi Lindt came out in 1957 and that was their big hit. (If you'd like an MP3 to compare for yourself, email me and I'll send it along).
I am welcome to Almeria..."
Almería is a province in southern Spain along the Mediterranean coast. The boys spent some time there while filming "Straight to Hell," the Alex Cox western parody. Here is Jem's take on the song: "Having spent a week in Almeria staying in a hotel next to the fiesta, the fairground cacophony got stuck in my head. The choice was to inflict it on the rest of the world or go mad."
We have fiesta and feria..."
"Sin gas" would mean "without gas" and "con leche" means "with milk" and both refer to liquid refreshments: the first is an abbreviated version of "agua sin gas" meaning flat (non-carbonated) water; and the second is a short form of "cafe con leche" or coffee with milk (thanks go to Scott for that one).
A "feria" would be a "fair" in Spanish.
We have brandy and half corona..."
Javier wrote to point out that in years gone by, one of the prizes that contestants at a fair event (like a raffle, shooting gallery, etc.) might win was a doll called "muñeca chochona" ('muñeca' means 'doll'), although "chochona" itself is basically a nonsense word (i.e., one with no real meaning but added for the sound effect). On the other hand (so to speak), 'chocho' is a colloquial word for vagina. This reading might then tie in with the lines in the next verse:
And he stoppeth one in three
This verse is a close parallel to the opening lines of Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Here goes:
And he stoppeth one of three.
By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?
The sailor (ancient mariner) singles out the narrator on his way to attend a wedding. Now that I got to rereading the poem, the meter and some of the images seem to recur in "Turkish Song of the Damned." Thanks Tom for the heads up.
'Will you kindly kill that doll for me'
Now he has won cochona in the bingo
All the town has watched this crazy gringo
As he pulls off the doll's head laughing
And miraldo! throws it's body in the sea..."
In the fifth line, "cochona" could be a slur of "chochona" (see above). Jose (gracias!) wrote and described the doll as something like (but predating) the "Cabbage Patch" type dolls.
Abrio sus ojos Jaime Fearnley
Para el bebe cinquante gin campari
Y se tendio para cerrarlos..."
We're on more solid ground here. Despite the grammatical lapses, these lines could be translated as:
James Fearnley opened his eyes
For [But] he drinks fifty gin camparis
And he lay down to close them"
It's also possible that there's an error in the printed versions of the lyric and that "bebe" might be "beber" or the infinitive "to drink" (gracias Isabel for suggesting that possibility). If that's the case, then the lyric could be rendered as:
James Fearnley opened his eyes
To drink fifty gin camparis
And he lay down to close them"
The annual Almeria festival is a 9 day affair held over the last week or so of August. It is noted in part for the prodigious amounts of alcohol consumed by the festivalgoers. The third line has some ambiguity in that "para" usually is translated as "for," but as Jose (gracias!) wrote to point out, with all the other grammatical and spelling lapses in the song, it's possible "para" is a slur of "pero," the word for "but." The line seems to make more sense with that read. The whole verse is based on a verse in Federico Garcia Lorca's poem "El emplazado" ("The Marked Man") which can be found in his collection entitled Primer Romancero Gitano (The Gypsy Ballads) published in 1928. The verse reads:
Abrío sus ojos Amargo,
y el veinticinco de agosta
se tendío para cerrarlos..."
The poem describes how on 25 June ("el veintecinco de junio") Amargo hears voices prophesizing that he will be dead within two months. On the 25th of August he opens his eyes, then dies (for more on Lorca, see "Lorca's Novena"). Thanks to Gerardo for the heads up on the poem. August 25 is also Elvis Costello's birthday (see below; thanks to Melinda for passing along that info).
Y suntuosa Cait O Riordan..."
The Pogues toured with Elvis Costello early in their history and he produced both "Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash" and the "Poguetry in Motion" ep, and while producing he met and subsequently married the sumptuous ("suntuosa") Cait O'Riordan, the Pogues' original bass player. Fearnley, I believe, was romantically involved with Cait before E.C. hit the scene. At any rate, they were all in Almería on the set filming "Straight to Hell" (thanks John for mentioning the film locale). In 1986 Costello released his album "King of America" ("el rey de America").
Los gritos fuera de las casas..."
The first line in the verse derives from Italian, and, as with Shane's Spanish in the rest of the song, it's a corrupt version of a phrase. The correct Italian would be "Non rompermi i coglioni" or "Non mi rompere i coglioni." At any rate, "romper" would mean "to break" and "colliones" is synonymous with the Spanish "cojones." In other words, the phrase translates roughly as "don't break my balls." Big thanks to Nicola for helping me get the Italian right.
The last line reads "the shouts
outside of the houses."
The "Medley" is composed of three traditional tunes: "The Recruiting Sergeant," "Rocky Road to Dublin," and "Galway Races."
A feeling fine and larky oh
A recruiting sargeant came up to me
Says he 'you'd look fine in khaki,' oh
'For the King he is in need of men
Come read this proclamation,' oh..."
This first of the three tunes -- "The Recruiting Sergeant" -- refers to the recruiting practices of the English during the First World War. The Pogues version here does not differ lyrically from the traditional version.
"Khaki" refers to the British army uniform (they had by this point abandoned the "Redcoat" look).
Would be a nice vacation now..."
At one point in its
history, Flanders was an independent country on the
European continent bordering the North Sea. For
most of the twentieth century it was and still is
part of Belgium (although some bits were also part
of northern France). During World War I, the German
invasion of France went through Belgium, violating
Belgium's neutrality in the process. In the allied
countries, reports and images of German atrocities
in Belgium were common, and calls to avenge the
"rape" of Belgium were effective recruiting tools
and propaganda weapons. The First (October to
November 1914) and Second (April to May 1915)
Battles of Ypres were fought in what was Flanders.
In the First Battle, the British Expeditionary
Force -- the professional British army -- was
routed by the much larger German forces.
At one point in its history, Flanders was an independent country on the European continent bordering the North Sea. For most of the twentieth century it was and still is part of Belgium (although some bits were also part of northern France). During World War I, the German invasion of France went through Belgium, violating Belgium's neutrality in the process. In the allied countries, reports and images of German atrocities in Belgium were common, and calls to avenge the "rape" of Belgium were effective recruiting tools and propaganda weapons. The First (October to November 1914) and Second (April to May 1915) Battles of Ypres were fought in what was Flanders. In the First Battle, the British Expeditionary Force -- the professional British army -- was routed by the much larger German forces.
Both of the battles are
notable not least for the sheer number of
inflicted. The First Battle of Ypres marked the
onset of the trench warfare so characteristic of
the First World War, and, along with it, the
beginning of aggressive recruiting/drafting efforts
by the British. The Second Battle of Ypres saw the
first use of chemical weapons in the
Both of the battles are notable not least for the sheer number of casualties inflicted. The First Battle of Ypres marked the onset of the trench warfare so characteristic of the First World War, and, along with it, the beginning of aggressive recruiting/drafting efforts by the British. The Second Battle of Ypres saw the first use of chemical weapons in the war.
The "fighting in Dublin" probably refers to the Easter Rising of 1916.
The commissioned and non-commisioned officer corps of the English Army was largely English. The Irish were considered useful cannon fodder rather than leaders.
The instrumental bridge is "Rocky Road to Dublin."
The last song in the medley is "Galway Races" (also see "Waxie's Dargle").
And passengers from Nenagh
The boys of Connemara
And the Clare unmarried maidens
There were people from Cork City
Who were loyal, true and faithful
Who brought home the Fenian prisoners
From dying in foreign nations..."
Limerick is in the southwest of Ireland, Nenagh in the south midlands, Connemara in the west, and Cork in the south. In other words, the train included a pretty fair cross section of the whole of Ireland (a fact more apparent in the traditional version below). "Fenianism" was the variant of Irish nationalism that flourished from the mid to late 1800s through the early part of the 1900s. It was a popular name, taken from the "fianna" army of the legendary Finn MacCool. In Irish mythology, Finn is best known for his prowess as a military commander. Of course, here in the States he's probably better known as a bar. The "official" name for the movement was the Irish Republican Brotherhood, founded in New York City just before the Civil War here (and just after the Great Hunger in Ireland).
The "foreign nation" is likely a reference to England or Australia (set up as an English penal colony, see the "Battle of Brisbane"). In the traditional version I found (see below) the last line is "from diverse foreign nations." Shane slurs enough that it's possible that that's what he's singing and that the record company folks just didn't get it right when they put the lyric sheet together.
inducing fresh acquaintance."
"Failte" is Gaelic for "welcome."
Click here to open a window with the full lyrics for the traditional version.
(Terry Woods wrote Streets of Sorrow
Shane MacGowan wrote Birminham Six)
The Birmingham Six were Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker. These men were arrested and tortured by British police who were able to extract confessions as a result. The Six were convicted of an IRA bombing in Birmingham. They were released on 14 March 1991, after being wrongfully imprisoned for sixteen years. On the upside, at least in the UK they didn't have a death penalty -- here in the States justice would likely have been posthumous. This song was released during the height of public agitation on behalf of the Six and is probably the strongest example of Shane and Terry's republican leanings. It was also banned on the BBC. Throughout the campaign to gain release of the Six, most "official" Irish politicians steered clear of the issue.
In Guildford there's four ..."
The Guildford Four were Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Gerald Armstrong, and Carole Richardson. They served 14 years in prison before their conviction was overturned on similar grounds as that of the Six; that is, the British security forces tortured the four to extract confessions and suppressed exculpatory evidence.
In England they'll keep you for seven long days ...
The Maze is another name for Long Kesh prison, located at a British army headquarters southwest of Belfast. It is one of the primary internment facilities used by the British for IRA activists, suspected activists, sympathizers, and suspected sympathizers and at one time housed the largest population of guerilla fighters in the world. Since Belfast is (as of January 2004) still technically part of Britain, the line is another rather strong indication of the band's (or at least Shane's) republican sensibilities; especially since the prison was used to punish those who sought to insure that it was indeed "in Ireland.". Long Kesh was slated to be closed as part of the Good Friday Peace Agreement...don't hold your breathe though.
At the end of Ron Kavana's version of "Young Ned of the Hill" on his "Home Fire" cd, you can hear Paul Hill read a short excerpt from Lord Denning's speech where Denning derisively dismisses the idea that the Six might be innocent and urges the court to quash their appeal. Here's the extract: "Just consider the course of events if this action is allowed to proceed to trial... If the six men win, it will mean that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were involuntary and were improperly admitted in evidence, that the convictions were erroneous... This is such an appaling vista that every sensible person in the land would say: It cannot be right that these actions should go any further." Gotta love that kind of logic.
"Though there is no lonesome corncrake's cry..."
The corncrake is an endangered bird native to Ireland and the UK.
"They're the things that
A boreen is a side street leading off the main road.
On the trees on the hill
Up at the top of the field..."
These seem to be similar to the beasties who scare the narrator in Terry Woods' "Haunting."
Another example of Shane drawing on traditional material for inspiration. The title likely derives from a line in the trad song "Will You Come to the Bower" (Shane recorded a version of it with the Popes on his "Crock of Gold" cd) and the verse which goes:
The Bann, Boyne, and Liffey, and the lakes of Killarney,
You can ride on the tide o'er the broad Majestic Shannon,
You can sail round Loch Neagh and see storied Dungannon.
Will you come, will you, will you, will you come to the bower"
Back to the Pogues...
Blowing up the road to Glenaveigh..."
I'm not sure about "Glenaveigh" (it's not on any maps I've seen, but that's also not atypical for Ireland either), and my guess is it's probably a parish or townland located somewhere in County Tiperrary. This just in...John from Scotland (thanks!) tells me that it's a townland about four miles SW of Borrisokane. It's in the Parish of Kilbarron in the Barony of Lower Ormond, or, in other words, just up the N52 from Nenagh in Co. Tiperrary.
Shinrone parish lies 5 miles from Roscrea and 63 miles from Dublin near the river Shannon. It was the scene of some hostilities during the war of 1641, when the castle of Cangort was besieged by parliamentarian forces, who eventually took and burned it.
Found a rusty tin can and an old hurley ball..."
Irish hurling is easily one of the craziest and most exciting sports ever conceived. When I was a kid growing up, ABC's "Wide World of Sports" would air a match or two around St. Patrick's Day (if memory serves), but it's hard to find stateside. Anyway, a "hurley" is the name of the wooden stick used in the game, the ball is called a "sliothar." It may have been a mistake in the printing of the lyrics, and maybe the line should be "old hurling ball."
And a fiddle playing Sean Dun na nGall"
In Roman Catholicism, a rosary is basically a beaded necklace with a crucifix attached. "Calling the Rosary" is a fairly complicated ritual to the uninitiated and the lapsed (ahem), but here goes: you start at the cross and say the "Lord's Prayer" ("Our father, who art in heaven...") then three "Hail Marys" ("Hail Mary, full of grace...") followed by a "Glory Be" ("glory be to the father, son, and holy ghost..."). Then you move to another "Lord's Prayer," followed by ten (10!) "Hail Marys" and another "Glory Be" (at each bead) and work your way around the necklace that way. I think it takes five sets of ten prayers to complete the cycle.
"Sean Dun na nGall" ("Lament for Donegal") is a traditional Irish tune. It was recorded by, among many others, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (and their families), which I mention because according to The Lost Decade, Shane wrote "The Broad Majestic Shannon" for them. The melody line in the verse follows that in the chorus of the traditional song.