Did Derek Raymond know Shane MacGowan?
Did MacGowan (left), who has spent a good chunk of his life in southeast England, read Raymond, who began chronicling London's shady half-world in 1962, in The Crust on its Uppers?
Each chronicled low lives with sympathy and compassion that can make you cry, and the temperamental kinship is nowhere as apparent, in my experience, as in Raymond's novel How the Dead Live and MacGowan's song "A Pair of Brown Eyes" (try to ignore the pretentious video by Alex Cox.)
How the Dead Live brings the nameless protagonist of Raymond's Factory novels into contact in several scenes with a old soldier whose experiences in love and war silence the protagonist. Something similar happens in "A Pair of Brown Eyes," where a self-pitying young lovelorn man wanders into a bar and encounters a old man with a far more harrowing tale. "All I could do was hate him," the narrator sings in one line, yet the refrain, in the voices of both characters, tells the real story. (Again, ignore the visuals on the video. They have nothing to do with the song and are clunkily obvious next to MacGowan's performance.)
While you are listening to the Pogues and reading the Factory novels (reissued by Melville House and recommended highly. Raymond is a David Goodis or Jim Thompson for our times), ponder this question: Which crime novels remind you of which songs, and vice versa? And why?
© Peter Rozovsky 2013