Sunday, January 06, 2013

Did Derek Raymond know Shane MacGowan?

Did the superb English noir writer Derek Raymond (right) know Shane MacGowan, the superb Irish songwriter and singer who was well into his dissipated career in and out of the Pogues when Raymond died in 1994?

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

Labels: , , , , ,

36 Comments:

Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Wow, really neat comparison, and one I would never have thought of. The Pogues have been on my mind of late, partly because I always haul out 'Fairytale of New York' for Christmas. (Best holiday song ever? I think so.)

January 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've heard that song a time or two over the past week. And the scene of the protagonist's first meeting with the old soldier in How the Dead Live reminded me instantly of the Pogues song. I don't want to overstate the resemblance. Raymond does not have his sergeant express anything like Shane McGowan's "All I could do was hate him" line, after all. But the similarity struck me instantly.


And, not that it matters, but the song was recorded in 1985, the novel published in 1986, so there's at least the possibility that McGowan and Raymond may have known each other's work. In any case, I think either one could appeal to fans of the other.

January 06, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

After my reading of Indridason's _Voices_, Gene Autrey's recording of "Here Comes Santa Claus" will never be the same!

And who can read Agatha Christie's _And Then There Were None_ (the American title) without having the childhood "poem" (about catching someone by the toe) rattling around in their heads?

January 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Robbing childhood rhymes and songs of their innocent pleasures, are you?

January 06, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Well, then let us put aside childish things, and here instead consider Caroline Graham's Death of a Hollow Man, which will have the score of Amadeus (and a couple of operas) running through your head. Of course, that is more than obvious considering this: the actor playing Salieri (spoiler) in the local production makes a rather quick exit, but the music lingers.

January 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

On the subject, you might enjoy Michael Dibdin's Cosi Fan Tutti.

January 06, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Its an interesting question. Shane McGowan was a very thoughtful lyricist before he finally drank away the bulk of his talent in a Bukowskiesque slow suicide attempt. I wouldnt be surprised if McGowan was reading Jim Thompson as well.


I thought this article about Fairy Tale of New York was really great:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/dec/06/fairytale-new-york-pogues-christmas-anthem


January 07, 2013  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

I cannot now hear the Zombies' "She's Not There" without thinking of Cornell Woolrich's classic noir novel, PHANTOM LADY.

Nick Cave and Neko Case put out an interesting rendition of the song this last year, and then there was your noir song list, so I've thought about the novel a lot.


January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, even in that article and even in performance, Shane MacGowan comes across as a thoughtful, modest, respectful, intelligent guy when he isn't drunk beyond the ability to speak coherently. It's nice to see his obvious respect for Ronnie Drew on "The Irish Rover."

The Guardian article mentions a book about the Pogues. I wonder if that book sheds any light on whether MacGowan might have read Raymond. Whether or not each knew the other's work, fans of one might like the other. (Though "A Pair of Brown Eyes" is first-rate Pogues, and "How the Dead Live" is not quite up there with "I Was Dora Suarez" and "The Devil's Home on Leave.")

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Richard, I seem to recall that "She's Not There" was on the soundtrack of a movie in the '60s. Maybe someone mentioned this in a comment on one of my noir-song lists. Can you shed some light on this matter?

I got big laughs when I opened my noir-song presentation by noting that one of my first discoveries was that I was not a huge Nick Cave fan. But he's obviously a pretty interesting guy, and I may give him a listen from time to time. A version of "She's Not There" might be a good place to start. Thanks.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Its one of the best pieces I've read in the Guardian in ages. Good old fashioned journalism.

As I've said before, many of the greatest Irishman, like Shane MacGowan, were really Englishmen and many of the greatest Englishmen - the Duke of Wellington, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Rotten, Morrissey - were really Irishman. Which only proves to me that it doesn't actually matter where you were born or who your parents were its what you choose your identity to be that really matters.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I'm not sure Morrissey is a great anything and, even though you don't like the Beatles, doesn't John Lennon make it as an Irishman?

MacGowan is an interesting material for heritage-mongers: born in England to Irish parents, moved to Ireland as a child, back to England as an adult. It's easy to speculate that time away from Ireland might have sharpened his interest in Irish music, as reflected in early Pogues material. But it's the music that matters, and he did just fine in that respect.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

We'll take Lennon and McCartney.

You dont like Morrissey? Even this little ditty

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMQbzLrvwlE&list=TLEKam5oQQADE

Or the great Panic?

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

Re: "She's Not There" by Nick Cave and Neko Case

Naw, I didn't say it was good, I said it was interesting--different, kinda grungy--especially when gravel-voiced Nick Cave narrates the lyrics, kind of a koan, an enigma.

But don't spend money to download it. You'd be disappointed.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Richard, I have as lively a sense of entitlement as these grubby hipsters who think they have a right to everything free. I'll look for a clip on YouTube.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'm wary of entertainers who go by one name and, when they lack a sense of humor, at least in their best work, I say no thanks. It's one reason I'll never like Natalie Merchant, as good as set of pipes as she may have.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

You're misreading the Smiths if you dont think they have a sense of humour.

I'm going to have to include a Morrissey reference in my next couple of blog posts just to get on your nerves.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm not misreading them; I just don't know their work sufficiently. If your Big Lebowski references haven't driven me over the edge, nothing will. Include some YouTube clips with those references, and you just might win me over. I'm a Tom Waits convert thanks to you. It could happen again.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

I don't know of any link between Raymond and MacGowan (who I got to see live a few times with the Pogues), but last week a visitor to my home was surprised to hear my 6yo daughter in the bath singing pitch-perfect lyrics from 'A Pair of Brown Eyes', specifically 'drunk as hell I left the place/sometimes crawling, sometimes walking/ I heard the sounds of long ago, so I gave the walls a talkin' etc etc.

You might guess that my daughter has a pair of brown eyes, and that I used to sing it to her as a lullaby. The fact that she remembers it word for word might suggest that, in her case at least, the Pogues have come before crime fiction, but because of the lyrics, might lead her one day to question their meaning, and perhaps lead her thereafter to crime fiction (one can only hope)...

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

ps - Nick Cave's cover of 'Long Black Veil' on 'Kicking Against the Pricks' is a completely plotted crime story in a hundred odd words...His first novel, set the the US south, When the Ass Saw the Angel, I think it was called, is an interesting piece of Hillbilly Gothic 'crime'...

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dave, I am in awe of your daughter -- though I once caught my sister singing one of the early Bob Dylan songs that I liked to listen to.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Band's version of "Long Black Veil" is one of my favorite crime songs. I've heard of the country versions, too, by Lefty Frizzell ot one of those guys.

The early-30s bartenders, scoopers, and barristas in my gentrifying neighborhood recommended Nick Cave to me, some of them touting "When the Ass Saw the Angel."

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

My guess is that if I re-read it again, it might feel a bit florid and dated. It appealed to me in my early twenties with its emphasis on the grotesque.

Re Adrian's comment, I wonder if MacGowan wasn't more influenced by Bukowski, or at least Brendan Behan...

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Commentators have said Behan influenced Shane MacGowan, who mentions him in "Streams of Whiskey," and he recorded Dominic Behan's "Auld Triangle."

I don't mean seriously to propose that MacGowan read Raymond, and I don't think it matters if he does. Again, though, I do suggest that the book and the song might interest the same readers and listeners.

If anyone out there reads Derek Raymond, listen to the Pogues. ANd if you listen to the Pogues, read Derek Raymond.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

You might like this one. Ignore the fan made video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AlH2oYedfk

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And when you have a moment, Adrian, look for the clip of Shane MacGowan singing "Sweet Jane" in Queens.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

I get that re Raymond and MacGowan, of course.

I saw MacGowan sing 'Summer in Siam' one night in the UK, and it was one of the most tender and sublime songs I've ever seen performed, before he went on to write himself (and the concert) off.

I've just finished writing an article about the possible links between Fremantle boy Bon Scott and our local bushranger/outlaw Moondyne Joe, who were both incarcerated at Fremantle Prison. AC/DC's 'Jailbreak' lyrics seem purposefully written for Moondyne, a serial escapee (although I doubt they were...)

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Such articles are worth writing, I think, as long as one does assume that temperamental affinities imply causation of influence. I tied myself into an undoable not trying to write a thesis about Edouard Manet and a particular school of Italian painting based on an interesting resemblance. I should have been writing about visual psychology and assimilation of influences. Unfortunately, the stillborn master's thesis was to have been in art history.

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Dave Whish-Wilson said...

Speculation can be a useful way to draw out cultural/textural references or affinities (particularly in a personal essay)that might otherwise never be made, just as you have done with the potential Raymond and MacGowan link. Speaking of temperaments, it's so hot over here today it's hard to think straight. I can see how 'I get that re Raymond and MacGowan, of course' might sound a bit harsh - I'm blaming the 'forceps-like' heat...

January 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And I'm blaming the winter cold for my having tied myself into a "not" in my previous comment.

January 08, 2013  
Anonymous maxim jakubowski said...

Hi,
The simple answer is no. As a close friend of Derek Raymond (and now his Executor) I can say he NEVER listened to rock music. His only involvement was with Gallon Drunk, whom he hadn't even heard of before they contacted him, this on the Dora Suarez stage show and recording. And about dates of book and song, this confirms it, insofar as book was written nearly 3 years before its eventual publication.

January 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maxim, thanks for the note. I merely thought the song and the novel shared temperamental similarity. If either of the two men knew the other's work, I'd guess MacGowan would have known Raymond's, the singer being a much younger man than the author.

I have heard about the Dora Suarez show. I have read that harrowing novel, and I'm not sure I have the power to imagine what a stage interpretation would look like.

January 13, 2013  
Blogger Woody Haut said...

I knew Robin aka Derek Raymond fairly well in the 1980s, right up to the time of his death. I also knew Phil Chevron in the Pogues, who previously worked at Rock On Records, only a two minute walk to Compendium Books in Camden Town where Robin could sometimes be found, and where Mike Hart, who worked there, championed his books. I'm sure Phil read Robin's work, so it's possible that Shane did as well. Though, on the other hand, it's also quite likely that he didn't. And I think Maxim is right. It would be unlikely if Robin had listened to the Pogues. On the other hand, George Pelecanos certainly has.

January 25, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment. I only guessed, and rather fancifully so, from the similar narrative sit-ups in "A Pair of Brown Eyes" and How the Dead Live, that Raymond and MacGowan might have moved in the same circles. It's interesting to hear that that might, in fact, have been the case. Ultimately, though, what matters is that fans of one might like the other's work as well.

Since I've gone a bit Pogues mad the last couple of years, what Pelecanos books bring the Pogues to mind?

January 25, 2013  
Anonymous Karin M said...

I've read A Drink With Shane MacGowan and if you can believe what it says, Shane is/was a voracious reader of all kinds of books. I don't remember him mentioning Derek Raymond or crime fiction in general. Very interesting read, though.

January 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had not heard of A Drink With Shane MacGowan, but I can believe from his lyrics that he would be a big reader.

I'm a new Pogues fan, so I'm sure A Drink WIth Shane MacGowan contains much that will be new to me, though I'm probably more interested in his art than in his debauchery.

January 30, 2013  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home