Shane MacGowan obituary: his life reminds us that chaos and fearlessness can create beauty

Of course to the wider world, it’s Fairytale Of New York that always brings about
the yearly nod of genius acknowledgement from the planet – it’s a dead cert to
be number one on Christmas Day, his birthday (it only reached number 2 when it
was first released in 1987, beaten by The Pet Shop Boy’s ‘Always on my Mind’)  – but he’d also reached a stage of true appreciation, having been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in Dublin on his 60th birthday, and an Ivor Novello Inspiration Awards the same year. Famous fans and friends would pay their respects, Johnny Depp, Bono, Kate Moss, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, to name a few. A great documentary by Julien Temple was made – ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGown’ (2020) – which fully illustrated his remarkable story, from being steeped in folk songs (and that Guinness – MacGowan said his family told people, “If you give them enough when they’re young, the don’t go overboard with it later on.”) in Tipperary to coming to Kent and being a public schoolboy, to the London punk scene and hitting worldwide acclaim with The Pogues, before landing in outsider infamy

It’s worth reflecting, amid all the outporings, that he was always an outsider. Often he was treated in the media as joke, just a toothless alkie who had drank away whatever his talent was. But pity never fit MacGowan, he was too funny for
that, too smart. He was always exceptionally smart. His father would read him Finnegan’s Wake with him as a kid, and let’s not forget that before he hit the punk scene in The Nipple Erectors, he won a scholarship to Westminster. Admittedly, he was thrown out in his second year for possessing drugs, but he was always part of a lineage of Irish literary greats, Joyce, Yeats, and his pal Brendan Behan.