FISTS AND FLOWERS: POGUES SING ABOUT PEACE AND LOVE WITH A VENGEANCE
In scanning the titles of the latest album releases, "Peace and Love" looks like a leftover from the psychedelic summer of 1967.
But, in fact, "Peace and Love" (Island) is the title of a new album by the Pogues, a London band that has nothing to do with the heyday of hippiedom, as confirmed by a quick glance at their credentials:
"Well, that's exactly the point," Stacy said. "In a world that's so bloody horrible, in which the human race is killing every species on the planet, including its own, peace and love is something to shout about. We didn't title the album 'Peace and Love' to be tongue-in-cheek."
When Stacy and Shane MacGowan sang Irish rebel songs on a London stage for the first time in 1982, they were similarly earnest.
"I think we were a breath of fresh air," Stacy said. "There were a lot of two-man synthesizer bands in Britain at the time trying to do anything to sell a record. No heart, no soul, no guts. They had the backbone of a fish."
MacGowan, Stacy and banjo player Jem Finer soon became the backbone of the Pogues, who evolved into a rollicking octet that mixed the fatalistic, romantic imagery of the Clancy Brothers with the go-for-broke intensity of the Clash.
That strange brew is embodied by MacGowan, the band's principal songwriter and singer. Steeped in the writings of James Joyce and Brendan Behan, MacGowan's lyrics are heartbreakingly realistic. While a jaunty seasonal melody plays, his "Fairytale of New York" (released as a single in 1987) chronicles how a couple's love affair has crumbled over the course of a year, finally ending up in the drunk tank on Christmas Eve.
In "Down All the Days," from the new album, he pays bittersweet homage to Christy Brown, a quadriplegic who found fame as a writer before dying at 44: "I type with me toes/Suck Stout through me nose/And where it's gonna end/God only knows."
And on a song simply called "U.S.A.," set to a proto-American Bo Diddley beat, the lyrics recount how the Vietnam War has left a returning veteran with "a heart of stone."
MacGowan's writing and some gloriously well-received concerts that Stacy likened to a "hydrogen bomb" helped the Pogues gain a following in Europe in the mid-'80s, but so did a few pints of publicity in the British music press about their love of ale.
It's an undeserved reputation, Stacy said. "Sure we enjoy our drink, but at the moment I'm the only guy in the band who's drunk," he laughed, speaking from a hotel room in New Orleans this week. "We wonder why we're always being singled out when there are other bands out there that are considerably more Bacchanalian than us."
But it was the Pogues' music that caught the ear of Elvis Costello, who produced "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash." The album introduced the band to America in 1986, and the band's following has grown considerably after a half-dozen tours of the States.
If nothing else, the Pogues are making clear to Americans that the relationship between the Irish and British isn't all about bullets, bombs and hatred, as the troubles in Northern Ireland may indicate.
Stacy, a native Briton, said that "only a fascist numbskull would think that when (Irish-born) Shane and I played together on stage that it was some kind of 'political statement.'
"There's a huge amount of ignorance about the actual situation there. There's no hatred whatsoever between the English and the Irish, but unfortunately there are individuals who want to perpetuate their prejudices and it gets blown all out of proportion. I've never encountered any hostility from the Irish simply because I'm English."
Perhaps that's reason enough to title an album "Peace and Love."
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.