... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

345: So buy me beer and whiskey 'cause I'm going far away

Let us begin with a poem. Strictly speaking they are song lyrics, but the author of them – Mr Shane MacGowan – is undoubtedly one of the finest modern poets, and his words are a joy to read, and to hear. They have power depth meaning (all that stuff) – they can make you drink and make you die:

Well Jimmy played harmonica in the pub where I was born
He played it from the night time to the peaceful early morn
He soothed the souls of psychos and the men who had the horn
And they all looked very happy in the morning

Now Jimmy didn't like his place in this world of ours
Where the elephant man broke strong men's necks
When he'd had too many Powers
So sad to see the grieving of the people that he's leaving
And he took the road for God knows in the morning

We walked him to the station in the rain
We kissed him as we put him on the train
And we sang him a song of times long gone
Though we knew that we'd be seeing him again
Sad to say I must be on my way
So buy me beer and whiskey 'cause I'm going far away
I'd like to think of me returning when I can
To the greatest little boozer and to Sally MacLennane

The years passed by, the times had changed, I grew to be a man
I learned to love the virtues of sweet Sally MacLennane
I took the jeers and drank the beers and crawled back home at dawn
And ended up a barman in the morning

I played the pump and took the hump and watered whiskey down
I talked of whores and horses to the men who drank the brown
I heard them say that Jimmy's making money far away
And some people left for heaven without warning

When Jimmy came back home he was surprised that they were gone
He asked me all the details of the train that they went on
Some people they are scared to croak but Jimmy drank until he choked
And he took the road for heaven in the morning

-Shane MacGowan, The Pogues, Sally MacLennane

This wonderful song came straight to mind when I saw a bottle of Powers on sale in Gibraltar. A rare sight for me dwelling in England, but my love for this song has, by simple association, created a love for John Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey. I snapped it up and now, unopened, it provides an exciting motivation for going home at the end of my holiday.

It may be trite (it is) to compare the words of this Irish writer to those of another , but in the heat I'm baking in right now I don't think I can think further than that. So hear goes: The epic scale of the small events of Sally MacLennane bring to mind the size and scope of James Joyce's Ulysses. The mundane and the daily, the inconsiquential and unknown, become vast in scope, monumental, staggering and wonderful.

The men who drink in the wee little boozer become mythical figures with great and terrible deeds attributed to them – The Elephant Man breaks strong mans backs when he's had too many Powers. That Irish whiskey – uisce beatha, water of life – grants the strength, the power to those who imbibe it, like Asterix the Gaul taking a wee dram of Getafix's magic potion; and the Elephant Man, about whom we know nothing else, defeats untold numbers of men of strength. We learn of this deed but hear no details.

Men leave to travel far to distant unnamed lands, they fall in love, they fight, drink, create beautiful and brutal music, drink too much and drink some more, talk of whores and horses – but always returning to that hub of activity, the centre of life, the grand ol' boozer. The mythical Irish or Catholic or Celtic spirit has never been summed up so perfectly as in the lyrics to a 1980's pop song with soap-opera lyrics, written and sung by a toothless drunken old punk and backed by a double-speed folk band.

My fondness and folly for this song and the spirit it embodies comes both from my love of the literature, the language, and the drink – but primarily for my love of a beautiful Irish woman. I'll have a wee dram to that. The years passed by, the times had changed, I grew to be a man and learned to love the virtues of sweet Sally MacLennane ; I went to Japan (to the boozers and izakaya of Osaka) and something similar happened. And I returned to the boozers of Lancaster and Manchester, and discovered some in Belfast. The only difference is I can't pull a pint, know nothing of whores and horses, have never worked a bar...

There is death in the song, but no birth. Instead we have those long gone returning to the place where their journey began ; an optimism about the unending cycle of life, despite the omnipresence of death.

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