Sunday, March 22, 2009

An Irish Kiss

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I love all things Irish. I start looking forward to St. Patty's weekend once Thanksgiving ends. So, here's the pathetic part- I am 2.5% Irish at the most. The countless hours I spend listening to The Pogues, U2, Van Morrison, and the Stiff Little Fingers will never change that.

In honor of this past week and a half of St. Patty's fun I am posting this video of The Pogues' cover of a traditional Irish folk song, "I'm A Man You Don't Meet Everyday."

I love The Pogues and their raucous mix of punk rock edginess and traditional Irish folk music. Shane McGowahan's lyrical delivery is so biting and confident. He's a super-charged, one-man party. I got the chance to see them at the Orpheum here in Boston two years ago. It was one of the best shows I have ever been to. The entire theater shook as scores of people danced to the Anglo-Irish punks' ragtag music. It was everything I hear gospel churches are supposed to feel like. It was everything I think life in general should be more like. It was an absolute celebration of having a pulse.

I love this song off of their 1985 "Rum, Sodomy & The Lash" produced by Elvis Costello. I love how it's positioned. Tracks 1 and 3 are rough-and-tumble, fast-paced songs album that introduce live-fast-and-die-young feastivity. The second track, "The Old Main Drag" features Shane in all of his glory as a dead poet walking. The three songs are what Bruce Springsteen would call "whiskey-slugging music."

Then comes "I'm A Man You Don't Meet Everyday," a slower, soothing ballad sung by bassist Cait O'Riordan. Her vocal performance stops the album dead in its tracks. It's the cool satisfaction of a long sip of Guinness as you look out the pub window on to the calm sea. It's a toast to a good friend or a lost one. Her delivery reminds me of a softly-played church organ, made all the more emotional by the reverent Irish flute-playing that accompanies her. "Pogue" is a Gaelic word for "kiss," and this O'Reardon performance is just like a great one- moving and earnest.

The story in the song, however, is chilling and ironic. A rich landowner is telling his guests about the wonderful possessions he has as he says " come fill up your glasses with brandy and wine" because "whatever it costs I will pay." Why should they be "easy and free" while they drink with him? Because he is "a man you don't meet everyday," this element made all the more real by the closing stanza when he describes shooting his dog dead seemingly for no reason.

This story is made all the more mysterous by the Pogues' take on it. It retains that wonderful intimate feel of a parting song that can inhabit its own space in the corner of a centuries-old Irish pub. I have heard such a song come alive through the heart-piercing vocals of a Gaelic female once before. I was enjoying a Guinness in an old pub on the cobblestone streets of downtown Belfast this past summer. The atmosphere was friendly and intimate. A dozen locals were enjoying a glass, a parting nod to the end of a work week. All of a sudden a beautiful woman's voice came out of the booth where the local musicians had been jamming on their traditional Gaelic strings and pipes.

It was a song about leaving home and being in love. It sounded like it could come from inside a stone church. It was breathtaking.

Cait O'Riordan reminds me of that night.

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