Clinical Sentiments, Part 2: Shane MacGowan

This post is the second installment of guest blogger Eoin Cannon’s musings on popular songs that rely on “established therapeutic expectations not only about recovery but also about the link between heavy drinking and creativity in the narrators’ own public personae.”

Yesterday I talked about the ways that Warren Zevon’s “Detox Mansion” combines light words with dark music, but now I want to look at the way Shane MacGowan and The Popes reverse the juxtaposition.

The Reputation of Shane MacGowan

“St. John of Gods” provides a remarkable degree of complexity with a few simple components. McGowan’s lyric is in the British and Irish folk-revival tradition of sentimental odes to tragic street figures. Here, because of MacGowan’s voice and reputation, the distance between the speaker and the figure is less certain. The verses trace three bare scenes in the life of a far-gone drunk, whose only words are the song’s refrain:

See the man
The crushed up man
With the crushed up Carrolls packet in his hand
Doesn’t seem to see or care
Or even understand
And all he says is:
“F yez all, F yez all
F yez all, F yez all.”

This chorus ultimately gives way to “St. John of Gods” as an alternative mantra.  St. John of God is a psychiatric clinic in a southern suburb of Dublin, run since 1882 by the religious order of that name. Though it offers a range of services, it is best known for alcoholism treatment.

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