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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Russia’s Addiction to Alcohol (Taxes)

Points readers who enjoyed our interview with Mark Schrad on his recent book, The Political Power of Bad Ideas: Networks, Institutions, and the Global Prohibition Wave, will no doubt concur with the points he makes in an op-ed in today’s New York Times about the difficulties Russian authorities face when they advocate alcohol abstinence or …

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The Points Interview: Bruce Stewart

It is a pleasure to present the lucky seventh installment of the Points Interview, with Bruce Stewart joining us to discuss his new book, Moonshiners and Prohibitionists.   The book has just been released by the University Press of Kentucky, as part of its excellent New Directions in Southern History series, and offers a fresh take on moonshining and its relation to the politics of prohibition.  Prof. Stewart is assistant professor of history at Appalachian State University.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-Book cover of Moonshiners and Prohibitionistsstreet) could understand.

This book explains how prohibition sentiment, which was originally championed by middle-class townspeople, ultimately became embraced by rural Americans at the turn of the twentieth century.  To demonstrate how and why this change occurred, the book chronicles western North Carolinians’ changing perceptions of local alcohol distillers (many of whom would become moonshiners after the enactment of federal liquor taxation in 1862) throughout the nineteenth century.  Before the 1880s, licit distillers were viewed as entrepreneurs who provided local communities with a product (alcohol) the promoted social cohesion.  Mountain residents also supported illicit distillers (or moonshiners), believing that the federal liquor tax threatened local autonomy.  After the 1880s, the image of alcohol manufacturers (legal and illegal) took a turn for the worse.  Portrayed as social deviants who converted “the staff of life” into “poison,” distillers on both sides of law came under attack from rural residents who – like their urban counterparts – began to advocate for statewide prohibition.  Why did this change in attitude occur? 

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Gender and Campus Drinking 101

Vice-President Biden was at the University of New Hampshire today to riff on Gertrude Stein and remind students and faculty that “rape is rape is rape.” The occasion?  Justice Department pressure on colleges and universities to improve campus safety around the issue of sexual assault.  As an NPR story noted this morning, 1 in 5 female undergraduates will be the victim of such an assault, and (surprise!) “often alcohol is involved.”  Ready for another surprise?  Female students who are assaulted after they have been drinking, or after they have attended functions where alcohol has been consumed, are frequently seen as less than credible witnesses on their own behalf.

NPR’s coverage of the issue included attention to several of UNH’s harm-reduction programs, including the Know Your Power social marketing campaign:KYP poster

Know Your Power “uses a community of responsibility model to teach bystanders how to intervene safely and effectively in cases where sexual assault may be occurring or where there may be risk.”  Its graphics may not be the suavist, but

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The Points Interview: Sarah Meacham

We’re delighted to present the sixth installment of the Points Interview, in which we make our first foray into the colonial period in North America.  Points talks with Prof. Sarah Hand Meacham, author of Every Home a Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).  Prof. Meacham is currently an assistant professor in the Department of History at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Every Home a Distillery employs some skillful historical detective work to examine women’s role in the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages, and the manner in which men ultimately asserted their own primacy in that field of endeavor.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

In Every Home a Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), I analyze the interesting question of how Cover of Every Home a Distillerytechnology and science came to be defined as men’s domain. No one had realized that from the late seventeenth century until the late eighteenth century it was typically women in the Chesapeake (that is the eastern areas of Virginia and Maryland) who made alcohol. Our contemporary assumptions and the historic documents themselves have hidden women’s labor. For instance, tavern licenses were almost always given to men. When I began wondering what kind of credentials a man gave the court in order to be considered for a license, I discovered that all the men who received licenses were married to women with tavern-keeping experience. These were women who had grown up helping their mothers run taverns. The men received the licenses because that was how the law worked, but it was the wives who were doing much of the day-to-day labor of managing the tavern. This makes sense when you consider that the men needed to be away managing farms or other businesses. But if you looked at the legal documents alone, and not the genealogies of the businesses, it would appear as if women had nothing to do with the taverns. That’s one example of how the historic documents can sometimes lead us astray.

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Drinking Like a Guy? Women and Alcohol, Then and Now

I suppose it’s an occupational hazard, but I find myself surprised when I hear women today—many of whom are self-declared feminists—remark that of course female alcoholics are different.  I am brought up short by the straightforward, un-self-conscious way in which this pronouncement is made by friends and colleagues who are social scientists and clinicians.  I cannot listen to the expression of that sentiment without hearing echoes of nineteenth-century physicians and reformers and twentieth-century psychiatrists who made the same claim to quite different ends.

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Rural Distilling in Burma and Nigeria

A Rural Distillery in Inle, Burma

On a visit to Myanmar/Burma in late December I toured the region surrounding Inle Lake, well known for its spectacular beauty and villages on stilts.  A boat trip to the southern reaches of the lake took us to a regional market and to several temple sites—and to a local distillery.  We were welcomed by the owner, a man in his 30s who was in the third generation in his family to operate the business.  He gave us a thorough description of the distilling process:  outside in large metal vats about the size of garbage cans rice was cooked.  The cooked rice was then transferred into the main distillery building, dirt floor and about 50 feet long with a thatch roof and woven bamboo walls.  There the rice was mixed with yeast and allowed to ferment into rice wine in large pots.  After several days these were heated and the steam moved through 10 foot pipes to pots filled with cool water.  The distilled rice liquor then dripped into pitchers.  This liquor in various strengths was then decanted into bottles labeled “Best Jungle Wine.” 

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