Random Erik

Ramblings on Cartoons, Music, Pop Culture and Whatever

Christmas Eve in the Drunk Tank

“It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank…”

That’s how the greatest Christmas song ever recorded by a rock group, pop group or country group begins. Don’t even think to argue. It’s a song that captures the melancholy, hope and passion that surrounds this holiday. The album, If I Should Fall From Grace with God, was the high-water mark for The Pogues, and the water was pretty high already. And in that shimmering, rollicking, rough and beautiful collection, you’ll find that heartbreaking classic, Fairytale of New York.

What makes the song especially wonderful is the presence of a non-Pogue: Kirsty MacColl. She became a sort of unofficial member, singing with them often, and what a match it was. Shane MacGowan’s slurry, drunken and charming growl mixed with MacColl’s clear, full voice; sandpaper and silk. The music was a force, Irish traditional played with abandon by people with punk sensibilities, as if the Sex Pistols had stolen the instruments from a bunch of guys in wooly sweaters.

MacColl brought her own magic. She was a popster, but one with such street cred that she got to hang out with the cool guys of 80s music: Billy Bragg, the Smiths, Bono. Her music instantly stood out. Pop melodies, sometimes with lush arrangements, but sung with brio and the sense of fun that you don’t hear from the manufactured pop girls of today.

People who think that the 80s were a musical wasteland were not paying attention. If you were ready to look beneath the vapid MTV crap, things were stronger than they’ve been in the past decade. I was fortunate to live within receiving distance of WHFS, back then a no-playlist station helmed by DJs who knew where the good stuff was hidden. I liked a lot of it, hated some of it, and twisted the volume dial way up on the car stereo for a very few. One was Billy Bragg’s A New England. Another was Kirsty MacColl’s cover of Billy Bragg’s A New England. And Kirsty’s barrelhouse rocker There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis. Some of you are wondering what I’m talking about. But I’m hoping that some of you are smiling, remembering when you first heard these songs. If you haven’t, check them out (99 cents a song on iTunes, skip that Starbuck’s today and try the ones they have).

But back to the point. Kirsty MacColl seems to loom large this Christmas. At a play the other night, the singer who did numbers between the acts performed In These Shoes?, a minor hit for Kirsty a few years back and a song that’s also been performed by (shudder) Bette Midler. The next morning, I turned on the radio to hear the wonderful original version (No le gusta caminar. No puede montar a caballo. Como se puede bailar? Es un escandolo!). Of course, our local alternative station is playing Fairytale of New York.

And Maggie pointed out an article on the British newspaper The Mirror web site. The man who killed Kirsty MacColl still hasn’t been punished.

She was in Cozumel, on a dive with her sons. They were in the National Marine Park, which is limited to divers, swimmers and their support boats. When she surfaced, she was cut in half by a 31 foot powerboat. Witnesses say that the boat was travelling at around 18 to 20 knots, not the single knot that the boat’s occupants claimed. One knot: Almost certainly a lie considering the eyewitness accounts and the seriousness of the injuries. But the boat’s owner is a powerful man in Mexico, and despite more eyewitness accounts of his son being at the helm, a deckhand took the blame, was convicted of culpable homicide and escaped prison by paying the equivalent of $100.

Kirsty’s mother is still battling for real justice, though. The Pogues have re-released Fairytale to raise money for the Justice for Kirsty campaign. And this week, after 5 years, the boat’s owner and two of his relatives have been subpoenaed for perjury in the case. Somehow, I don’t feel hopeful that anything will come out of this.

She died on December 18th, 2001. Only a month before, Maggie had seen her live in London. It was a fantastic show with the old favorites and her new, Cuban-influenced, songs.

There have only been a few times I’ve cried when hearing about the death of someone I don’t actually know. Jim Henson. Dr. Seuss. And Kirsty MacColl.

So for me, Kirsty adds more emotion to this time of the year. That sense of joy when I hear the opening strains of that Pogues song. And that melancholy that seems to get a bit stronger every year at this time, as I think it does for most adults. But now I’ll focus on that wave of joy that comes over me when her part of the song starts:

“When you first took my hand on that cold Christmas Eve,
You promised me Broadway was waiting for me”

I really miss her.

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