Publication: City of Edmonton News. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
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Early Life and Career
Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan came into this world on December 25, 1957, in Pembury, Kent, England. He spent the first six years of his life in County Tipperary, Ireland before his family moved back to England where he attended public school while his father worked for a local department store and his mother worked as a model after training as a traditional Irish dancer and singer. MacGowan was an exceptional student and earned a scholarship to Westminster School; however, he was expelled for possessing drugs during his second year.
With school no longer an option, MacGowan turned his attention to music and made his official debut on stage with The Clash in 1976. The concert earned MacGowan quick fame when his earlobe was damaged by Jane Crockford. Despite being covered in blood, MacGowan continued performing as a photographer in the crowd captured the iconic moment. The following day, the image headlined local papers, but it stirred something bigger in MacGowan who decided to form his own punk rock band known as The Nipple Erectors.
MacGowan briefly played with “The Nips” and then exchanged his punk style for something more Irish when he founded his Celtic punk band, The Pogues, in 1982. Intertwining Ireland’s rich history and nationalism into his lyrics, MacGowan’s music struck a chord with many as the Pogues reached international fame in the 1980s and early 1990s. “His songs, even though they are hard-edged, always have empathy for the characters in them,” said Bobby Gillespie, lead singer of Primal Scream. “He has a brutal eye for detail, and he can tell a story in a concise but almost cinematic way using these amazing images that just hit you in the heart with their tenderness and emotion.”
MacGowan’s work with The Pogues continued throughout the 1980s but his growing substance abuse led the band to kick him out of the group in the 1990s. MacGowan formed his next band, Shane MacGowan and The Popes in 1992. Over the next decade, the group recorded two studio albums as well as a live album and three tracks for Outlaw Heaven (2010). The band also toured internationally throughout the early 2000s just as MacGowan rejoined The Pogues for sell-out tours in 2001 and again from 2004 to 2009.
Rejoining the Pogues permanently in 2005, MacGowan settled back into life with the band. However, old habits die hard and tensions with the group resurfaced as they never made it back to the recording studio. “We’re not, no,” MacGowan said in 2015 when asked if the Pogues were still together. “I went back with The Pogues and we grew to hate each other all over again. I don’t hate the band at all—they’re friends. I like them a lot. We were friends for years before we joined the band. We just got a bit sick of each other. We’re friends as long as we don’t tour together. I’ve done a hell of a lot of touring. I’ve had enough of it.”
Life Behind the Scenes
MacGowan not-so-secretly turned to alcohol and drugs much like fellow rock and rollers Keith Richards and Iggy Pop who quickly skyrocketed to fame early in their careers. MacGowan often performed intoxicated and even refused to put the bottle or the drugs down to stay sober for media interviews, which led many to believe he was circling the drain of his life and career for his unbreakable habit. In 2001, his drug addiction caught the media’s attention with Sinead O’Connor reported him to the London police for drug possession in an attempt to prevent him from using heroin. Although MacGowan was initially irate with O’Connor, he later thanked her because her actions helped him kick his heroin habit.
Refusing to give up binge drinking and both physically and emotionally suffering as a result, MacGowan never tried to hide his addiction or his ailments. “The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks—they spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics, who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does,” he once said.
While his drinking and addiction certainly helped make him famous, it also contributed to his incredibly bad teeth. MacGowan lost his natural teeth in 2008 and, in 2015, finally had a new set of teeth fitted to include a gold tooth. The nine-hour procedure resulted in eight titanium implants in his jaws and was televised on the hour-long special, Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn.
On the heels of his dental procedure, MacGown suffered a huge setback when he fell leaving a Dublin recording studio and fractured his pelvis. Unable to walk on his own since the accident, MacGowan uses a wheelchair to get around. “It was a fall and I fell the wrong way,” he said. “I broke my pelvis, which is the worst thing you can do. I’m lame in one leg. I can’t walk around the room without a crutch. I am getting better, but it’s taking a very long time. It’s the longest I’ve ever taken to recover from an injury, and I’ve had a lot of injuries.”
As of 2016, MacGowan’s life partner, Victoria Mary Clarke, reported that MacGowan was sober for the first time in years. MacGowan’s fall and a severe case of pneumonia required a long hospital stay, which helped him detox. In the months following, MacGowan’s limited mobility made it hard for him to hang around pubs and bars, where he usually sang and drank himself into a stupor. While his sobriety remains in question today, the 61-year-old MacGowan remains a legacy in the music industry and is considered one of rock ‘n roll’s great survivors “bruised, bloody but unbowed.” His contributions to the industry were honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in January 2018.