“Hard to believe Shane outlived her” my high school friend said to me today. He was talking about Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan, the singers on the Pogues’ 1987 Christmas song, “Fairytale of New York.” The song’s about Irish people being melancholy, and arguing, and doing heroin. It’s one of my favorite holiday tunes.
Kirsty MacColl, daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl, was born in South London in 1959. She had her first hit song in 1981. It was called “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis.” Her interesting career included vocals for the Smiths, but she’s probably best remembered for “Fairytale of New York” and those especially memorable lines “you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot, happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it’s our last.” Kirsty MacColl was killed in a boating incident in Mexico in late December 2000. A boathand was found guilty of culpable homicide. She was 41.
Shane MacGowan was born on Christmas 1957. That makes him only 55 years old tomorrow, but he’s a notoriously hard drinker and even as a young man there were many who thought he was destined to live fast and die young. He looks more ravaged and sounds less intelligible than ever, but he’s still around. In 2009, he and Victoria Mary Clarke had a gardening reality show on Irish television called “Victoria and Shane Grow Their Own.”
Kirsty and Shane’s duet, “Fairytale of New York,” takes its title from a novel by Irish-American author J. P. Donleavy. In the video, Max Dillon plays the cop who arrests a drunken MacGowan. But there’s no “NYPD Choir,” despite the song’s refrain. The video shows the NYPD Pipes and Drums.
As popular as it is in the US and Canada, “Fairytale of New York” is even more popular in the UK and Ireland. It’s made the Top 20 on nine separate occasions, indicating a Christmas song about Irish people arguing and doing heroin might have become a holiday classic. I think this is an easy song to love, at any rate. What do you think?