David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 312: The Pogues (Bottle Of Smoke)

December 26, 2023

Well, Christmas has passed, and I never posted about The Pogues' "Fairytale Of New York." Given that I have referenced that glorious song a few times in non-song-series blogs (see most notably "Fairytale Of My Work"), I wasn't even sure what angle I could take. Then Shane MacGowan died and everybody was citing "Fairytale Of New York," and the Kelce brothers, yes, the f*ing Kelce brothers, decided to release "Fairytale Of Philadelphia" as The Philly Specials, and I knew my fairytale had become a nightmare. After all, what's next? Patrick f*ing Mahomes singing "Kansas City Calling"?

Hey, I guess the f*ing Kelce brothers remind the world of Shane MacGowan. "Fairytale Of New York" is such a lovely song, it almost betrays the man (and the group) behind it. After all, The Pogues were named from "Pogue Mahone," which translates to "Kiss My Arse," and the boozing, swearing, gambling on horse racing that exemplifies the male voice for "Fairytale Of New York" is much more prevalent on some of the other songs from If I Should Fall From Grace With God. Nowhere is the no-good bum, punk, scumbag, maggot, as described by the female voice, more prevalent than in the song immediately preceding "Fairytale Of New York," "Bottle Of Smoke."

Knowing the lyrics to "Bottle of Smoke" helps identify that guy, but its not like you need them, or are really going to be able to hear them. MacGowan was never going to be that crisp, articulate singer rivaling Kevin Cronin; no, at best, he was going to snarl, spit, and screech his vocals, not helped by blistering fiddles, feverish banjos, unrelenting accordion, and background support by the rest of his mates hanging in the pub. At best, you hear "bottle of smoke" as the only discernible words, other than f*ck (and more on that later). The pace is so frenetic, you aren't sure if there are ten verses or two.

When we can figure out the lyrics, we realize our hero's horse, the aptly-named "Bottle Of Smoke," came in at "twenty-f'ing-five to one", meaning his "gambling days are done," a promise probably unlikely given his propensity to sit in the locals and throw away his money on bottles of smoke, ale, whiskey and who knows what, getting drunk with "the priests and maidens, drunk as pagans." He's slipped fifty pounds to the wife, five pound notes to each of the unknown number of kids (lovingly called "brats"). We've got a good sense that there is a cycle hidden behind this bottle of smoke.

That cycle also includes a rousing testament to the F-bomb and the variety of uses it has. Us connoisseurs of a good curse appreciate MacGowan's ability to use the word adroitly, first as noun, when describing his horse coming down the stretch "like a drunken f*ck on a Saturday night," although with that description, we must suppose the horse weaved his way to the finish line perhaps cutting off the paths of his competition. Then we get the always appreciated use of the F-bomb as adjective, or more accurately, as interjection/adjective with the "twenty-f*ing-five to one" long shot coming in. Finally, we get the word as the always handy verb, so much so that first it's "f* the stewards" and later "f* the yanks." As someone who believes that swearing is a sign of intelligence, I have to say that it's f*ing beautiful.

This narrator of "Bottle Of Smoke" is the persona most of us associate with MacGowan and The Pogues, not the fairytale teller, even if that one is so redolent.  I wonder as MacGowan spins "'neath the sod," as sung in the title track to If I Should Fall From Grace With God, if he longs to be remembered as much for the fairytalist of his own right in "Bottle Of Smoke," or maybe even more so as the ghost from the "Turkish Song of The Damned," also from If I Should Fall From Grace With God.

Given the resemblance of the male narrators in these back to back songs off of the album, one wonders if someone, somewhere, didn't have the idea to release these as a double A single, The Pogues' "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions." Sure, the salty language of "Bottle Of Smoke" probably dooms it, especially since "Fairytale Of New York" was helped by a Christmas-time release, but it would have been a heck of a rare find now that good old Shane is deceased.

The Pogues. "Bottle Of Smoke." If I Should Fall From Grace With God. Island, 1988. Link here.

Day 311: Billy Squier "Christmas Is The Time To Say 'I Love You'"

Day 313: Johnny Paycheck "Take This Job And Shove It"

See complete list here.