Join 3,562 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The story behind Fairytale of New York
December 18, 2012 3:58 PM   Subscribe

The tale of Fairytale of New York: the story behind the Pogues' classic Christmas anthem (SL Guardian)
posted by apricot (40 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
MacGowan was born on Christmas Day in Pembury, Kent, England in 1957
posted by chavenet at 4:23 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Original Video of Fairytale of New York
Galway Bay by Bing Crosby
What the NYPD pipe band in the Pogues video are singing
The Dubliner's take on The Rare Old Mountain Dew
posted by rongorongo at 4:29 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can remember the resident Pogues expert in my life sending me an electronic message on the college's primitive "notes" system (roughly the equivalent of a BBS) saying he'd heard the new Pogues' Christmas song, and it was the first Pogues song he'd ever heard that he didn't like.

Should have known then not to trust him.
posted by dr. zoom at 4:44 PM on December 18, 2012


"If I Should Fall From Grace With God" is a fantastic album.
posted by Slothrup at 4:54 PM on December 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


This is one of those songs that makes me all sniffley.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:59 PM on December 18, 2012


the song does an excellent job in the opening sequence of Basquiat. first time i heard [part] of it.
posted by striatic at 5:06 PM on December 18, 2012


The somewhat patchy Just Look Em Straight in the Eye and Say Pogue Mahone box set contains 4 versions of Fairytale of New York, including 3 demos. Worth the listen.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2012


How timely! I just heard this version yesterday on cbc by Ben Caplan, Katzenjammer, and the Trondheim Soloists - my favourite so far.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:15 PM on December 18, 2012


Once I had an online (female) friend who was sort of testing the waters with a guy who was interested in her. She asked me for a litmus test song so that she could possibly gauge his appeal. I suggested James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." (He knew it, but didn't really care about it one way or another. I offered my opinion that this was a sensible response. [I could live happily never hearing it again.] Anyway, the whole thing went nowhere.)

I should have picked "Fairytale of New York." I really don't know what to say to anyone who doesn't like it.
posted by Skot at 5:17 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is one of those songs that makes me all sniffley.

Well, except when it's done by the Venture Bros characters The Monarch and Dr Girlfriend (previously) (of course, they are now The Monarch and Dr Mrs. The Monarch).
posted by rmd1023 at 5:18 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hmm...the article was written two weeks ago, but 'twas only this morning I highjacked a reddit top comment to mention it. A possible connection there?

Regardless a wonderfully brutally honest song that manages to convey the true spirit of the holidays. As I said on reddit, after we listen to this song a few more times we can all watch Bad Santa for the best anti-Christmas ever.
posted by viborg at 5:23 PM on December 18, 2012


My favorite Christmas music is Bach's Weihnachts-Oratorium, but this piece is definitely in second place. I like to think that these two works of art serve as bookends of some kind for the entirety of the western experience of Christmas.

I'm happy this post drove me to do some Wiki-exploring; I did not know that Jem Finer had such an interesting resume.
posted by Slothrup at 5:35 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm...the article was written two weeks ago, but 'twas only this morning I highjacked a reddit top comment to mention it. A possible connection there?

It was posted on a friend's Tumblr about a week ago, and I was just catching up with my interwebbing and saw it today. It must be in the ether!
posted by apricot at 5:37 PM on December 18, 2012


This is for the late, great Kirsty MacColl:

.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 5:49 PM on December 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Thank you for the days Kirsty.
.

Also there's the BBC TV Documentary.
If you you can't watch that have a listen to the BBC Radio 2 Doc.
posted by Webbster at 6:11 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


if only for Kirsty MacColl, you should remember this song always.
posted by roboton666 at 6:28 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love ya... Baby
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:30 PM on December 18, 2012


One of my most dreaded Christmas season moments: The annual Fairytale of New York worship.
posted by Doohickie at 6:30 PM on December 18, 2012


Oh hai doohickie! You can leave now!
posted by roboton666 at 6:45 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is great. I love this song (although it is a love that grew slowly -- I HATED, LOATHED, LOATHED, HATED, AND LOATHED it for years), and it is in the Xmas music mix I'm playing at work and whenever it comes around it makes me pause and feel oddly holiday-happy for a bit (even though I don't observe Xmas and generally hate the total reality immersion I have to deal with every year).

So, thanks for this. It's interesting to have this background. I thought it was a toss-off, but working for two years... The effort shows, I think.
posted by hippybear at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2012


Love this song. It makes me want to be in New York for Christmas even though I've never been to New York during Christmas.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:52 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the original blog post by Victoria Mary Clarke that the majority of the Guardian article was pulled from (with attribution.)
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:27 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of my most dreaded Christmas season moments: The annual Fairytale of New York worship.

You and me both. I still remember hearing it the first time and thinking how fun it was, running counter to your expectations; and then out of the blue, "You cheap lousy faggot." Now that's a line to send a chill of fear through a queer kids heart the first time he hears it.

It's not everyday you get to hear someone called a faggot in a Christmas song, so there is that, I guess. Novelty aside, it wasn't fun hearing myself likened to a scumbag and maggot. Merry Christmas indeed.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 7:34 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is where I admit that somehow I'd never heard (or heard of) this song until a Metafilter post five years ago or so. And the only thing I knew from MacColl was that cringeworthy song about her shoes. I really attempted to ignore the '80s when they were happening and managed to miss some of the good stuff in the process.
posted by octothorpe at 7:42 PM on December 18, 2012


To be fair, los pantalones, faggots in general are not being called scumbags and maggots, the couple fighting in the song is doing their best to insult each other as they fight. It's a piling-on of insult, not a likening in any real sense.

Anyway, it was the mid-80s. Being called a faggot was pretty much the best of the worst one could expect as a homosexual man in those days. Gay bashings were so common back then, they were a source of joking amongst police in cities where they regularly occurred. It would be at least a decade later before they began to be taken seriously as a crime.

Really, taking those lines in that song as some kind of anti-homosexual slur intended outside the context of the overall lyric is like thinking that Randy Newman was insulting all people with growth hormone deficiency. Sometimes songs are sung by characters and not by real people.
posted by hippybear at 7:58 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


It was Christmas Eve 1997, and the family had all gone home from the yearly festivities, and I was watching VH1 or MTV and they played the video for this song, and it was the most amazing thing I had ever heard. I needed to find this album. It took me like a week to find it. I finally picked it up on New Year's Eve and was listening to Fairytale when my first serious girlfriend called to break up with me. Looking back, I must have been unsufferable with the number of times I played this on repeat, but god damn does this song have a special place in my heart.
posted by khaibit at 8:01 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really, taking those lines in that song as some kind of anti-homosexual slur intended outside the context of the overall lyric is like thinking that Randy Newman was insulting all people with growth hormone deficiency. Sometimes songs are sung by characters and not by real people.

It's nothing like that, really. What it's like, is hearing it when it was released, being a queer teenager, and getting a chill of fear hearing that casually tossed off as an insult. Nothing more. I'm aware of all the finer points you mention. I do remember the 80s, I was there and know it was a different world. That was just my reaction to it then, and it's colored my perceptions of it ever since.

And your comparison is invalid anyway, because Randy Newman was right. I mean—just ick, they're all short and stuff. Shudder
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 8:12 PM on December 18, 2012


The best thing about the Venture Bros version (already rmd1023 above) is that the roles are reversed. The Monarch sings Kirsty McColl's lines, and Dr. Girlfriend sings Shane McGowan's.
posted by ErikaB at 8:33 PM on December 18, 2012


Kirsty McColl was a very good friend of my aunt (who had some other connections to the music business in her youth), so the song is always both great and sad to me every time I hear it.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:49 PM on December 18, 2012


You hear that, millennials? 25 years and you still haven't come up with a better Christmas song.
Get to work.
posted by rocket88 at 9:21 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I somehow doubt that this song will ever be beaten by something written by the Biebers of the world. Can you imagine him having the patience to take two years polishing a song?
posted by arcticseal at 9:52 PM on December 18, 2012


Honestly if there's anyone with the obsessive focus to spend two years on a song, it's someone like Kanye or Jay-Z. Which gets me thinking what a Kanye Christmas song would sound like. I think I just broke something.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:32 PM on December 18, 2012


"You cheap lousy faggot."

fyi, faggot didn't mean the same thing in Ireland back in the day. It was an insult alright but an old fashioned and not terribly dire one, as a kid I heard it mostly used (jokingly) by older relatives but in the 40s when the song is set it was probably still being used. It means (roughly) a dried up old woman, or just someone who is totally useless and a burden. Faggot is also a common old fashioned word for small dry sticks used to start a fire, which I suppose is why it was mostly used that way towards old women- meaning they were dried up and shriveled. Nothing to do with gay men at all.
posted by fshgrl at 10:36 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cait O'Riodan was mooted to be the female vocalist on the song (as on this other rough demo) but, as the article explains, she left the band before 'Fairytale' was finished. I liked Kirsty McColl's performance but always thought Cait would have done a good job. Here she is singing "I'm a man you don't meet everyday" with the Pogues, here she tackles "Danny Boy" in the 1987 movie "Straight to Hell" and here is the sexy "Tommy's Blue Valentine" from when she was with her earlier band, Pride of the Cross.
posted by rongorongo at 12:44 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is an interview with Shane McGowan about his use of the word, and while he argues it's use is appropriate for the characters of the song, he does not present the case that it is not a homophobic word, or that it wasn't meant that way; one would expect, were that the case, he would have clarified, as the discussions was explicitly in reference to Radio 1's brief censoring of the words for being homophobic.

The song was written in 1986-87, and by that time "faggot" was well-known as an homophobic Americanism in England, where both Shane McGowan and Kirsty MacColl were raised. And McGowan was writing about emigrants to America. So I think he was deliberate in his use of language, intending the American usage rather than the Irish usage (or English, where one use of the word faggot is in reference to a type of meatball).

I can see why the use of the word might hurt people, and I do not wish to tell them that it shouldn't. I can see that McGowan intended it to be said in character, rather than representing his own viewpoint or use of language (he has himself been gay bashed; he's a longtime supporter of gay marriage in Ireland; the guitarist for the Pogues, Philip Chevron, is gay; and Brendan Behan, who McGowan was deeply influence by, was bisexual).

But it's a hurtful word, whether said in character or not. If people are turned off by it, they have a right to be. I think that McGowan is one of the better poets of the late 20th century, and the finest poet of the Irish Diaspora, but I think everybody is going to have to come to their own conclusions about the use of the word in this song. And I think people who do not like to hear it, and find it hurtful, and are turned off by it have a completely valid point, and their viewpoint is worth respecting, whether you agree with it or not.

I am extremely ambivalent about the use of the word in this song. McGowan had not been to New York when he wrote the song, and did not know many American gays or lesbians, and so his language choice may not have been as precise as it is in other songs. It's very possible that, from the perspective of an Irishman raised in England, it was a colorful insult, and he did not know just how painful the word is for gays and lesbians in America, and just how often it is used as an expression of pure hate here.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:45 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


By the way, the "longtime supporter of gay marriage" goes to a satire site; not my best choice. I've read of his support before, but can't seem to find an appropriate link just now.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:07 AM on December 19, 2012


A fun game to play if you live in Ireland: try to go the whole month of December without hearing a note of the song. It's been three years since someone offered me the challenge and I have never once managed more than two weeks.
posted by rollick at 2:16 AM on December 19, 2012


I can see that McGowan intended it to be said in character, rather than representing his own viewpoint or use of language

I don't mind the word in the song, but MacGowan did make some pretty ugly comments regarding the Pet Shop Boys beating them to number one: "two queens and a drum machine", and "faggots with synths" still sticking out in my memory.
posted by rollick at 2:37 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Which gets me thinking what a Kanye Christmas song would sound like. I think I just broke something.'

There's a Kanye West Christmas song. There's a few lines I like in there, but no comparison to "Fairytale" by any means.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:53 AM on December 19, 2012


I love this song, but dislike the use of the f-word. So I just sing "you cheap lousy braggart" instead and continue to love the song. Easy-peasy!

And yeah, I love it. It was my theater history professor who introduced us to it, my first semester in college...our final assignment, before the winter break, was to each of us research some form of music we'd not heard before and write a brief paper on it, and then bring a recording in to the last class where it would serve double duty as the music for our end-of-the-year Christmas party. But then after we all politely listened through each others' selections of Balinesian gamelan and Tuvaan throat singing and the like, the professor said "I brought something in too," and played us this.

I think being introduced to this song may have all on its own been worth the cost of my tuition that year.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older SLYT: The New York Times released a video today of...  |  In 2012, 40 percent of America... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments