You scumbag, you maggot
December 23, 2017 9:06 AM   Subscribe

 
Ahh, it's proper Christmas.

Oh, and go to hell, Ed Sheeran.
posted by Artw at 9:25 AM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


The only true Christmas song in my book.

(thanks for the link, fearfulsymmetry)
posted by bigendian at 9:25 AM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Shane will be 60 this Christmas Day (Kirstie died 18 December 2000 aged 41)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:32 AM on December 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


I recently came across a Facebook thread populated by younger folks who HATED this song, having heard it ad nauseam via their parents or uncles or whoever. I guess that's where twenty-nine years gets you. What once was edgy, fresh and true is now just some kid's bad holiday memory. Well, as my dad used to say to me when I dumped on all of his old music, "You're Wrong."
posted by philip-random at 9:52 AM on December 23, 2017 [28 favorites]


A few years ago, I took part in a discussion on the Straight Dope message board about Fairytale of New York. The thread was started by a hapless soul who plannned to sing it at an office party but was worried about including the word "faggot". Most posters who responded were outraged at the notion Shane's lyrics should be sanitised in any way whatsoever, and were quick to say so. The strength of reaction there is a measure of just how much affection this song commands.
posted by Paul Slade at 10:03 AM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


The use of the word 'faggot' is a problem, though. I think this article puts it fairly well.
posted by parm at 10:12 AM on December 23, 2017 [28 favorites]


I only heard this song for the first time two years ago... well, almost today. Christmas day, in a pub in Brasov. It's one bittersweet song; I was with my son, my father, my brother, and my soon-to-be-ex-wife; our marriage ended in a massive mess one week later, and the after-effects are still a big part of my life.

I love this song. It's intensely emotional for me, and I think it'll always be part of my christmas.
posted by ChrisR at 10:16 AM on December 23, 2017 [7 favorites]


The use of the word 'faggot' is a problem, though. I think this article puts it fairly well.


No, no, no. This song is "beloved," and a "standard," so it gets a free pass on using slurs, don't you know. I was informed in the last discussion how wrong I was to be chilled by its usage when I heard it as a teenager, so I know my place now. I was hearing it wrong. It's used lovingly, like the Zwarte Piet, so it's OK.

Sorry if I sound bitter and fighty. This song really cranks me.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 10:22 AM on December 23, 2017 [43 favorites]


Shane will be 60 this Christmas Day

how is this possible? is he related to keith richards?
posted by entropicamericana at 10:33 AM on December 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


well it's no Russian Meatsquats.

Yeah...


sorry.
posted by evilDoug at 10:33 AM on December 23, 2017


I honestly don't have a problem with the use of faggot in this song. It's historical and was appropriate (albeit offensive, and intended so) in its time and place.

I still use the word when I want to convey a specific sense about how people regard homosexual men. I don't think it's an unspeakable word. I just think it needs to be used with consideration.
posted by hippybear at 10:35 AM on December 23, 2017 [13 favorites]


Relatedly, I heard Bob Dylan sing “Hurricane” on the radio, uncensored. That N-word in there is problematic in a similar way, but punches hard.
posted by chavenet at 11:00 AM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


I honestly don't have a problem with the use of faggot in this song. It's historical and was appropriate (albeit offensive, and intended so) in its time and place.

exactly -- it was precisely the kind of slur you'd expect from one drunk to another in London, 1988.

Relatedly, I heard Bob Dylan sing “Hurricane” on the radio, uncensored. That N-word in there is problematic in a similar way,

Likewise, n***** in Huckleberry Finn. It was accurate at the time. As to how that transposes to the now -- well, let this straight white man tell you ... I don't think that's my call.
posted by philip-random at 11:05 AM on December 23, 2017 [8 favorites]


Shane MacGowan is the same age as me but jeebus, he looks like he could be my father.
posted by tommasz at 11:14 AM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


ah yes, because if there's one thing i've always missed in my christmas standards, it's a belittling and hateful slur that i've had thrown my way several times just for walking down the street, it's "historically approrpiate" though so whatever right
posted by Automocar at 11:18 AM on December 23, 2017 [21 favorites]


I've heard some performers changed it to blaggard, which yeah, do that instead.
posted by drezdn at 11:29 AM on December 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


it's a belittling and hateful slur that i've had thrown my way several times just for walking down the street

I know. And imagine how women feel hearing bitch, ho, slut, whore and cunt featured in songs. But it happens so much that I guess you can't select one song to get upset about.
posted by Thella at 11:30 AM on December 23, 2017 [28 favorites]


I had a girlfriend who had the holiday tradition of finding an excuse to get really drunk play this song over and over and over. It's a cute song for once a year, but it's not really all that.

Kirsty's album Tropical Brainstorm is outrageously good, you really should hear it if you haven't.

Relatedly, I heard Bob Dylan sing “Hurricane” on the radio, uncensored.

I saw Blazing Saddles on broadcast television in the late 90's. The scene with the little old lady who tells Sheriff Bart, "Up yours, n-word!" was re-dubbed to, "Outta my way, n-word!" It was a different time.
posted by peeedro at 11:52 AM on December 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


it was precisely the kind of slur you'd expect from one drunk to another in London, 1988.

And precisely not something I would expect to hear at an office Christmas party in 2017.

I had never heard this song before. If I had first encountered it visiting someone's house or wherever, I would have been genuinely startled and my mood would have soured, just as it does when I encounter the term in daily life or in other media. I wouldn't comment on it, but I would mentally re-categorize the host as someone with whom to maintain guarded relationships. If someone sang it at a work function I would file a complaint, just as I would if a white coworker had started reciting slur-laden passages of Mark Twain (??).

Like, outside of a professional setting people are of course free to feel their tradition trumps my comfort, but Celtic rock sucks and that man's voice is horrible and we were probably not going to be close anyway.

Signed,
Your potential acquaintance or coworker, a humourless older-millennial gay
posted by wreckingball at 11:59 AM on December 23, 2017 [18 favorites]


They played a cover of this song on the CBC the other day (quite a good one; wish I had caught who the band was) and the singer changed the end rhyme to "user/loser." It wasn't a simple swap out; there was more to it than that, but they way they did it, it scanned well and seemed a reasonable alternative.

I don't remember if they changed the line "you're an old slut on junk" though. I do find the use of "slut" jarring also, TBH, even though I understand perfectly it is in character for these two to be insulting each other in this manner.

(Unrelated: Christ, I've realized I'm now older than Kirsty McColl when she died. Sigh.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:08 PM on December 23, 2017 [7 favorites]


The protagonists of this song are horrible people who say horrible things to each other. That's the point. It's not a feel good Christmas song. It's a song about people whose lives have been ruined.

The first time I heard it, back in the 80s, I was stunned as if I was hit by a 2 by 4 and it seemed like the truest Christmas song I'd ever heard. I love this song, but I try to listen to it only once a Christmas.
posted by maggiemaggie at 12:23 PM on December 23, 2017 [16 favorites]


wreckingball: I wouldn't comment on it, but I would mentally re-categorize the host as someone with whom to maintain guarded relationships.

This specific song, and how this particular line - rather, the word itself - was ostentatiously and enthusiastically given EXTRA SPECIAL EMPHASIS when sung by the drummer (in particular) helped me make a very easy decision that my first gig with them would be my last. Up until that point they had seemed like a decent, if slightly shambolic bunch.

The next time they called me for a couple of shows that paid decent cash money, I demurred and then just stopped returning their calls and emails.

The thing is, even as a gay man, I kinda like the song itself and I have complicated feelings about the original lyrics. OTOH, substituting or modifying lyrics doesn't RUIN it, for fuck's sake. If the song can't stand without a single word, it's some weakass art and people who venerate it in the ORIGINAL AND PURE version only are the biggest weepy snowflakes in the world.

Speaking of changing lyrics, people do realize that Gordon Lightfoot revised the lyrics to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" based on some new evidence about the exact cause of the sinking. The singer-songwriter himself decided something was off about his iconic - many would argue signature - song. And changed it.

Postscript: He was a very shitty drummer, so I guess living well is the best revenge. Pro-tip, homophobic drummer dude, wherever you are: if there's a lot of Irish-y stuff in the band's repertoire, try properly figuring out 6/8 time.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:24 PM on December 23, 2017 [26 favorites]


Wait. The lede has been truly buried. First, I knew Kirsty MacColl from Walking down Madison, one of a handful of songs that transformed my... Let's say adolescence into one of musical discovery. She's brilliant.

But she also died saving her son from being run down by a millionaire power boater in Mexico on holiday with her family. I came prepared for a story of sad addiction or tragic sudden illness and instead got a gorgeous soul and hero.

Keep it up almost-2018.
posted by abulafa at 12:26 PM on December 23, 2017 [24 favorites]


This specific song, and how this particular line - rather, the word itself - was ostentatiously and enthusiastically given EXTRA SPECIAL EMPHASIS when sung by the drummer (in particular) helped me make a very easy decision that my first gig with them would be my last. Up until that point they had seemed like a decent, if slightly shambolic bunch.

Ahem. This should have read "In a band that I had been asked to join" somewhere in there but the edit window just closed. Wanted to clarify.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:30 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's a song I've never liked, but some years it feels inescapable. This year I haven't heard it at all, though; maybe it is slowly falling out of favor?
posted by Dip Flash at 12:31 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I know. And imagine how women feel hearing bitch, ho, slut, whore and cunt featured in songs. But it happens so much that I guess you can't select one song to get upset about.

hi i'm a woman who i'll bet gets called "faggot" in public more often than the average person in this thread and yeah no this is a shitty excuse
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:31 PM on December 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


I wish to link to this christmas song thread from this time last year. It made me listen to the Pogues too.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:34 PM on December 23, 2017


My wife hates this song for the reasons being shared in the thread, but when Shane sings "I've built my dreams around you" it brings a tear to my eye and makes me think of her.

I'll be listening to it again this Christmas, but probably on headphones.
posted by Edward L at 12:56 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


I mentally change faggot to "cheap lousy shit-head" whenever this song comes on the radio. I love the song, as a retail worker it's a breath of fresh air compared to "it's the most wonderful time of the year" of most of the other music we play this month.
posted by Braeburn at 1:01 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


I thought this was a bizarrely elaborate rick-roll.
posted by Missense Mutation at 1:12 PM on December 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm not for shunning the song, but I'm also not for turning it into a jolly sing-along with a few naughty words sprinkled through it. It's a brilliant depiction of what happens when a couple of people for whom the line between love and hate has been completely obliterated get into the eggnog a bit much. It's the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? of Christmas songs; FFS, don't turn it into a party trick. Learn the words to "Christmas Wrapping" instead and pick someone to do it with; bonus if you come up with hand motions to go with it (like signing "RSVP").
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:17 PM on December 23, 2017 [23 favorites]


I love this song, despite being one of the Young Millenials with no family context for it, in part because I have a definite fondness for Shane McGowan and in part because I have pretty complicated relationships with Christmas and I appreciate the chance to go "yeah, take your schmaltzy bullshit and shove it." (Also, the line " 'I could have been someone!' / 'Well so could anyone!' " makes me snicker every time.)

But I also have pretty complicated feelings about the use of 'faggot,' historically correct or not. It's a word that I am careful with, especially as it's not mine to reclaim. And like many people in the thread, I go back and forth on this song because of it--especially if I am, as I often do with songs I love, singing the song aloud. Like. How do I gauge how people who listen to me singing it will feel about the sudden use of that slur when it rolls through the lyrics? I don't want that word in my mouth--and especially not with that tone; the joy seeps out of the song at that note.

I would love this song so much more if it had happened to choose a different slur. As it is, and especially given the context of the times and the fairly clear use of the word as a pure slur--she's swearing at her lover or husband, I forget which; there's no other suggestion of any meaning she's using except pure invective--it really puts an unpleasant sour note in music I otherwise would love wholeheartedly.
posted by sciatrix at 1:22 PM on December 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


Money For Nothing is equally problematic, although Clear Channel I Heart Radio has a version that deletes that verse entirely that they play. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Maybe just not play the song?
posted by hippybear at 1:27 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


I thought this was a bizarrely elaborate rick-roll.

Returning to the documentary itself for a moment - and speaking of 80s things - I literally LOL’d at “Matt Dillon being sober was a big plus!”
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:28 PM on December 23, 2017


And imagine how women feel hearing bitch, ho, slut, whore and cunt featured in songs. But it happens so much that I guess you can't select one song to get upset about.

I mean in the same song- the female character is called "a bum, a punk" and a "cheap slut" amongst other things. They are both insulting each other's sexuality and ability to be a partner throughout.

It's a song about diaspora and alcoholism and how losing your culture destroys individuals and how living in a world that is hostile to you and yours makes you turn on yourselves and each other while people just find it easier to ignore that and focus on the nostalgia of the old times and having a party to chase away the problems. I don't think most people on this thread are getting it at all.
posted by fshgrl at 1:32 PM on December 23, 2017 [22 favorites]


I don't think most people on this thread are getting it at all.

Given that this song is often played in an inebriated singalong context, for me the issue is the way in which it’s received and reflected by the audience. I’ve sung along to this song with friends in situations where I know that there isn’t a palpable impulse to homophobic violence lurking under the surface. I’ve also encountered it in contexts where there most certainly is. So yeah, as a gay man who is also a musician, I “get it.”
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:41 PM on December 23, 2017 [12 favorites]


Shane MacGowan is the same age as me but jeebus, he looks like he could be my father.

Somewhere in the dozen or so seasons of The Unbelievable Truth (previously, links RIP) David Mitchell introduces the show with words to the effect of, "it's a show about separating the true from the false. For example: Does Shane MacGowan have terrible teeth? True! What kind of teeth should he have? False!"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:47 PM on December 23, 2017 [13 favorites]


Given that this song is often played in an inebriated singalong context, for me the issue is the way in which it’s received and reflected by the audience. I’ve sung along to this song with friends in situations where I know that there isn’t a palpable impulse to homophobic violence lurking under the surface. I’ve also encountered it in contexts where there most certainly is. So yeah, as a gay man who is also a musician, I “get it.”

Are you OK with the insults aimed at the female character though? I think it's fine to change the lyrics these days, it makes sense to me for people to do that but reframing the entire song as homophobic is not accurate. It's about destroyed people and how they got that way and how vicious they are to each other.

The fact that Fairytale of New York has become the "NYPD choir" singalong it references over time says something about humans that I can't quite articulate but that makes me feel we are all doomed.
posted by fshgrl at 1:53 PM on December 23, 2017 [18 favorites]


Are you OK with the insults aimed at the female character though?

Of course not. I was directly addressing the “faggot” line particularly in light of the (anecdotally) undue emphasis given to that line by people singing it, an emphasis that doesn’t (to my ear) exist in the original.

There’s room for discussion of both slurs here - I was only addressing one.

The fact that Fairytale of New York has become the "NYPD choir" singalong it references over time says something about humans that I can't quite articulate but that makes me feel we are all doomed.

With you 100% on that. Happy holidays everyone!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:05 PM on December 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


The fact that Fairytale of New York has become the "NYPD choir" singalong it references over time says something about humans that I can't quite articulate but that makes me feel we are all doomed.

For me, it says that even in the shittiest of lives there are moments of grace.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:20 PM on December 23, 2017 [10 favorites]


"Does Shane MacGowan have terrible teeth? True! What kind of teeth should he have? False!"

Shane's had his teeth fixed. There's been a TV documentary about that too.

For me, the "faggot" question still boils down to one of respecting the song's integrity. If you were reading a 1980s-set novel about those particular characters, you'd give its author the right to represent their language accurately - however objectionable or offensive we may find that language today. MacGowan's use of the word is not cheap or sensationalist, so shouldn't we accord a songwriter of his skill the same courtesy?
posted by Paul Slade at 2:40 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Eh, fer fuck's sake, change the word. "Braggart" flows nicely.

Change the word, if for no other reason than (hopefully not misbegotten) faith in humanity: if there's any grace in the world at all, the "character" in the song is a better person than that now, and is aghast at her younger self using the slur.

*There*'s your historicity.
posted by notsnot at 3:03 PM on December 23, 2017 [8 favorites]


I hesitate to put my oar in here, but I suspect that the word "faggot" is not being used in the American (homophobic) sense at all, but as a disparaging Irish term for an old woman. Certainly my mother and her sisters, born in Dublin in the 1920s, all used it in that sense.
posted by Fuchsoid at 3:04 PM on December 23, 2017 [7 favorites]


No one sings the first verse to "White Christmas" anymore* so, as a musician I don't see what the big deal with changing one word is.

*It isn't even problematic, it just sets the song opening in California.
posted by drezdn at 3:08 PM on December 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm the same age as Shane and grew up in Ireland where he spent part of his youth. There were no shortage of homophobic slurs at the time but 'faggot' was not one of them. A faggot was a word used to describe someone who was up to no good. My mother, who never used a rude word in her life, often called me 'a little faggot' in a humorous way. I was quite old when I became aware of how Americans used the word. I have no idea what meaning Shane had in mind but I don't believe the word carries the same weight in this part of the world as it does in America. I know there's a word or phrase for that but I can't remember what it is.

On preview, what Fuchsoid said.

Anyway, Happy Christmas me arse, everybody.
posted by night_train at 3:09 PM on December 23, 2017 [14 favorites]


I hesitate to put my oar in here, but I suspect that the word "faggot" is not being used in the American (homophobic) sense at all, but as a disparaging Irish term for an old woman.

Calling a man that - an old woman - as an insult certainly has elements of homophobia as well. And McGowan grew up in England mostly, moving there at age six. He wrote the song in mid 80s London. Let's not try to whitewash this.
posted by Dysk at 3:17 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


I hesitate to put my oar in here, but I suspect that the word "faggot" is not being used in the American (homophobic) sense at all, but as a disparaging Irish term for an old woman. Certainly my mother and her sisters, born in Dublin in the 1920s, all used it in that sense.

....which is of course why he's written it being used by a drunken woman to hurl at her male lover, with whom she is currently furious, in a song written in the 1980s?
posted by sciatrix at 3:18 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Like Mandolin Conspiracy, I've mainly encountered this song in a folk/singalong context. And one of the things about that context is that, yeah, no, everyone's really clear that the singer is doing a character. Because most of the songs we sing are about things we haven't actually done — like, say, murdering our lovers by the banks of the Ohio river, or sailing around Cape Horn, or rising from the grave to wreak vengeance.

(In fact, there's layers of indirection there, because (a) I know my friend Bob who's singing isn't his friend Allen who he learned it from, (b) I know Allen isn't Kirsty McColl, (c) I know Kirsty McColl isn't the author of those words, and (d) I know the author of the words isn't the character they portray. This, too, is common with folk music. We're a community where everyone's accustomed to layers and layers of interpretation and reinterpretation and reclaiming building up around the songs we sing.)

So yeah, no, it's not that I Don't Get It. I know the song's about a character. I know the character's meant to be unattractive. I know the other character in the song is also meant to be unattractive. I'm fine with all those things. I still specifically don't like hearing the word "faggot," because it's a word I associate with fearing for my safety — and I especially don't like hearing a whole roomful of people all hyped-up to use their one yearly yell-a-slur-and-nobody's-allowed-to-object card on it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:40 PM on December 23, 2017 [14 favorites]


I was in Ireland a couple of weeks ago, and there was a chorus singing Christmas carols in the Cork airport. I wasn’t paying much attention because I was busy picking up my rental car. At some point, I realized that they were singing “Fairytale of New York”. On the one hand, that was pretty cool, but on the other, the language does make me a little uncomfortable.
posted by wintermind at 4:17 PM on December 23, 2017


I can’t imagine it’s not a slur considering the same word is used clearly as a slur in a song from the Hell’s Ditch album released just a few years later.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:40 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't think most people on this thread are getting it at all.

I don't think that you're getting the criticism. I see a lot of people in this thread who understand the song and the context; that's not where the criticism is coming from.

I will even go along with you and say the word adds something to the song. It's not just true to the characters; its viciousness makes the dialogue more tragic. But that doesn't erase the effects it has on the audience - or guarantee that the audience gleefully screaming that line is doing so because they appreciate or understand the art.

Just how many people think "Born in the U.S.A." is a patriotic power anthem? Those lyrics couldn't be more obvious, and yet a good chunk of the audience will sing "BORN IN THE USA!!!" without realizing the context - or without caring about the context, because they just want to shout those words.

When you dismiss criticisms of the song based on that fact by saying that we just don't get the song, it's really condescending and misses the central point.

I like this song a lot, but it's not as uncomplicated as "it's fine because there's a good reason", and it's not a song I'd play in public.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:20 PM on December 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


I wince at the use of 'faggot' in this song (although weirdly not 'slut' though it's a word I normally would wince at, somehow to my ear it sounds almost like a term of endearment, probably because it so closely follows 'bum' and 'punk' which just come off strangely funny when directed at a woman). I also really like the song aside from that one part, as an irish american and just as a general antidote to cloying Christmas tunes. All that said, I would never try to treat is as a sing-a-long, and probably wouldn't even play it on a jukebox or some such. I will however quietly enjoy it none the less, all by myself, where bad word choice can't hurt anyone else, and I myself can manage to live with it.
posted by axiom at 5:29 PM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


They played a cover of this song on the CBC the other day (quite a good one; wish I had caught who the band was)

It was The Once!
posted by oulipian at 6:29 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Love this song, the slurs don't age as well but I guess they are playing characters... Did anybody actually watch the HOUR LONG youtube link on the main post?!
posted by youthenrage at 8:13 PM on December 23, 2017


I don't think that you're getting the criticism. I see a lot of people in this thread who understand the song and the context; that's not where the criticism is coming from.

But most people aren't criticising the song, per se, but the people singing it as a group song. It is people's ignorant response to the song, not the song itself that is the problem. Sure, the song itself contains slurs, but so does much media and texts. If people ran around reciting the parts of Huck Finn that contain the 'N' word, that too would be problematic, but to abandon historical empathy and blame the text rather rather than educating the people who sing/recite it ignorantly is a backward step.

I will even go along with you and say the word adds something to the song. It's not just true to the characters; its viciousness makes the dialogue more tragic. But that doesn't erase the effects it has on the audience - or guarantee that the audience gleefully screaming that line is doing so because they appreciate or understand the art.

One of the reasons why the word faggot is popular among group singing is its richness of plosive sound parts and the short syllables. An alternative, such as braggart has the same plosives but longer syllables, thus less vocal appeal in situ.

As a woman, and a human being, I hear offensive and affecting things every day of my life. Some of them are vindictive and directed at me personally or as a class, others are just distressing and reflect a negative attitude toward some people by other people [e.g. collateral damage as a euphemism for civilian deaths]. A slur in the context of a song, about a character in the song, maybe unpleasant to hear but it is so obviously not directed at me or anyone but the character in the song, that context wins over.

So getting people to stop singing it, although harder, is a more appropriate and mature response than getting the poet to change his lyric; a lyric which works as much for its sound profile as its context as a slur from a particular woman to a particular man.
posted by Thella at 8:21 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


It's like sort of the opposite of how Indigo Girls in concert have the audience sing the line "I keep fucking up" when they play "Shame On You". In this instance, perhaps crowds singing should just be silent during that one line and then enter in with renewed enthusiasm on the next.
posted by hippybear at 8:25 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


When I was introduced to the song, the year after it was released, my little group in the center of the U.S. understood the f-word to reference a stick, or a bundle of sticks meant for burning. The person being referred to this way was as useless as a stick. I can see that "naive" doesn't really begin to cover it.
posted by bryon at 8:48 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


But most people aren't criticising the song, per se, but the people singing it as a group song. It is people's ignorant response to the song, not the song itself that is the problem.

Yup! Pretty much.

Coincidentally, Dan Savage just tweeted this:

It’s that magical time of year when our son gets to hear his gay dads screamsing “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot, Happy Christmas, your arse I pray God it's our last!” at each other.

Context is everything.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:49 PM on December 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


Did anybody actually watch the HOUR LONG youtube link on the main post?!

I did. I thought it was great. But I have a soft spot in my heart for BBC documentaries on music with picture quality that makes them look much older than they are. So I’m the target audience. Spoiler alert: Shane’s jaw retains its structural integrity to the end.

But I totally did not proceed to play the song over and over and maybe even cry about putting my wife’s broken dreams with my own as I went to buy her pizza in our old neighborhood.
posted by vorpal bunny at 9:03 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


As a woman I don't mind the "slut" insult as I was raised with it being a non-sexual insult (slob, basically, in my Irish family). But the f-word isn't mine to reclaim so I don't sing it. I thought in another version the Pogues changed it to haggard or braggart. I have heard, as well, that in scouse the f-word means lazy, which parallels the slut=lazy insult; the OED lists it as a pretty old slang insult towards old women but doesn't actually define what the insult *is*.
posted by saucysault at 9:07 PM on December 23, 2017


One of the reasons why the word faggot is popular among group singing is its richness of plosive sound parts and the short syllables.

There are a lot of words in English with a richness of plosive "sound parts" and short syllables; the reason faggot is noticeable enough that you need to "explain" why it's fun to sing in the first place is its emotional power.

So getting people to stop singing it, although harder, is a more appropriate and mature response than getting the poet to change his lyric

That's what some people are asking for, yes.

Some other people have expressed discomfort with the song because of the extremely negative experiences they've had with that word. I'm sure some of them wish that the lyric was different, and think the song would be better without that particularly potent slur in it.

The artistic intention does not make that reaction invalid, inappropriate, or immature, and you don't have to be ignorant of the artistic intention to feel that way. People can have different opinions about art! Those opinions can in fact take into account the effect of art on its audience, even unintended effects!

I was responding to a comment which seemed to assume that people who felt that way didn't "get" the song. That was unfair, because I didn't see any evidence of it in the thread.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:16 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


I have no tradition surrounding this song and in fact had never listened to or even heard it outside of this thread, though I think I'd heard its name before or something. On the basis of the discussion here and listening to part of it earlier, I think I will return to my blissful ignorance of this song, until such time as I'm forced to hear it again and deal with it.

For some reason I have one Pogues album—I think perhaps I heard a song of theirs once that made me think they were the kind of punk I might like—and I've fairly uniformly given the songs on it 1 or 2 stars in iTunes. This thread confirms for me that I don't like The Pogues, so that's useful.
posted by limeonaire at 10:25 PM on December 23, 2017


It's the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? of Christmas songs;

I've always liked Christmas Card from a Hooker In Minneapolis for holiday bleakness.
posted by benzenedream at 10:37 PM on December 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


The Pogues were/are a great f***ing band. Maybe some of their 1988 young-men-strutting-their-stuff material sounds jarring today, but please don't go writing them off completely. Thousands Are Sailing (from the same album as Fairytale of New York) ought to be taught in history class.
posted by philip-random at 10:44 PM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


the OED lists it as a pretty old slang insult towards old women but doesn't actually define what the insult *is*.

Faggots were kindling for a fire. It is an insult to a woman that she is a "dried up stick", ie past child bearing, no longer sexually responsive, shriveled old and unattractive. But like, in medieval times. It was in common use as a bit of a jokey old timey insult described above in Ireland for sure. My Dad would occasionally address a Christmas card to my grandmother to "the auld faggot", and it was like calling her an old county granny with a shawl and chickens and no teeth and a daily early Mass habit. I would have probably heard it in movies as an insult to gay men but it wouldn't have registered as such in any other context really.

To be honest to me- an Irish person of this vintage- the insults in this song always sounded like made up American insults meant to fit the setting of New York- you never heard "bum" or "punk" used that way in the 80s in England or Ireland except in American movies, and it still sounds weird directed at a woman to my ears after living in the US. Like, they used it but didn't really know the context. I have always assumed she used faggot here to express her dissatisfaction with the sexual aspects of the relationship, in keeping with her dissatisfaction with the romantic and economic aspects. I don't think she's calling him lazy, I think she's calling him unmanly. It is what it is and words change and changing the lyric is fine where it carries a lot of meaning. But its not a carol, and no one should expect it to be one. It's a song by a punk band about alcoholism and destructive relationships, for pete's sake.
posted by fshgrl at 11:24 PM on December 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


Faggots in England were also offal meatballs. But make no mistake, that is absolutely not the word that's actually being used. It's faggot as in poofter. The context makes that clear.

(Also, how is a song with that unbearably saccharine melody supposed to be an antidote to Christmas schmaltz??)
posted by Dysk at 11:39 PM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's antidote because it references less than happy feelings many of us have about Christmas. As far as the "faggot" is concerned, well I agree with some others that it's unfortunate but understandable in the context of disagreeable characters being disagreable with other characters.
posted by Dumsnill at 11:52 PM on December 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


That was what is known as a rhetorical question. I know it's because I'd the lyrics. I just don't think they quite cover the awfully schmalzy tune.
posted by Dysk at 11:55 PM on December 23, 2017


You'd the lyrics? All of them? (just joking, I get you, and I don't disagree.)
posted by Dumsnill at 12:01 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Because of the lyrics. Phone typo.
posted by Dysk at 12:06 AM on December 24, 2017


I just don't think they quite cover the awfully schmalzy tune.

t's a drunken stumble and fall.
drunks are as prone to schmaltz as they are to epiphany ... oft in the same 49 words or less.
posted by philip-random at 12:12 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


No, fuck that I will have you know that I'm drunk andnnn what were we talking about again?
posted by Dumsnill at 12:17 AM on December 24, 2017


(Also, how is a song with that unbearably saccharine melody supposed to be an antidote to Christmas schmaltz??)

Read the lyrics- it's about the Irish diaspora and how harmful it was to so many individuals while being so romanticized. The smaltzy tune and the sense of nostalgia is SUPPOSED to contrast with the hopeless alcoholic couple in the drunk tank on Christmas Eve who's dreams are all gone. It's a brilliant piece of social commentary. Really.
posted by fshgrl at 12:21 AM on December 24, 2017 [6 favorites]


I feel that people singing this as a jolly Yuletide tune is some strange kind of karma for me laughing at people who thought the Village People really wanted you to join the navy.
posted by Segundus at 12:32 AM on December 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


Oh now you tell me. Well, it was cramped at times, but good comradeship.
posted by Dumsnill at 12:38 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


An alternative, such as braggart has the same plosives but longer syllables, thus less vocal appeal in situ.

It's also a ridiculous word to imagine that particular woman using in those particular circumstances at that particular time. Far too formal and high-status to be credible.

I'll continue to defend the song, but I admit it's clear MacGowan had the American sense of "faggot" in mind when he wrote it. It's true that the word has an embedded history of other meanings here in the UK and Ireland, but it's the American usage that's now far more prominent - largely because of the huge amount of American media we consume. I can't speak for Ireland, but as far as the UK is concerned it's rare to find anyone MacGowan's age using it in any other sense.

I remember once reading about an early Pogues US tour where they had a copy of Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time in America as their only tour bus entertainment. That led to the band peppering their dialogue with the word "motherfucker" for weeks afterwards, so American insults were hardly a closed book to them.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:57 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's a brilliant piece of social commentary. Really.

I get what the song is, yes, I just can't stand the cloyingly saccharine aesthetic. Can't get to the lyrics without making it past the tune, and the tune is just unbearable, especially when it's jammed between all the other awful Christmas tunes.
posted by Dysk at 2:07 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I remember once reading about an early Pogues US tour where they had a copy of Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time in America as their only tour bus entertainment.

That's actuallly featured heavily in the documentary.
posted by Dumsnill at 2:09 AM on December 24, 2017


I thought this was a bizarrely elaborate rick-roll.
That crown is mine.
Series 1 Episode 1 - Campanas De America - Tus Ojitos
The rest are legit, and I'll say again what I did over 6 years ago, listen to that The White Buffalo track, it's a killer.
posted by unliteral at 3:24 AM on December 24, 2017


Also, I’d totally forgotten HuronBob thanked clavdivs for my work :-)
posted by unliteral at 3:43 AM on December 24, 2017


how is a song with that unbearably saccharine melody supposed to be an antidote to Christmas schmaltz??

I've never much cared for "Fairytale of New York," even less for its promotion to Christmas standard. It's too saccharine and maudlin and it doesn't successfully walk the line between pathos and bathos, IMO. Taken seriously, it's just a song about awful people being awful; taken as the black joke it is in some degree meant to be, it's still just a song about awful people being awful, only now it's supposed to be funny. Dunno, I like my nostalgie de la boue a little less OTT. To it's credit, it's not as bad as "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

My pick for "antidote to Christmas schmaltz" would be the Kinks' "Father Christmas."

I love Kirsty MacColl, tho, and "Walking Down Madison" is sublime, especially the "6AM Ambient Mix."
posted by octobersurprise at 9:25 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh are we doing antidote Christmas songs now? Well Jethro Tull has possibly the best one.
posted by hippybear at 10:03 AM on December 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


Well Jethro Tull has possibly the best one

not as good, but really not that bad at all is the more recent Another Christmas Song
posted by philip-random at 10:40 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm happy for you and imma let you finish, but Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow is the best Jethro Tull Christmas song of all time. Of all time!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:23 AM on December 24, 2017 [2 favorites]




Why are people saying that "bum" and "punk" are directed at the female character? It's clearly Kirsty singing that line.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 2:16 PM on December 24, 2017 [4 favorites]


A briefer piece on the making of Fairytale

in which it is revealed that the "schmaltzy" part of the melody is lifted very consciously from Ennio Morricone's score for Once Upon A Time In America ...
posted by philip-random at 5:05 PM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Why are people saying that "bum" and "punk" are directed at the female character?

That's my bad. I remembered the line but not the fact that the speaker changes midway through it. Kristy sings the following line ("You scumbag...") so my brain decided that Shane must've sung the one that preceded it.
posted by axiom at 10:39 PM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


After reading this Pink News article, I've been mulling over possible substitute lyrics. Kirsty herself is said to have used "You're cheap and you're haggard" when performing live; "cheap lousy blagger/blackguard" has also been used in cover versions.

But those are family-friendly, and we need something coarser. What makes the f-slur hard to replace in that particular line is that the the rhyme is perfect and, just in physical terms, the consonants make it feel weirdly satisfying to sing. So we have to find a substitute line that preserves those characteristics and also provides the kick of using a swearword in a Christmas song.

I am sure the fine minds of MetaFilter are up to this. For starters, I submit for your consideration:

You scumbag, you dickhead,
You cheap lousy shithead

You scumbag, you muppet
You cheap lousy fuckwit
[only works in the UK where "muppet" is an insult]

You scumbag, you fuckwit
You lousy wankbucket

If anyone can think of a good rhyme for "wanker", let me know.
posted by Pallas Athena at 10:41 PM on December 24, 2017 [3 favorites]


"You scumbag, you drunk, you cheap lousy fuck"?
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 1:04 AM on December 25, 2017


'You scumbag you wanker, you filthy old chancre"
posted by h00py at 5:25 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


You scumbag, you canker, you cheap lousy wanker?
posted by Dysk at 7:51 AM on December 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I mean, wanker doesn't really work anyway - it's Fairytale of New York, not Fairytale of Essex.
posted by Dysk at 8:44 AM on December 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


(Which is all the more reason why it isn't reasonable to think that faggot is being used in any sense but the American one. It's right there next to insults like lousy, bum, scumbag, and punk, all of which would have read as very American at the time and still do to an extent)
posted by Dysk at 8:53 AM on December 25, 2017


wanker rhymes with banker
posted by hippybear at 9:55 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


I mean, wanker doesn't really work anyway - it's Fairytale of New York, not Fairytale of Essex.
I always assumed that the characters were immigrants, though, although I guess that's not explicit.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:51 AM on December 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Right, but it's a litany of decidedly American, not British or Irish, insults.
posted by Dysk at 10:59 AM on December 25, 2017


Is anyone who wrote this song American? That would shock me.
posted by hippybear at 11:08 AM on December 25, 2017


No they're not, but the setting certainly is, and (some of) the language is very purposefully so.
posted by Dysk at 11:17 AM on December 25, 2017


You scumbag, you chump, you voted for Trump
posted by benzenedream at 4:32 PM on December 25, 2017 [10 favorites]


« Older Vintage Los Angeles Christmas   |   Happy Birt Jesus Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments