RICHARD BALLS – A Furious Devotion: The Authorised Story of Shane MacGowan
The infamous Shane MacGowan is undoubtedly one of the most uniquely gifted songwriters and front men of these past many decades and his work with The Pogues in particular is as powerful and evocative as it is influential and timeless. Die-hard music fan and author Richard Balls has done something that I previously thought to be impossible, which is to paint a vivid and vibrant portrait of MacGowan and embark on a journey where the reader is provided with much more than just a cursory glimpse of who and what Shane is. With "A Furious Devotion" we not only gain a better and more thorough understanding of this utterly intriguing artist and the things that make him tick but also the many sides of this complex man that are hidden from view.
Born to Irish parents and primarily raised in London, Shane was profoundly gifted with respect to reading and writing, and from a young age he displayed an uncanny ability to weave words and stories together to great effect, which would obviously come in handy when he started crafting lyrics and songs of his own later on in life. The many travels to his beloved mother’s Irish homestead known as Tipperary had a life-long influence on his keen mind and spoke to his soul in ways that have neither been elaborated on nor discussed to such an extent as this informative, spirited piece of literature does. The ties between Ireland and MacGowan are strong and many engrossing questions relating to identity politics are raised throughout the book. The early days of British punk and Shane’s role in it are explored too and make for a fascinating read while his adventures with The Pogues and later on his solo outfit range from the creatively fulfilling and utterly triumphant to the downright harrowing and mind-numbingly self-destructive. While Shane’s own voice is prominent in the book and almost leaps from the page at times, all those closest to the icon add their own recollections and thoughts to the narrative and make it a compelling read. A few questions are still left unanswered, but the author has achieved something groundbreaking here and tells it like it is without sugarcoating anything.
Although absorbing its rich and reflective content feels borderline voyeuristic and even unpleasant at times due to the pain and heartfelt sense of loss and longing that emanate from its pages, it is an unmitigated delight from cover to cover, and as it so beautifully illustrates, there is much more to MacGowan than the largely popularized image of him as a hard drinker and an early exponent of punk rock or the voice of the classic "Fairytale of New York" that so many associate him with. The Irish musical pioneer’s work is something to behold and "A Furious Devotion" made me appreciate his brilliant folk-punk tunes all the more. Recommended.