Nick Cave has written a new obituary for the late Pogues frontman, Shane MacGowan.
As a contribution to The Observer’s Obituaries of 2023 series, Cave wrote a new tribute to his late friend, marking the second time the post-punk musician has written about MacGowan following his passing. The heartfelt piece traces the origins of their friendship, when NME invited him, MacGowan and The Fall’s Mark E. Smith for a “summit meeting”.
While Cave openly acknowledged MacGowan’s relentless drinking, he also noted his enviable and effortless creativity. Recalling an instance where he became concerned that MacGowan was not writing songs, he “crawled across the floor and started rooting in the pile of rubbish until he found a scrap of paper”, on which he wrote the words to ‘St. John of Gods’, off his 1997 album with The Popes, ‘The Crock of Gold’.
“To me, his songs were such precious things, deep works of art, really, but he didn’t treat them like that,” Cave wrote. “While I laboured away at my desk, day after day, to produce what I could, Shane’s words were delivered to him on a beer tray with a whiskey chaser.”
Cave also commented on MacGowan’s voice, calling it a “perfect vehicle for his chaotic, poetic soul”. He proceeded to highlight an instance where The Pogues were doing a soundcheck at a French festival, writing: “He just walked up to the mic and sang A Pair of Brown Eyes with his hands shoved in his pockets, this gorgeous, racked voice coming out of him like he was a cypher for the angels. It was a rare privilege to witness something like that.”
On MacGowan’s struggles with substance abuse, Cave expressed feeling torn between admiring his persistence on being “permanently fucked up”, and feeling concerned for his condition. “I never heard him complain about having a hangover or feeling bad,” Cave continued. “He just got on with it. He was never regretful. And I respected that about him, but sometimes it was difficult. There were times when he was so reduced he was barely functioning and, as a friend, that was heartbreaking to see.”
Cave concluded by stating that he was “a fan, pure and simple”, and that he “will always be that”. Nonetheless, he also stated that their friendship strengthened over time due to a strong bond they shared, writing: “Shane was not like other people. Regardless of what condition he was in, he had a goodness about him and a depth of feeling about the poetic nature of our human condition that was immeasurable. There was a truth to him, a clarity of soul that was of the purest kind. You can’t hide something like that.”
Shane MacGowan died at a hospital on December 8 surrounded by his friends and family, after a bout of pneumonia. His funeral took place later that day in Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland, and was attended by Nick Cave, Johnny Depp, Glen Hansard and the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins.
In response to his passing, various artists have paid musical tributes to the singer, including The Darkness, The Murder Capital, LCD Soundsystem, and most recently, The Libertines.