Shane MacGowan, the elusive singer and poet who cofounded the Pogues, has collected six decades’ worth of previously unpublished handwritten lyrics, writings, and illustrations that he will release in a new book, The Eternal Buzz and the Crock of Gold. The tome, which features forewords by Johnny Depp and art critic Waldemar Januszczak and is now available for preorder, will come out in April.
MacGowan’s intention with the book is to provide a visual companion to his music career, which dates back to the Pogues’ 1984 debut, Red Roses for Me. It will contain artwork that complements Pogues hits — “Fairytale of New York,” “Streams of Whiskey,” “A Pair of Brown Eyes” — as well as songs he wrote for the Nips and his solo material with the backing band the Popes. MacGowan’s wife and collaborator, Victoria Mary Clarke, served as curator for the book.
“I was always into drawing and painting, and I used to do all sorts of things, hurlers, IRA men, teenage punks hanging around in cafes, you name it,” MacGowan, age 64, said in a statement. “When I was about 11 or 12 I got heavily into studying history of art and looking at old paintings and modern paintings. … I did the album cover for the Popes’ album Crock of Gold, and I designed the Pogues’ first album cover, Red Roses for Me. And I more or less designed the second [Pogues] album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God.”
MacGowan also explained his artistic aesthetic. “In terms of my materials, I like pastels, but I don’t really think about it,” he said. “I’ll paint or draw on anything, with anything.”
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“I love the way that the drawings and notes and scraps of stories provide an insight into Shane’s songs,” Clarke said in a statement. “It is like walking into his studio and seeing everything that was happening in his mind. The illustrations are like a visual tapestry of the inner workings of his creative process. I feel very privileged and very excited to be able to share them with the world in a book, especially for people who love the songs.”
Clarke explained that MacGowan held onto every piece of artwork he had made, no matter how seemingly insignificant. She discovered his archive a few years back when Julien Temple was working on his MacGowan doc, Crock of Gold.
“When we were making the Crock of Gold documentary, Julien Temple wanted some of Shane’s drawings, so I asked my mum to have a look and see if she had any,” Clarke said. “She sent me a bin bag full of drawings and lyrics that I had asked her to look after 25 years ago. We didn’t even know it existed. It was miraculous, like finding a crock of gold! His art brings back lots of very funny and often hideous memories of different stages in our life together, a lot of his drawings have been done on my shopping lists and my own diaries, and on things like sick bags and hotel note-pads, airline sick bags and recording studio sheets, and diaries, so it is easy to know exactly when they were made.”
“It’s rare for a creative genius like Shane to have one avenue of output,” reads a section from the foreword by Depp, who is also developing a MacGowan biopic. “Such an incendiary talent is likely to have a multitude of facilities whereby his talent might infiltrate the atmosphere and change the climate as we know it. And so, revealed here, is Shane’s propensity for the wild, for the absurd, for the political, for the beautiful, all funneled and threaded through the needle of his pen. But, this time, not via the tool of language. Instead, Shane’s visual acuity will take the lead here. His visions will speak for themselves.”
Temple told Rolling Stone that working on the Crock of Gold doc gave him a deeper understanding of MacGowan’s legacy. “I think you’ve got to understand that his story is a triumph,” he said. “It’s an incredible achievement to be given the Irish légion d’honneur, to be sung in Irish pubs all over his country and wherever Irish people are. He’s connected with his culture in a way that few people are able to. So that’s a triumph in anyone’s books.”