Now that Joe Strummer of The Clash has passed on to punk rock heaven, Shane MacGowan is truly the undisputed champion of the worst teeth in rock. MacGowan, who gained fame, and what seems to be little fortune, as the front man to his band The Pogues, is the subject of a new documentary titled “If I Should Fall From Grace: The Shane MacGowan Story.” Since MacGowan is virtually the most Irish person ever, although he only lived in Ireland until the age of six, the Sundance Channel has chosen to premiere this film on March 17, that’s right, kids, St. Patrick’s Day. Aside from the fact that he’s Irish, there is another reason that MacGowan is often the king of St. Paddy’s Day: The man is a notorious alcoholic. Rumor has it that last time Shane visited Portland, he was so intoxicated that he fell off the stage. Alcoholism, priceless.
Speaking of alcoholism, the film does include discussion of MacGowan’s problems, but never with him. His longtime girlfriend Victoria Clarke, Nick Cave, Elvis Costello and former band mates all tell stories of his legendary drunkenness, but the only input MacGowan offers is the proof. The man is never without alcohol. Throughout the film he chain-smokes and always has a cup or a bottle in his hand. Perhaps the most disturbing scene is where MacGowan is out in the country observing some cows with his girlfriend Victoria and nonchalantly taking pulls off a bottle of whiskey.
The documentary is informative but never really lives up to its promise of telling “The Shane MacGowan Story.” Not to say that it isn’t entertaining, but there really aren’t any shocking revelations. Guess what? He’s drunk a lot and he’s bitter toward his ex-band mates. The film does not go into depth about his alcoholism or his well-known drug abuse, although heroin is vaguely alluded to.
Director Sarah Share never asks MacGowan how he felt about The Pogues’ break-up or his solo career with his new band, the poetically titled Popes. Instead Share opts to include clips from TV performances and live footage, as well as including about six full-length music videos. Surprisingly, MacGowan’s video for “That Woman’s got Me Drinking” features none other than Johnny Depp himself, from what appears to be his awkward “Don Juan DeMarco” days. Apparently Depp even played guitar on the song. Who could forget that awful band he was in with the singer from the Butthole Surfers called “P”? They were terrible. Anyway, the videos are probably the best thing about the film as they capture the rowdiness of The Pogues and also showcase some of the band’s best material, such as “Dirty Old Town” and “Fairytale of New York,” the latter featuring the classic opening line “It was Christmas Eve babe, in the drunk tank.” The Pogues, and MacGowan especially, were revolutionary for their time for playing traditional Irish-sounding music with a punk-rock look.
Don’t even bring up Dexy’s Midnight Runners, that’s a totally different story. Sadly, these vintage music videos also show MacGowan’s deterioration from a skinny young energetic kid with bad teeth who was writing brilliant songs to a puffy older man with even worse teeth who stumbles rather than walks and seems to just be phoning it in musically.
As far as the interviews go, Shane’s friends and family tend to shed a little bit of light onto the mysterious man, but it all seems a bit watered down. Nick Cave especially comes off as bit forced, saying everything in his power to describe MacGowan as the best songwriter of his day, almost as if MacGowan was sitting in the room. As for MacGowan himself? Honestly, due to a lethal combination of a thick accent and inebriation, the man is barely audible, saying “You know what I mean?” after every sentence and cracking inaudible jokes to himself that end with a laugh that bears a resemblance to television static. At times, his interviews are so incoherent that they rival the television appearances of Corey Haim in the late 1990s. Sad as it is, that is part of MacGowan’s charm and persona. When you pen songs such as “Streams of Whiskey,” “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” “Nancy Whiskey,” “Hell’s Ditch” and “Paddy Public Enemy No. 1,” you have a legend to live up to.
Just think of Shane MacGowan as the Irish Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the guy in the group whose sole job is to imbibe alcohol and inject drugs and, as Eddie Murphy once sang, “Party all the Time.” So grab a Mickey’s on St. Patrick’s Day and instead of being obvious and going out to some overcrowded Irish Pub that’s going to make you sit outside in some roped-off deck with a plastic cup in your hand, tune into the Sundance Channel for the movie that will either make you drink more or quit altogether. I’ll suggest a fun drinking game: take a drink every time MacGowan lights a smoke. Boy, will you be sorry. Happy St. Paddy’s Day!