Happy Christmas You Arseholes: Why fairytale of New York is the greatest song ever written

This post was written by Reuben on December 26, 2011
Posted Under: Uncategorized

This evening I turned on BBC1 to see some famous comedian explain that Christmas is awful because being in a room with one’s family is horrible. I am sure that once –  many many moons ago – such an insight was fresh and amusing. Today, it is tired cliche, regurgitated hundreds of times every december. In between this affected cynicism and, on the other hand, the polished overly chirpy vision of Christmas that dominates our screens, stands Shane McGowan’s brilliant take on the annual festivities.


Nothing quite captures the spirit of Christmas, in all of its shit and beauty, like this great work. But what has really caught my attention this year is the way in which McGowan represents life in the bustling New York. McGowan has always been interested in the experiences of Irish emigrant communities in New York and London. And this story  - of broken dreams and, just about unbroken spirits – undoubtedly reflects the experiences of many who reside in the metropolis.

How much richer it is than this years big song about New York. I refer of course to that awful, self-congratulatory, American Dream-regurgitating, lump of turd that has been served up to us by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z.

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York,

Bla blaaaaaa bla

bla bla bla bla

(Honestly, if Alicia is going to sing this shit, then she should at least stop invoking the spirit of Huey P. Newton in interviews)

Representations of metropolitan life increasingly fall into two categories. On the one hand, we are invited to Marvel at the glitz enjoyed by a handful. See for example Sex and the City/New York minus the black people. On the other hand there is urban poverty porn. Now that cinematic realism has become a grotesque caricature of itself, we are invited to ponder on how grim and awful everything is.

By contrast, McGowan tells us about people who have a bit of agency – agency, that is, that means more than the capacity to make it to the front of the rat race. It is for those who fight to realise a bit of their humanity, who dare to make promises that will probably be crushed, and who struggle keep alive those bonds that are, of course, frayed and contorted by life’s bitter winds.

So let’s raise a glass to the old drunk punk, and wish each other a happy Christmas.

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To contact Reuben email reuben@thethirdestate.net

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Reader Comments

Once again Reuben proves that 99.999% of writers of commentary on popular music don’t think or care to talk about the music. It is only the bearer of some lyrics (which in this case are stodgy, bland, without accent so as not to allow us to focus in too much on how poorly words have been selected.) The only meaning that can be found in this type of poetry is a commitment to a blurriness, but a blurriness with no texture, no possibility for purchase. Take for example the lines “Got on a lucky one / Came in eighteen to one / I’ve got a feeling / This year’s for me and you” The rhythm is entirely regular, and pulsing, while any concept is held away from the ends of lines. One is rhymed with one, as any specificity of the object is elided, (“lucky one” and “a feeling” are the screens for this, mere stand-ins for morons who have no means of expressing themselves beyond a palpably self-conscious acceptance of inability.) And then, what of the music? The first half is covered with reverb, evoking the most degenerate form of sentimentality, wrapped in hymnic suspensions evocative of bad English late-19th century protestant anthems. Only two notable features, the repetition of the open fifths at the end of each strophe, and the anticipation at the beginning of the next, but nobody’s quite noticed that these two possibilities for expression *work against each other*. No worries, the reverb will cover up that possibility of definition. As for the second half, equally repetitive, the music exposes the most conservative and barbaric account of drunkenness, as the 6/8 dancing makes generic any feeling one may have, and drills and drills until no other feeling is possible. This is the apotheosis of the idiotic “I’ve got a feeling” as aesthetic, as it turns and brutalises itself into senselessness. Only if you’re lucky will you have a feeling, and it will be that of alienation, a non-feeling, carried through a jig.

#1 
Written By Jacob on December 26th, 2011 @ 12:16 pm
Gabriel

Lol Jacob.

#2 
Written By Gabriel on December 26th, 2011 @ 1:42 pm
Owen C

Reuben, did you know that Ewan MacColl was Kool G Rap’s great uncle?

#3 
Written By Owen C on December 26th, 2011 @ 7:16 pm
Sarah

Jacob, I always thought the music was supposed to make you feel numb then disillusioned.

#4 
Written By Sarah on December 27th, 2011 @ 2:57 am

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