Late last month, Shane MacGowan from the iconic Celtic punk band the Pogues died at the age of 65. MacGowan had a huge following in Boston, and was beloved by many in the city's music community, including rocker Richie Parsons. Parsons remembered MacGowan in a conversation with GBH News anchor Henry Santoro. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Henry Santoro: The outpouring of love and respect that came following the death of the Irish singer Shane MacGowan was nothing short of spectacular. MacGowan was a brilliant poet, songwriter and the perfect frontman for his bands: The Pogues and Shane MacGowan and the Popes.
Enter Boston rocker Richie Parsons, who has performed on just about every stage in the Boston and Cambridge area. He's been doing so for decades. His bands — Unnatural Axe, Future Dads, Band 19, Tomato Monkey, the Gremies — were punk rock staples back in the day. But Richie wasn't just a performer: he was also a groupie, madly in love with Shane MacGowan. Richie Parsons, welcome to GBH, welcome to Henry in the Hub. It's so great to see you.
Richie Parsons: Great to be here.
Santoro: We knew that Shane was dying. He had been drinking and drugging since he was 5 years old. His life was lived as publicly as anybody’s could be, so the death really came as no surprise. Or did it? What was your reaction when you heard the news?
Parsons: I guess like many people, I've seen the posts over the past months of Shane in bed with tubes and you knew it was coming. And it really did take me by surprise when it happened because all of a sudden, it's true. It happened. He's gone. It really was devastating.
Santoro: What was it like the first time you met him?
Parsons: It was in-store at the Newbury Comics in Harvard Square. We got roses. We got rum. I was just in awe. He was just really, really nice. And the entire band signed this giant poster for me that I still have.
Santoro: That day, I had to be on Lansdowne Street at like 7:30 or 8 in the morning. The tour bus pulls up, the door opens, and out stumbles Shane with a bottle of Jack Daniels. And he face-plants on the sidewalk.
Santoro: The bottle shatters and one of the other band members walks off the bus and says, “I'd like to introduce you to Shane MacGowan.”
Santoro: And that was my first introduction to him. But this is a guy who could be three sheets to the wind, who could face plant, but as soon as he got on that stage — and you know more about this than I do. How do you do it? How do you rise to the musical occasion when you are literally obliterated?
Parsons: Shane had … there was something magic, you're right, as soon as the band started. I remember one time seeing him and there was this huge fan blowing on him, and I swear it was keeping him standing upright. You know, the music, his passion, his delivery, everything about the Pogues I just loved.
Santoro: You responded to a mutual friend of ours who wrote an obit for Shane that was posted online, and I'm going to just quote what you wrote. “Shane created a genre of music that reinvented, honored and demolished traditional Irish music.” And then you added “Shane and the Pogues road no one's coattails.” Can you elaborate on that?
Parsons: The energy that this music had is absolutely what drew me to them. I didn't even listen to traditional Irish music, but all of a sudden I got an appreciation for other stuff that the Pogues had listened to.
Santoro: And he was more than a songwriter. He was a poet.
Parsons: Oh, absolutely.
Santoro: He was one of the Irish greats.
Parsons: Yeah. He’s something else.
Santoros: Richie Parsons is Boston's godfather of punk. Richie, always a pleasure, thank you. We will see you on stage.