Julien Temple (Kensington, 68 years old) has set out to film a treatise on the musical history of the seventies. After portraying such contradictory figures as Joe Strummer (The Clash), Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols) or Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), the British filmmaker dares with Shane MacGowan in Crock of Gold, which arrives this Friday in Spanish theaters. The documentary narrates the rise and fall of the ethyl leader of The Pogues who knew how to combine folklore and punk fury. A Republican militant and a renegade Catholic, he gave voice to the generation of the Irish exodus. Young proletarians who, like him, abandoned the Atlantic greens for the London gray in search of a better future. Although the English society of the time, in constant state of moral alert, seemed to treat them as second-class citizens.
Temple ran into MacGowan in the midst of that punk cultural effervescence that took to the streets of the Camden neighborhood. He first interviewed him in 1976, when he was just a bleary-haired teenager who was noted for his hectic dancing at concerts and editing fanzines. Sid Vicious had just joined the Sex Pistols, leaving a vacancy in the audience that was quickly filled by the toothless Irishman. “He became the center of attention, the camera was looking for him. It was very explosive, ”recalls Temple by phone from his home. From those cogorzas was born five years later The Pogues, the sextet that wanted to dignify an Irish community too accustomed to endure insults such as paddies (rednecks). In his ballads, the typical instruments of the Emerald Isle —banjo, harmonica, mandolin, accordion or flute— stood out against the distortion of the guitars.
A melodic invoice that in the decline of the punk movement led them to global fame, with its consequent excesses. Especially for MacGowan, an unrepentant alcoholic since the age of six, sporadic hustler on the darkest streets of London due to his addiction to speed and later to the horse. Crock of Gold reconstructs the history of the now sixties through interviews he has given over the years, as well as current conversations with his closest family or the former president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams. Another of his interlocutors is Johnny Depp, at the time the film’s producer and whom MacGowan met through Gerry Conlon, a member of the so-called Guildford Four, unjustly convicted of two IRA attacks in 1975 and later acquitted. The Pogues dedicated a song to them.
Their political ideas earned them powerful enmities in the eighties marked by the troubles (problems, riots), one of the toughest stages of the Northern Irish conflict. Some of his songs were censored on British television. “It was a dangerous group because they spoke directly to people, they felt that The Pogues understood their fears and desires perfectly,” says Temple. Before moving to London with his family at age 14, MacGowan already knew all that cultural heritage. He grew up with his sister, parents, uncles and cousins on a washed-out farm in County Tipperary that witnessed the 1919 War of Independence. There he learned to pray and curse, to play the guitar and to drink two pints of beer before going to bed. They made him sing on the dining room table if there was a visitor.
MacGowan has always maintained that part of his emotional instability – including two psychiatric admissions – was related to exile, a discomfort shared with his mother. At the age of 16, the singer already tried to get rid of that decay by sniffing glue and taking pills, some of them legal. The bastion of English privilege in which he was studying on a scholarship expelled him for trafficking in them and he started working in a supermarket. Temple believes that drug use “fueled his creativity, but irremediably punished his health.” The vocalist cried the first time he saw the documentary, Special Jury Prize at the San Sebastian Festival. However, He later reproached the filmmaker for “having portrayed him as a wretch”, according to the filmmaker himself. They haven’t spoken since.
“Seeing his life on a screen must have been traumatic for him, it would be for anyone,” says Temple. And that the idea of recording the tape came from MacGowan himself, with a certain desire for transcendence. The director initially resisted, “because he knew it was going to be a complicated process.” It is true that the vocalist’s facial paralysis and mobility problems do not inhibit some quick anger – “I’m up to the eggs of interrogations,” he exclaims at various points in the documentary – which together with drugs precipitated the end of the band. In 1988, MacGowan was placed with acid in a Wellington, New Zealand hotel built over a Maori cemetery. In the midst of his high, he heard the buried warriors order him to paint the entire suite blue. And so he did.
“He achieved tremendous fame and that may be the worst drug, because he did not want to be a star, but to rescue Irish traditions,” says Temple. MacGowan’s malaise, combined with his media monopoly, marred the relations of the whole. In 1991 he suffered a serious traffic accident in Tokyo due to being drunk, which forced him to cancel the Asian tour. Tired of collecting the remains of his partner in the most varied places on the planet, The Pogues invited him to leave the group. MacGowan was glad to go, nothing is more erratic than the decisions of a drinker. By then the British tabloid pools already considered him dead, but time has denied it. Three decades later, the indestructible poet from Ireland is still breathing.