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Go Blue

If I should fall from grace with God
where no doctor can relieve me  –

I saw Steve Earle play the City Winery on Varick Street Monday night, a fine coastal transition the day after flying in from San Francisco. He opened with a geared-down version of the Pogues’ If I Should Fall From Grace With God and noted that he likes to play it that way because “you can’t hear the fuckin’ words when MacGowan sings it.” Earle has a point, but as with most of his points it gets you thinking “yeah, but ..”  Shane MacGowan wrote the tune and his reckless, toothless, sobriety-free delivery embodies the grace-falling theme. I was much more bothered that he consented to its use in a Subaru spot, of all things, than by having to give it multiple listens to discover that he’s as good with the pen as he is poor with the drink. Earle speaks from some familiarity, at least, having teamed with the Pogues for Johnny Come Lately on his Copperhead Road album. But as a live performer he sometimes makes the cardinal mistake of over-talking his songs. After finishing his great ode to Townes Van Zandt, Fort Worth Blues, he couldn’t let it sit. “That last line there is what you call poetic license,” he explained “I say that ‘Paris never was my kind of town,’ when in fact it is precisely my kind of town.” This was met with hearty, in-the-know applause from the crowd, most of whom probably had no connection with Steve’s Parisian affection . Seeing an artist live forces one to reconcile his idea of the work with the real person. Yeah, great to know that you dig Paris, Steve. But I’ll never listen to Fort Worth Blues the same way again.

Getting older can sometimes be an exercise in protecting the things that meant something to you the first time around. I was in Specs’ tavern in San Francisco a few Christmas Eves back, ordering a round of Irish coffees while Fairytale of New York spun on the CD player. I dig the song, but its seasonal poignancy can wear a bit thin if you’ve spent any time in Irish bars around December in New York and heard it rival Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl for most over-played jukebox tune of all time. The young, thoroughly inebriated guy next to me felt the need to share his emotions, having just discovered this melancholy Pogues tune that makes mention of Christmas Eve, on Christmas Eve. “This is the greatest fuckin’ song ever,” he slurred earnestly. “Yeah, it’s pretty good,” I offered, not exactly dismissively, but enough to set him off. “You just don’t get it man,” he told me,you just don’t get it.” I smiled and said “Merry Christmas”, then returned to my table. What was I going to do, point out that I prefer the provincial poignancy of Sally MacLennane or note that I do relate to the truthfulness of the trade-off lyrics between Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl when he says “I could have been someone” and she retorts “well so could anyone“? Life is short and Irish coffees cool way too fast.

And so it is that I return to New York, which isn’t a bad place to return to, again. I caught the Super Bowl during the flight on the small screen in front of me, sharing some peanut brittle with a generous, slender, blonde divorcee sitting to my left. The next day I exited my apartment for a run and picked up on the conversation between the local fixtures hanging outside the corner bodega, all of them sporting victorious Giants blue. “Yeah .. it might not have looked like it on TV .. but if you watched the way they hit – I mean really watched the way they hit – that’s all you needed to know about how that team came together at the end.” I pulled my thermal hat down to better warm my head and began to jog. Sometimes all you need is a sentence or two, and you’re good to go.

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