And, of course, the guess here is that he’d been drinking, as Shane MacGowan is one of rock ‘n’ roll’s poet laureates of alcohol — the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems — leading his crack band through five stellar albums that started out mixing traditional Irish music with punk rock, but ended up so much more than that.
But their evolution took a while, and so their debut, 1984’s Red Roses For Me, mixed traditional Irish songs — some with words and some without — with about a half-dozen Shane MacGowan originals, the best of which was “Streams of Whiskey” was the first of his many songs about famous writers.
In the case of “Streams of Whiskey,” it was Brendan Behan, who wrote “The Auld Triangle,” — an oft-covered dirge (including the Pogues earlier on the album and Dylan & the Hawks on the Basement Tapes) — as well as loads of books, poetry & plays before dying an early alcohol-related death. So you can see the attraction for MacGowan.
Last night as I slept
I dreamt I met with Behan
I shook him by the hand and we passed the time of day
When questioned on his views
On the crux of life’s philosophies
He had but these few clear and simple words to say
I am going, I am going
Any which way the wind may be blowing
I am going, I am going
Where streams of whiskey are flowing
Musically, “Streams of Whiskey” is pretty representative of where the Pogues were at in 1984: a traditional-sounding stew of Mac Gowan’s acoustic guitar, Jem Finer’s banjo, James Fearnely’s accordion and Spider Stacey’s tin whistle driven by the rhythm section of Cait O’Rirdan’s two-note bass and Andrew Ranken’s marching drums.
But what sets “Streams of Whiskey” apart from the rest of the songs on Red Roses For Me is the melody that MacGowan comes up with on the chorus: not so far off from the traditional songs they were doing and/or copping, but still memorable enough to stand on its own. But, of course, they would get much better.
“Streams of Whiskey”
“Streams of Whiskey” performed live in Japan, 1988
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page