Album: Hell’s Ditch
. . .
Yes, I know that by the time the Pogues recorded Hell’s Ditch, Shane MacGowan was a fucked-up mess, and yes, I know that they’d pretty much abandoned the Irish music that was their early mainstay.
And yes, I know that — unlike Elvis Costello and Steve Lillywhite — producer St. Joe Strummer didn’t really add anything to the mix, though he did serve as the only possible alternate frontman on the Hell’s Ditch tour after MacGowan quit or was sacked or both.
But man, do I love this record, and the moody and dark “Lorca’s Novena” is a huge part of it.
Driven by Andrew Ranken’s funeral march drumbeat, “Lorca’s Novena” — like “Fiesta” — is set in Spain, but despite the Spanish guitar all over the song, it’s anything but a party. Instead, it’s about the death of the poet Federico García Lorca during the Spanish Civil War, presumably for being gay. I’m woefully undereducated about any of this, of course, but right there for the fantastic chorus.
Mother of all our joys
Mother of all our sorrows
Intercede with him tonight
For all of our tomorrows
And one of the things that makes it fantastic — to me anyways — is MacGowan’s slurry singing. I truly love that he’s singing “mudder” instead of “mother” and “anterseed” instead of “intercede.” I know that it’s a long long way from how he savored every word of “Dirty Old Town,” and I know that it’s symptomatic of the decline that got him sacked, but I don’t give a shit about any of that.
I also love how The Pogues sound on this song: at the end, there’s a long instrumental break where Ranken doubles up on his snare, the guitars almost rave up, and Spider Stacey takes a long harmonica solo. It’s totally unexpected, and takes “Lorca’s Novena” to a completely different place. It was exactly what I needed during that weird, cold winter — it snowed! in Fresno! — of 1990.
Oh, and I guess that “Lorca’s Novena” was featured in the film Gross Pointe Blank a few years later — or was chosen by someone to round out the second soundtrack they milked from it — and because I enjoyed that film, I figured I could put it as the picture for this post.
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