Hell’s Ditch Isn’t a Good Album at All

(Full Album – But if you want to understand it, go on that Russian site and download the FLAC. If you’re in a country where that’s legal.)

Embarking on my Irish journey, I thought to understand the music of Shane McGowan and The Pogues. I realize this is the single most accessible Irish music, and I should be figuring out real Irish folk music. I will do that at some point, but we’re starting with The Pogues.

I was already very familiar with Shane’s personal story and relatively or semi-intimately familiar with the music, in the same way that I am familiar with the Clash, Billy Idol (Really, Generation X), The Jam, The Stranglers, and maybe other other mid-to-late 80s acts that were classified as “punk” but were actually good bands, not associated with the spectacular and purposefully much too discordant garbage of the late 1970s and early 80s – Sex Pistols, Ramones, Dead Kennedys, New York Dolls, Black Flag, Stiff Little Fingers (occupier music), etc. I probably had a better understanding of The Replacements (who I will still defend to this day, even though they embraced the discordant sounds I despise as a rule, and while admitting that their influence has been overwhelmingly negative – they just legit rock).

The fact that Alex Chilton is more famous for The Replacements song than his own music is both sad and appropriate.

Every Big Star song is better than every song by The Replacements, by the way. Big Star was really in a league with Gram Parsons, though try convincing a music critic of that (they are useless and usually faking an understanding of music just like I am right now).

(Chilton’s later music is on my list of discographies I want to really understand, but I don’t understand enough right now to comment much. I really like the story of “fuck it, I’m just doing my own shit,” which is always a good story. Doing the full post-Big Star Chilton discography would probably be good for the Illness Revelations, which are beginning again with Phase I next week, btw.)

In my view, several of these 80s bands who get the “punk” label because of certain motifs are closer to Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music), 80s David Bowie, or T-Rex in terms of the overall “vibe,” though I don’t think any of them are as listable as the better “Post-Punk” or “New Wave”or “Synth Pop” bands of the 80s, i.e., “John Hughes Music.”

I get that there is a bunch of overlap here and these classifications don’t necessarily mean very much or anything at all when punk bands moved away from a 3-chord structure, but the classifications are used as a standard to define this music, and they generally overlap with acts that played together or were associated with certain scenes. E. Michael Jones would call this “a category of the mind.” I don’t know if “punk rockers” were aware that the music that was classified in their genre got much better around the mid-80s, and stopped simply being an anti-social social club or spectacle. Further, I’m aware that more or less every band listed here evolved and played different styles of music and that you’d have to go album-by-album to do actual classifications of sounds. Honestly, I’ve forgotten why I’m even focusing on this classification business here. My main point in my mind when I started writing this was to distinguish The Pogues as serious music, in opposition to 1970s punk rock, which is not any more serious than Green Day and Blink 182. I should also probably note here that I have no basic understanding of music, I just listen to a lot of it.

Related: Blink-182’s New Album and the Hermeneutics of AI Suspicion

In general, it is very obvious that The Pogues do not belong in a category with stripped-down punk music of any sort, and that classification confuses me, and seems to be related to the acts they were associated with.

My belief about understanding music is that you have to listen to the music to understand it. You either have to have a remarkably good sound system (which I know is cheaper these days, but for most of my life has been unaffordable), or a pair of Sony headphones. You need the lyrics, which are easy to just pull up online now. I would advise copying them to a file, so you don’t end up browsing the internet based on the lyrics (“oh, let me look up that reference”). You need to focus on the sound of the music. This is something I began doing in earnest for my health during the virus hoax. I’ve continued it. I also sometimes bring the big headphones on walks, with an OG Apple iPod.

I can’t stress how bad Spotify and “playlists” have been for modern music. Albums have effectively been killed, or at least they’re not important anymore. Some of the top artists (Taylor and Kanye, for example) still make albums, but most bands make singles and filler. There is so much music, however, there is no reason to really think much about new music. I advise people to delete Spotify and buy an iPod (or use your phone), get a Sony headset, and download FLAC albums from the Russian site (if it’s legal in your country – it is in mine, but I don’t know where you people live).

You have to listen to the albums in a place you can focus. If you like driving, and have decent car speakers, that also works.

I like the idea of a record player with a real record that has a real sleeve that is published with the lyrics. But I don’t have the money for that shit.

Of course, I don’t have any issue with listening to music, including playlists, when you’re doing other stuff. I listen to a lot of playlists when I’m working. These days, in the Illness Era, I mostly listen to Frank Sinatra and Grateful Dead live shows while working. Or nothing. I also listen to a lot of nothing these days, because I’m letting my thoughts have more breathing room than I’ve typically given them throughout my life.

But music should be honored as an art, and not simply a mood modifier.

I was listening to The Pogues discography pretty intensely. I did not understand Hell’s Ditch for a while. I think I understand it now, and I understand that it is simply not very good. This was the last album that Shane recorded with the band before he went off the rails on booze. So it’s maybe similar to the Illness Revelations in that way. I’m just joking. (Note: I don’t know if I’m joking). I should probably compare it also to Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, which was Hunter Thompson’s last great work before he went off the rails on booze.

Many great artists make it to about 40, or to about my age, before they get swallowed up by the darkness inside. Remember: the bottle isn’t drinking you. Alcohol is an inanimate object. You are drinking the bottle. Overconsumption is just a pleasant way to slowly kill yourself because you can’t manage the pain of existence.

On the other end of this, many artists, around 40, stop with the substances and get big into money. We recently watched Jason Isbell do that. The Boss did it hard. Several French writers did it. Michelangelo did it. (I’m serious, btw – the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is the equivalent of “Dancing in the Dark.” An absolute money-grab).

The influences of Hell’s Ditch are not Irish, musically or lyrically. It’s almost totally devoid of traditional Irish folk motifs. Most of the songs are about homosexual writers who were not even good. I guess I like the idea of the Asian themes, but the songs are not good. By the way: it is always summer in Siam (Thailand). But I think the line is good:

When it’s summer in Siam
Then all I really know is that I truly am

There is something about being surrounded by Southeast Asians that causes you to lose the weight of the sense of the past and future, and to simply exist. That’s what they’re all doing, and it rubs off, I guess. In some way, when you can clear out this past/future obsession, you can feel yourself in your ideal form as simply existing as a soul and a mind in time and space (or at least feel like you are feeling that).

Man, I wish I was in Siam right now. (It would be summer, because it’s always summer in Siam.)

It’s an attempt at a pop album, and a poor attempt. Of course, it’s good on some level. On the level of a pop album which has a limited amount of soul. More soul than a lot of pop albums. The lyrics are better than the sound of the music, so I suppose that’s something worth noting. Maybe Shane was still writing well, and he just didn’t have the ability to stand up to Joe Strummer (producer and former Clash frontman – he’s part Jewish), who wanted a fat paycheck.

I would say it’s not bad, unless you’re comparing it to the earlier Pogues discography.

Sunny Side of the Street, which was the single, is a fun single.

The lyrics contain standard themes of “fuck it, let’s just roll” (or “life is nothing but misery in general so you just have to grab at the bright spots however you can”) but I reckon they probably carry more weight given that this marked the end of his ability to compose himself enough to actually be in a band.

Seen the carnival at Rome
Had the women and I had the booze
All that I can remember now
Is little kids without no shoes

So, I saw that train and I got on it
With a heart full of hate and a lust for vomit
Now I’m walking on the Sunnyside of the street

Stepped over bodies in Bombay
Tried to make it to the USA
Ended up in Nepal
Up on the roof with nothing at all

And I knew that day
I was gonna stay right where I am
On the sunnyside of the street

Been in a palace, I’ve been in a jail
I just don’t want to be reborn a snail
I just want to spend eternity
Right where I am, on the sunnyside of the street

As my mother wept, it was then I swore
To take my life as I would a whore
I know I’m better than before
I will not be reconstructed
Just wanna stay right here
On the sunnyside of the street

I don’t want to condemn the album. But it is not on the level of the rest of the work, and the ideas I’ve laid out here about the artist’s decline and commercialism are, I think, worth thinking about. The methods of listening to music are also worth thinking about.

Shane died a few days ago, by the way. He had encephalitis, which is what I have if not a brain tumor (I might have both). This is sort of my tribute to him here. It seems appropriate, days after his death, to write a “yeah but that one album was shit” article. He would think it was funny, I promise. We are kinfolk, and I understand him well.

The news in Ireland was, maybe bizarrely, overshadowed by the drama of the immigration crisis and the now impending coronation of King Conor I.

I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it. I’m the number one person who says “don’t ever expend emotions on people you don’t personally know,” but my heart is broken. (Not because he died – everyone always dies, and you can’t really be sad about that, he was 65 – but because his death means we reflect on his life.) That probably says more about my current emotional state than anything else. I just hope he saw the faces of Our Jesus and His Holy Mother there at the end. There’s no way a man like this is in Hell forever, but we’re probably going to have to spend 10,000 years praying his drunk ass out of purgatory.

Note to incels: stop “looksmaxing” and just get rich and famous. (No seriously, it’s better to just stop thinking about women totally, but looksmaxing is an absolute scam, and “filthy drunken toothless famous old man” trumps the best looking man alive, every time.)

Wait. Maybe we should remember the young Shane, no?

I’m going to name one of my sons for him (though his middle name was Patrick, so I might go with that – though Shane is also like, the movie Shane – right?).


I don’t really think Big Star is in the same category as Gram Parsons. There is really no one in the same category as Gram Parsons, who is really in a category with Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Merle Haggard, David Crosby, and Brian Wilson.

I think as part of my midlife crisis, which has been compounded by a brain tumor and religious delusions (including a messiah complex), I am going to go and have a bunch of Gram Parsons style custom suits made and just wear them around the house while I’m drinking alone.