photo & text by nacrowe
RED HOT + BLUE: A TRIBUTE TO COLE PORTER (CHRYSALIS, 1990) was a compilation album spearheaded by the RED HOT ORGANIZATION that raised funds for worldwide AIDS research, relief and awareness efforts.
and im not gonna lie, the reason this compilation stands out to me almost 30 years after its release is DAVID BYRNE's cover of "DON'T FENCE ME IN." growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, my early musical memories revolve around car rides with my father in which he would play MORRISSEY / THE SMITHS, THE KINKS, THE STRANGLERS, THE BEATLES and TALKING HEADS. DAVID BYRNE's former band is most definitely a formative influence for me and this rendition of the COLE PORTER standard with its heavily syncopated LATIN (BRAZILIAN?) rhythms was another example of BYRNE's ability to organically utilize textures from global traditions without sounding paternalistic or hokey (like say PAUL SIMON).
i was in KINDERGARTEN when this compilation came out and it was my introduction to the idea of AIDS, and really just the concept of disease in general. i remember my parents explaining to me how it was raising money to help people for a disease with no cure, which was pretty heavy for a little kid.
going back and revisiting the compilation there are several standout performances from the likes of KIRSTY MACCOLL with THE POGUES as well as NENEH CHERRY, DEBBIE HARRY with IGGY POP, U2, TOM WAITS, k.d. lang, and the JUNGLE BROTHERS(!). its hard to imagine now how talking about AIDS was at one point taboo, but it was. and its pretty amazing that these artists, all pretty seminal in their own right, took a stand for an underserved community that was suffering and in need of help and destigmatization.
if you havent already, RED HOT + BLUE: A TRIBUTE TO COLE PORTER is definitely worth revisiting. just goes to show the quality of the songwriting of COLE PORTER, which really is a surprise to no one. there is a reason he is so celebrated among musicians of all genres.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
when i listen to the music of THE POGUES and read the lyrics of SHANE MACGOWAN i hear longing. there is something achingly irish about this body of work.
in my teenage years i was lucky enough to have visited IRELAND, but i have to say growing up a kid who was thrown from school to school, literally continent to continent was more of an education into what it means to be irish than any book i read or place i visited. there is something to be said about the complicated long-distance relationship between the irish and their beloved ireland. i think it can be boiled down to the experience of an immigrant.
full disclosure: my paternal grandfather's side of the family is of irish-descent having left the small village of CAPPAWHITE in COUNTY TIPPERARY just over a century ago for NYC.
a national identity surrounding displacement is something i've seen again and again overseas. when i was in KOSOVO there were grandmothers i interviewed that longed to meet their sisters and cousins in ALBANIA that some hadn't seen since childhood. songs from their childhood were passed down to ensure a sense of identity even though their circumstances, (political, financial and otherwise) prevented such. it was heartbreaking to hear.
family of albanian descent i interviewed in kosovo. photo by nacrowe
when i listen to the work of SHANE MACGOWAN i hear that subtext. to me it is synonymous with the unique, often pitchy but unequivocally authentic tone of his voice. he may be singing about romantic love, but in my mind he is channeling his collected experiences of growing up irish in england as a first generation immigrant. there is a pride in that resilience which is all over his lionizing of the immigrant experience in songs like "thousands are sailing" and "fairytale of new york."
what i find truly heartbreaking is the inevitable miscue that happens when the public confuses pride in one's community and their resilience through trouble times as something unique to them. in my mind descendants of irish immigrants should be the first ones to welcome and support newcomers since they should the one's most aware of their sacrifice in leaving home. they should have empathy.
but i have the music of THE POGUES. sometimes i wish people could just harness and embody the ideals of their message and celebrate our collective community, because last time i checked when i was in ireland, to the irish EVERYONE IS FROM IRELAND.