. . .
Welcome to my favorite Pogues song. And, honestly, one of those songs I love so much, it almost makes me cry sometimes. Not because it’s sad, but because — and because I don’t exactly know how, I don’t know exactly why — “Down All The Days” has a direct hotwire to my soul.
And, to me at least, it’s a song that sounds like no other song I’ve ever heard in my life. The trick of latter-day Pogues — the reason that their last three albums just floored me — was that they used the traditional Irish instruments to make non-Irish music. And when it clicked, like on the wistfully psychedelic “Down All The Days,” it was utterly transcendent.
Lyrically, “Down All The Days” is Shane MacGowan once again inhabiting another Irish writer. In this case, that writer was Christy Brown, who had cerebral palsy and subsequently only had control of his left foot, through which he somehow wrote and painted, including a book that inspired this song. Imagine needing to express yourself that much.
Which is why the song opens with sounds of a what people from the 20th century called a “typewriter,” a device where people struck a computer keyboard where each key was hooked to little pieces of metal that had the letter of that key attached to it. When that key struck a piece of paper through an ink-stained ribbon, the letter would appear on the piece of paper. Imagine that! Now imagine doing that with your left foot only.
And so as the mandolins, tin whistles, citterns, guitars and maybe fiddles saw in the background, Shane MacGowan does just that:
A clown around town
Now man of renown
From Dingle to Down
I can type with me toes
Suck stout through me nose
And where it’s gonna end
God only knows
On the verses, producer Steve Lillywhite decides to double up MacGowan’s vocals. Whether it’s because “Down All The Days” wasn’t quite in his rage for a solo vocal or because they wanted to add to the surrealistic feel of the whole song, I have no idea, but it just adds to the overall haunting quality; especially when they glide into directly the chorus — where there are definitely harmonies– and it is utterly fucking overwhelming and beautiful.
Down all the days
Of the typewriter pays
The gentle rattling
Of the drays
Down all the days
This just kills me, especially Spider Stacey’s tin whistle playing just being the melody, both echoing it and pushing it to greater heights. I also love the second verse, where MacGowan sings “kind-ness” as “kind-nees” before going back into the chorus, which then alternates with the utterly soaring instrumentals — anchored by Dennis Hunt’s ever-circling bass guitar — for the rest of the song.
Of course, whether by coincidence or design, “Down All The Days” wasn’t the only great piece of art made about Christy Brown in 1989. Because that was also the year that a feature film about his life, the wonderful My Left Foot, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Brown. Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award for that performance, and while I enjoyed the film a lot and thought it was the best of the films that was nominated (NOTE: because of total bullshit Do The Right Thing was not nominated for Best Picture), one of my most vivid memories wasn’t so much the film — which didn’t even make it here to America until November — but rather the trailer, which was what got me excited about the film in the first place.
Because the trailer I saw had “Down All The Days” in it. So when I went to see the film, I expected to hear the song, and it was a big disappointment for it not to be in the film when it was in the trailer. 30 years later, I fully understand why: the film was completed before the song even existed. My Left Foot the film came out in Ireland in early 1989; Peace and Love didn’t come out until July. And naturally, the meddling film studio was going to use it in the trailer, even if it wasn’t in the film.
In any event, for whatever reason — maybe the relative weirdness of the song, or low-key doubled-vocals — “Down All The Days” doesn’t seem to be as well-regarded of a Pogues song as some of the others I’ve been writing about. Which makes no sense to me at all. Because I love it to pieces.
“Down All The Days”
My Left Foot Trailer
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