The Pogues project – clarified

Seems I let a cat slip from the bag in the Q-and-A session after a recent gig in Australia by mentioning some work undertaken in conjunction with a possible stage musical involving the songs of The Pogues.   I was offering an answer to a question about whether I had thought about undertaking work in media other than prose or television.  What has ensued with the Irish press, and then with the likes of Rolling Stone, has been a little surprising, if not entirely premature.

To more carefully ground this in fact:

I’ve been a fan of The Pogues and their music since the late 1980s.  After we had used some of their songs in The Wire, I had a chance to meet the bandmembers through George Pelecanos, who had been invited to one of their concerts in Washington, D.C.  Shortly thereafter, during some time in London, I was approached by Phil Chevron about the possibility of writing a musical that would utilize the band’s discography.  Interested, I was then introduced to the estimable director Garry Hynes of Ireland’s Druid Theater, who had also been engaged by Mr. Chevron.

In turn, I approached Mr. Pelecanos and my wife, novelist Laura Lippman, to help create a storyline for such a musical.  George, my colleague on The Wire and Treme, is also a longstanding Pogues admirer and Laura, who has the lyrics of every Sondheim show memorized, has forgotten more about American musicals than I have so far learned.  We sat, worked the problem, ran it by both Ms. Hynes and Mr. Chevron, who offered notes, suggestion, encouragement and help overall.

Earlier this year, after a couple abortive drafts of leaden misery, I turned in a completed draft that was at least free of shame-inducing hackery.  The draft went to Ms. Hynes, with a copy to Phil Chevron, who was struggling with late-stage cancer.  I was glad to have produced something at least worthy of their consideration before Mr. Chevron passed away in October, if only because it was Phil’s love and understanding of the stage musical and his advocacy for this project that it exists.

Meetings and readings of the material are scheduled for later this spring, involving the writers, Ms. Hynes and her Druid team, and members of The Pogues.  After that, a second draft — this one involving Pelecanos and Lippman — is likely. And once Ms. Hynes and her team fully instruct and guide us, I have little doubt that third and fourth drafts will also be forthcoming.  Much more work by all is going to be required before such a project can be properly developed.

It is not a musical about The Pogues, as was reported, but a tale written to utilize their musical canon. It is not David Simon’s next project after Treme.  It is not the Druid Theater’s next project.  Casting calls remain unscheduled.  Rehearsal space has not been rented.  Tickets and playbills are not being printed anywhere for any purpose.  Shane Macgowan has not been assigned his house seats for the duration of the run.  No, a fellow in Sydney, Australia asked a question and without thinking too much, I answered him correctly without realizing that the internet’s reach includes the southern hemisphere.  Cat rebagged, I hope.  Or at the least, it’s a housecat at this point, not a stalking tiger.


    • More notes just landed from the Public Theater folk, following a second workshop. With two dramas now filming simultaneously, there is little that we can do to address those notes until fall.

  • I find Phil Chevron’s interest in musicals which I did not know about before I read this to be both surprising and intriguing. Did he have any favorite musicals?

      • Well, I was aware of his interest in the works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, but I didn’t know he had an interest for musicals in general which is why I asked what I did.

  • Please tell Ms Lippman how much I enjoyed her interview with Bob Edwards. Loved her comment about having our President read books about petty tyrants. I chuckled listening to her talk about this Pogues project too.

  • Saw this a little late; I just got home from vacation. Huge Pogues fan, huge Simon fan, so that is incredible news. If it is going to be done, then you are the guy to do it. If this one is a hit, I’d also go to a Tom Waits musical, if you get the chance to write one.

    Just three thoughts…no four.
    1) Wow, it would be pretty grim.
    2) The central conceit would have to be a spin on the whole Caitlin O Riordin/Elvis Costello/Shane McGowan love triangle.
    3) If it veers more to the popular stuff like Fairytale of New York and Body of an American, I guess that would drive the plot, but my favorite stuff is the traditional songs like Medley, Greenland Whale Fisheries and The Band Played Waltzing Matilda — which are going to be hard to work into the narrative.
    4) Would you be allowed to bring your own whiskey? Could be the rowdiest musical ever.

    • Again, it isn’t about the Pogues. It is a fictional narrative set to their music.

      And yes, you should be allowed to bring your own bottle.

      • Interesting. I was thinking a musical set to the music of the Pogues necessitates a central character, the lead singer, as somehow a proxy for Shane? So he has to, at some level, sound like Shane and feel like Shane?

        I would think so. Just as in “Movin Out” (haven’t seen it) you probably have some kind of angry young blue collar Long Island entertainer guy with relationship issues as your central protagonist — the character of Billy Joel’s music.

        But maybe not…maybe you just defy those expectations and don’t make it about Shane at all. But Shane’s personal story is so tragic, so Shakespearean, that I would assume it would be hard to resist. Which is, respectfully, how I arrived at love triangle.

        Of course nobody is asking ME to write the Pogues musical, so what do I know. Love that you followed up.

    • Since Paul Weller’s music is also in The Wire, it seems only fair that you write one featuring his music as well.

  • Love the Pogues and was lucky enough to see them live a couple of times before they stopped touring the U.S. It always seemed that Shane would start off a little shaky but by the middle of the show he’d find his groove and come alive. I have Mr. Simon and “The Wire” to thank for all of this because my first exposure to them was when “Body of an American” was used for Ray Cole’s wake. Look forward to this project if it ever comes to be.

  • Hey Mr. Simon!

    I just finished watching Treme’s series finale and had to come to your blog to say thank you. Both the show, and it’s finale, were breathtakingly beautiful. When it comes to your work, what I appreciate the most, is how your perspective and insights helped me evolve from being someone who was intellectually aware pain, suffering, and human complexities existed, but closed my heart and avoided all of it at all cost to becoming someone who is more empathic and has opened her heart. For that, I am profoundly grateful.

    Here’s to you, and your family, having an amazing 2014! I wish you great success with The Pogues-inspired project and, selfishly speaking, hope many more ideas spark your imagination so that we’ll be able to enjoy another David Simon-created TV series sooner than later. 🙂

    • Amen to that. Kudos to HBO for giving you 4 seasons to tell these beautiful stories, and to you for taking the time to tell them.

      Such a unique show and I’ll miss it dearly.

  • Treme finale was so good… Bravo! and Thank you. I’ve been wondering for a few seasons what Nelson’s redeeming value is—other than, of course, his being played by the brilliant Jon Seda.

  • Danny Boyle would probably be a great consultant on the project. I remember him talking at the Austin Film Festival. He couldn’t believe so many people in the states attend film festivals. He said on the isles, rock n’ roll reigns supreme. No one cares about film. Anyone who can carry a tune, puts a band together. He said something like, “There’s a reason more great rock n’ roll comes off the isles than just about anywhere else in the world.” He has a point. ( I love the film The Commitments. Great Irish rock n’ roll band film.) Can’t wait to see what you will do with The Pogues.

    • I always read The Commitments as a pitch-perfect metaphor for the Irish as a whole. Met Roddy Doyle, didn’t have the courage to ask him outright and risk offense.

      • Roddy Doyle’s new book as summarized in The Atlantic Monthly, out Jan. 23:
        “The last time 1993 Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle wrote about the cocky young musician Jimmy Rabbitte and his wild adventures in Dublin, the result was 1987’s beloved, soulful The Commitments (which later became an equally beloved and soulful film of the same name). Twenty-seven years later, Doyle has decided to revisit Rabbitte—who’s now a cocky older musician with kids, a wife, and newly diagnosed bowel cancer. With his mortality now in mind, Rabbitte reconnects with his old Commitments bandmates, reunites with his estranged brother, and rediscovers the awkward, humiliating delights of family life.”

  • Rum, Sodomy & the Lash came out just before my junior year in college. My roommate played it a minimum of five times a day from September through May. I’m not exaggerating even a little bit. It was a flat decade before I could listen to The Pogues again.

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