“Fairytale of New York” was among the first songs I chose for my new ‘Set List’ page here at Indie Art South. I’m slightly obsessed with that song. My daughters will confirm that claim, having witnessed me listening to it so many times. It finally occurred to me to learn more about the female vocalist Kirsty MacColl. The song has a small nuance of hope in the lyrics. Sadly, MacColl’s life ended in tragedy. I had no idea.
If you’ve never heard this incredible composition, take a listen. It’s a narrative poem married to Irish rhythms. The poem is about hope and hopes that get dashed. It revolves around the starry-eyed dreams of youth, and it depicts how reality collides with the same.
MacColl wasn’t a household name, but anyone listening to music in the 1980s-90s will probably be familiar with some of her work. She did another song that’s a personal favorite of mine, “There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis.” I’ve tried to get Rebecca to cover it. No luck with that so far.
MacColl was a successful recording artist, enduring the ups and downs of what is, for most, a roller coaster profession. In December, 2000, she was vacationing off the coast of Cozumel. She and her sons decided to go scuba diving. As they enjoyed their dive, a powerboat zoomed through the area. The powerboat, according to most accounts, was technically prohibited from even being in those waters. However, the boat was owned by a wealthy Mexican businessman who, in my mind, might qualify for the label ‘oligarch’.
The government of Mexico investigated, blaming Cen Yam, an employee of the businessman. The employee was allegedly driving the boat, although MacColl’s mother and others questioned whether he was at the controls. Years passed, and after an advocacy campaign by Kirsty’s mother, Mexico closed the case. Kirsty’s mother wrote:
“I would like to thank everybody for their letters of support and understanding since we decided, sadly, to close the campaign. As the Mexicans were closing the case we had no alternative. No-one had disputed the testimonies of the Gonzalez family and Cen Yam. Wealth and power is a formidable weapon. It needs courage to stand up and be counted but as one resident told me, “I have a wife and children to feed. You don’t argue with Dons.”
No one really paid a very big price for killing Kirsty MacColl. That is a tragedy that happens all too often in this world, especially to those outside the political class in any country. Not much has changed in our human race since the beginning of time when it comes to power and wealth.
As I worked on my new page for this site, I listened again to “Fairytale.” I love MacColl’s voice on that song; I love the rich contrast of her voice with the raw vocals of Shane MacGown of Irish punk band The Pogues. I’d read a review of the song at The Week. The writer summed up the song in spectacular prose rarely seen on the language-challenged content landfill we call the Web.
MacColl’s legacy of music and charity work endures. The loss of her life at the young age of 41, at the hands of privileged powers, is a story told far too often throughout history. Personally, I will be forever grateful to MacColl and those Irish punkers who have provided so many hours of listening pleasure with a single song whose theme reaches deep into the human condition overlooked by far too many corporate brand musicians today.
Listen to Fairy Tale of New York on YouTube. The Pogues continued to perform the song without MacColl, but no one can match her voice and delivery on that work. She made it her own forever.
(Kay B. Day/May 1, 2018)