“The Pogues were drifting away from Irish music in directions I didn’t like.”
—Shane MacGowan, singer of Irish punk band the Pogues, explaining his decision to leave the band in 1991
“One thing that Shane forgets when he talks of us trying to sideline Irish music is that he was the one trying to do that. He was the one saying that he wants to do this 20-minute acid house experimental track called ‘Contact Yourself.’ This was a big bone of contention on the Peace And Love album. None of us were going to walk into Warner Brothers and say, ‘Here is our new album, and by the way one whole side is an… acid house contraption called ‘Contact Yourself.’”
— Interview with Philip Chevron, guitarist for the Pogues
“…there are ‘given’ novels, the bibles of the country, without which no reader worthy of the nationality ‘Irish’ can proceed.”
—Author Frank Delaney, explaining his selection of James Joyce’s Ulysses as the best Irish novel
Stately, plump Shane MacGowan came from the stairhead, bearing a stack of magnetic audiotapes on which was written “Peace and Love.” A black raincoat, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the thick air of Los Angeles. He held the tapes aloft and intoned:
Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:
—Come up, guys. Come up, you fearful Pogues.
Solemnly he, followed by seven band members, came forward and mounted the round staircase. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the Warner Brothers talent offices, the surrounding landscape and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, their A&R rep at Warner Brothers, he bent toward him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Dedalus, confused and sleepy, leaned his arms on his desk and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that presented the tapes, copious in height, and at the mild scent of stale cigarette smoke.
Phillip Chevron peeped an instant behind MacGowan and then patted the stack smartly.
—Here is our new album.
He added in a preacher’s tone:
—And by the way one whole side is an acid house contraption called “Contact Yourself.”
MacGowan peered sideways up and gave a long low whistle of assurance to Chevron and the six other band members, then paused awhile in rapt attention, the gaps in his craggy teeth glistening here and there with a peek of tongue. Strong shrill assurances from the Pogues answered through the calm.
—Thanks, old chap, Dedalus cried briskly. Acid house, kind of risky. I’ll listen to the tapes after lunch. Close the door on your way out, will you?
MacGowan grinned sneakily.
—Acid house, lots of puffers think it came about in Chicago and it’s all warehouse dance music, he said. But they’re off their arses. No other ancient style of Irish music so heavily influenced by dear old Ireland’s 800-year struggle against direct involvement from British—those shitbreeches, I spit on their graves.
MacGowan gobbed on the newly veneered floor, near but noticeably clear of a wastepaper basket.
“Contact Yourself,” MacGowan slurred. It’s what everyone wants—a 20-minute odyssey contraption. Here the bandmates performed an a capella rendition of “Contact Yourself.” Chevron culled samples from old jazz and funk recordings, while others did vocal approximations of electronic instruments and synthesizers. Over the following seven minutes Dedalus gathered hints of soul music, funk, and disco, as well as noted its repetitive beats and modal harmony. In sum, he hated it, felt as if he’d been eaten and spewed.
MacGowan smiled, pleasing himself.
—There’s still more on the tapes.
Dedalus skipped from his desk and looked gravely at his watch, gathering about his legs the loose folds of his slacks. His plump shadowed face and sullen oval jowl recalled a prelate, patron of arts in the middle ages. A pleasant smile broke quietly over his lips. Could he be harsh to his favorite band?
—That song, it’s just as it was in dear old Ireland, Dedalus said, feeling full of shite and onions.
—By 1300, Norman conquestors controlled four-fifths of Ireland, MacGowan scowled. But the resistance, often late at night, in their homes, heartened themselves by playing acid house.
—Death was the penalty for playing the music, Chevron added, laughing to himself before spitting near the rubbish can.
Dedalus pointed his finger in friendly jest and went over to the parapet, laughing at the past. I cannot dispute that the monotonous music dated 8,000 years before our lord died on the cross, back when humans first rose and tramped into Ireland. I wish to Christ our lord had taken acid house from this Earth. Lo, now eight leaping Pogues lighten in an eyeblink the worst of Ireland’s musical history! Christ’s cross made he on his breastbone for what he was about to say.
—It’ll be a major departure for the Pogues. I’m not sure how it will play to your fans.
MacGowan stepped from his chair, then crouched wearily back down at the edge of Dedalus’s desk, watching him still as he massaged his cheeks and neck with his plump hands.
—“Contact Yourself,” MacGowan slurred. It’s what everyone wants—a 20-minute odyssey contraption.
MacGowan made signs out of the door and Dedalus expected Christ himself to appear—and begob who entered but only that bloody old pantaloon the Pogues’ tour manager in his bath slippers with a bloody big boombox tucked under his chip-stained blazer. Dedalus felt the urge to spit.
—We understand your hesitance to commit to the song, MacGowan said. It’s unconventional. It’s ancient. It’s about ancient Irish history, Irish warfare, and modal harmonies.
—Let’s hear it.
Dedalus dug a poppyseed from between his molars as the music kicked in. Six years ago my God after that first Pogues show I near lost my breath yes they were a flower of the mountain yes so all the Pogues are flowers yes that was one true thing in my life and the sun shines for them today yes that was why I loved the Pogues because they understood or felt what a man is and I knew I could always get round them and I get all the pleasure I can listening to them on ‘till they asked me to say yes will I release Peace and Love with “Contact Yourself” on it and I wouldn’t answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things they didn’t know of like how acid house is abysmally hollow and how I could break it to them kindly that their music is amazing and their fans love them but not like this and now I look at MacGowan’s goony eyes taking in “Contact Yourself” and if his goofy dancing gyrations are any indication of the joy in his heart then I’m giving in.
—Yes, Dedalus said. Yes I will, yes let’s release it.
And the next instant a hotfoot roadie hopped in, unfortunate wretched man trotting like a dachshund. He steadied himself and conferred with the manager, who then whispered an utterance in MacGowan’s ear.
—Taken a what? said MacGowan, who slammed his fist against the boombox, halting the music.
—Libel action, said the tour manager, waving a folded paper in his hand. For a hundred thousand dollars.
Dedalus snatched the paper.
—What bitch’s bastard has sued us? Chevron said.
—It’s a cease and desist, the manager said thickly.
—It’s just house music, MacGowan swore. No different from any other artists playing his motherland’s native music.
—Don’t worry, Dedalus said. Our lawyers will take care of this.
As Dedalus scanned the lawsuit, he was sunny inside. Legal wrangling. Legal hangups. It’s going to be buried. This track will never be heard again. The answer to his prayers.