Scumbags and Maggots

My husband and I love the song Fairytale of New York by the Pogues, featuring Kristy McColl. The Pogues were part of our alternative radio loving days in the early 90s and this song of theirs, a Christmas song, has been a staple of our December playlist for years.

But my kids don’t like it, and that’s because it uses a homophobic slur in the lyrics while the two main characters are having a fight. I myself don’t like that word, but this year their discomfort was obvious and made me think a lot about my position on the matter. I decided I was overdue to take the song out of the rotation.

There’s a lot of debate online as to whether or not this song should be “bleeped” when played on the radio, or outright removed from radio play. Considering it is used in the song as an insult, I come down in favour of bleeping. It’s just not cool to use a word like that as an insult. My kids know it, and I should have known it too.

I missed the song itself, though, and I thought there must be other people who feel the same way – so surely someone must have made a cover version with some reworked lyrics. I went over to Spotify and listened to literally every single version of Fairytale of New York they have. There weren’t many that deviated from the original.

I eventually settled on three versions to add to my playlist:

  • by The Longest Johns – not a great version in terms of music and singing, but substitutes the slur with the word “CARROT” shouted by the entire band, which is so hilarious it is already legend in this house
  • by The Bay Street Bastards – uses another rude word starting with “F” and ending with “head” that fits the vibe of the moment in the song quite well
  • by Saints Analogue – reworks the whole two lines of that stanza to in order to use the word “tosser” in the problem spot and still have it rhyme

All three are not bad. Not quite having the slurry charm of the original or and missing the gorgeous voice of Kristy McColl, but acceptable. I was surprised to find that of dozens of covers, there were so few modified versions. I’d love it if the Pogues would make their own updated cover, but they stand by the original version as, it seems, many other artists do too.

What do you think – should this song in its original form be retired? It’s similar to controversies over “Baby It’s Cold Outside” which, to modern ears, can sound like a pushy man taking advantage of a woman, and that’s a trigger for some people; and the use of the outdated word “Eskimo” in songs like The Christmas Song and Winter Wonderland (recommended: Serena Ryder’s version of The Christmas Song which changes the line to “folks dressed up in ties and bows” which is an absolutely perfect solution).

3 thoughts on “Scumbags and Maggots

  1. I love that you’re bringing this up, since I have a blog post in draft about this type of stuff, but from a book perspective. It’s a huge, massive, immense topic – can you separate the art from the artist, should we allow for changing times, how much can you forgive an artist you love, and so much more!

    My big struggle these days is with artists / authors who I think should know better, or should be more compassionate, using their power / platform to be hurtful.

    I also love that you were compassionate about your children’s discomfort. It takes courage to say, “This thing / word / expression / idea is hurtful to me.” I see people who respond to that by saying, “I’m sorry, and I would never want to hurt you,” then I see those who say, “It’s my right to keep saying it.”

    I have a lot of time for those who learn as they move through life, and very little for those who remain rigid just because they can.

    It’s a great sign that your kids can tell you what bothers them and know they’ll be listened to!

  2. It’s funny, I have never liked that song and so have never really listened to the lyrics, so I actually had no idea.

    You know I’m a huge fan of Baby It’s Cold Outside in all its iterations (although I don’t actually like the “cleaned up” version, it just seems weirdly cloying to me.)

  3. Bleah, my comment got eaten. I love Fairytale of New York, and even if the Pogues re-recorded, Kristy McColl is dead so it wouldn’t be the same. I still play it for myself, but if my kids (one of whom is not straight) objected, I would stop. I accept that it shouldn’t be played in public. I agree that you can’t just give everything a pass with ‘it was a different time’. I also love Baby It’s Cold Outside although again I’m fine with it not being played in public. I agree with Nicole about the reworked versions – they don’t work for me. These are thorny issues, and all we can do is listen to the people who are made uncomfortable and do our best not to further that.

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