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33 1/3: Rum, Sodomy & the Lash (2008) May 7, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Rum, Sodomy & the Lash

Jeffrey T. Roesgen: Rum, Sodomy & the Lash

The 33 1/3 series is a series of small paperback books, averaging around a hundred or so pages, that take a look at a particular album.

Jeffrey T. Roesgen’s Rum, Sodomy & The Lash is about the Pogues’ 1985 album of that name. Instead of just going into the history of the band and the making of the album, the way a lot of books in that series do, Roesgen uses the album’s cover art (The Raft of the Medusa, with the faces of band members superimposed over some of the people’s faces in the painting) to tell a version of the story of the post-Napoleonic sailing disaster of the Medusa, with the Pogues as characters aboard the ship, alternating with nonfiction sections on the album’s songs. A couple of other books in the series have been works of fiction that somehow involve the album in question, so it’s not an entirely unprecedented approach.

Given the historical focus of many of the album’s songs, it works surprisingly well. The naval-themed album title, the choice of artwork, the songs that range from the American West to the shores of Gallipoli to traditional Irish songs, the Pogues’ involvement in some Alex Cox movies, and the fact that the Pogues were anything but a purist Irish folk band all make an anachronistic naval adventure a good fit. What starts off as a bit of a romp grows steadily darker, as an inexperienced ship captain and his inexperienced navigator, holding their posts by virtue of supporting the monarchy but overseeing a crew and officers who were supporters of Napoleon, take their ship into dangerous waters off the coast of Africa. Whether there’s supposed to be much resonance between the story and the actual career of the Pogues at that time is questionable, but it works in tying different strands of the album into a whole.

A bit more nonfiction might have been helpful, but as the bibliography points out, there are several other books on the band. (Heck, I’ve got one myself, Anne Scanlon’s The Pogues: The Lost Decade, though it was written and published years before the end of the band.) Roesgen interrupts his fictional narrative every so often with a section a few pages long named after a particular song. There’s some information on the song and a few comments on other related matters, then back to the story.

Overall, while not necessarily the most informative book in the 33 1/3 series, it’s insightful and entertaining.

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