This is a piece I wrote a few years ago, when Shane and I went to Malta on holidays. We were separated at the time, but got back together some time after this holiday. Which makes it weird for me to read.
Shane interview copyright Victoria Mary Clarke 2004
‘I’d like to f**k Brad Pitt,’ Shane says.
‘Would you? That’s weird. I’d like to be Brad Pitt,’ I confess. We are lying on the red sand at Ramla Bay, on the island of Gozo, which is the spot where Ulysses was shipwrecked, on his was home from Troy. Ulysses was seduced by the nymphette Calypso, who enticed him with the promise of eternal life. We, on the other hand have been seduced by the beauty of Brad Pitt, with his magnificent muscles. Both of us.
Shane has just been badly beaten up in a bar in London and he has asked me to come on holidays with him, so that he can recuperate. I knew that there was an Ayurvedic Spa here on Gozo so I suggested we try it, and he agreed. If I had suggested Chzekslovakia, he says, he would have had reservations. No pun intended.
There is a prayer that they give you to say, at Alcoholics Anonymous. ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’ Shane and I are standing at the check in desk for Air Malta, at six in the morning, waiting for the rep to show up with our tickets. I hate airports, I hate waiting, I hate flying and I hate being anywhere at six in the morning. But most of all, I hate being stared at. Shane is wearing a filthy suit covered in ash, and a pair of gold-rimmed Elvis-in-Vegas shades and he’s fumbling in the brown paper bag that is serving as his suitcase. People are staring.
I’m paranoid at the best of times, but just because you’re paranoid…. I know it’s ridiculous to care if people stare, I know they might just be thinking what a lovely songwriter he is, but I can’t help worrying that they are thinking what a mess he looks and as always, I’m worrying that it’s me they are accusing, me that’s responsible.
The staring, whether well intentioned or not is one of the things only God can change, but I am not serene about it. When the rep arrives, I bite his head off. He says ‘Don’t worry’, in a breezy manner. I say ‘I’m not apologising, I’m complaining’ in a most un-breezy manner. Shane helpfully offers to have him sacked by his friends in high places.
In the duty free, I make Shane buy a carry-on trolley thing instead of the paper bag and I refuse to let him go to the bar. And I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. After all, we lived together for fifteen years, I should have the sense by now, to know what I’m letting myself in for.
But something makes me want to do this. Something very big. Shane and I ended our relationship as romantic partners, three years ago. But relationships don’t end, surely, if they ever meant something? All this week, I have been reading about celebrity couples getting divorced and wives demanding millions in alimony. Sadie Frost was photographed looking triumphant, alongside an article about how she will claim the house, several million and a monthly income that Fergie couldn’t have sniffed at. Divorce can be a profitable business. But is it ever worth it, if it means the end of friendship?
I suspect that as breaking up is always hard to do, those couples who insist that the split was amicable are lying. But what makes it hardest is the loss of a best friend, a companion, a life partner. Someone you can be yourself with and still be loved, someone you can say anything to. Even that you want to be Brad Pitt.
It’s been nearly three years for me, but I still miss Shane and he still misses me. We have stayed friends, of course. And we go out, occasionally. But the cosy domesticity of staying in, eating pizza and watching telly is what people miss, after a long relationship, not the going out. You can go out with anyone, but you need to be very comfortable with someone to slob out together at home.
When you leave your lover, you have to think about the bad things. You have to think about your differences, what drove you apart. You can’t afford to reminisce, romantically. Traditionally, couples avoid each other after they break up, even if only one person wanted the thing to end. There is a belief that you have to get rid of one relationship in order to make room for the next one. As if there is only room for one love at a time. But shutting out the bad means shutting out a whole relationship, the good as well as the bad. Throwing out the proverbial baby. And having come to realise this, I was determined to spend some time with Shane, in order that we might salvage not just occasional companionship, but also the love that I know we once had. However difficult that might be, and however much I might wish to draw a line under the bad times.
My editor suggested that I take this opportunity to interview Shane. I wondered if it was a good idea. After all, we broke up straight after my book ‘A Drink With Shane’ was published. And if it is a strange thing to interview your lover it is an even stranger thing to interview your ex-lover. But I knew that other people have trouble with accepting the things they cannot change. And other people miss the person they were once in love with. And apart from all that, I knew that an interview with Shane would be entertaining. So I agreed.
There followed a grim flight and a misunderstanding at the airport in Malta, when Shane went through passport control without me, and I waited for half an hour outside the gents loo. And our taxi driver refused to stop so that I could get a drink of water, insisting that it was only a forty five minute taxi ride. I was parched and fuming, when we eventually arrived at the Kempinski, which according to the reviews is a very nice hotel.
We had actually been advised by our travel agent to rent a farmhouse, with a pool, for the sake of privacy. But I needed one night of luxury and an Ayurvedic massage, to chill me out after the journey. At the hotel, a nice Indian girl dripped warm oil all over my head until I calmed down, and Shane headed for the bar, not bothered about seeing his room, first. I knew it was a good hotel because the next morning, when he was still asleep in the bar, they were utterly charming about it. So we decided f**k the farmhouse, we’ll just stay here.
In the course of the next few days, we compromised. I persuaded Shane to have a bath, and buy new clothes. He asked me what improvements I was going to make to myself. I didn’t know. The Dalai Lama would have been gracious and accepted him the way he was, but I’m not the Dalai Lama.
Shane has always been deeply spiritual, and as we speak, he is adorned with enough crucifixes, miraculous medals and other talismans to ward off even the most pernicious of evil spirits. If he hadn’t been a singer, he may well have become a Catholic priest. And he would have been extremely good at it. This year, it turns out, he has been asked to write a song for when the Dalai Lama comes to Scotland to see Glasgow Celtic. And having had a few days to read all the guide books and sit around doing nothing, he was in the mood to be interviewed, so we brought out the tape recorder and he talked about it.
‘I don’t know if I will sing for him,’ he said. ‘But there will be a Tibetan orchestra coming over, and proper people who can go OHHHHMMMMM. It’s quite wild for me.’
‘Why is the Dalai Lama going to Scotland? I asked, bemused.
‘What does the Celtic football team have to do with the Dalai Lama?’
‘We are Catholics and we are warriors and we have an oppressive force driving us out of our own country,’ Shane responded, heading off on a bit of a tangent, as he sometimes does. ‘That’s what he’s got in common with the Irish, the fact that he comes from a wonderful, beautiful Garden of Eden which his place was until imperialism struck.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘But what has he got to do with football?’
‘He’s got nothing to do with football, but that’s what people do, they go to football matches. The matches between Rangers and Celtic are where the politics are acted out and the Dalai Lama can explain to these eejits that there is one God governing all men. And he is a manifestation of that God, because he is a reincarnation of Buddha. Buddha said we will all be reincarnated, but he didn’t make any rules about it.’
Shane is looking forward to meeting the great man, naturally.
‘Of course I’m enthralled. I really miss having a spiritual life, but I don’t really get it together on my own.’
And when he’s finished writing the Dalai Lama song, he’s been asked to do a Rock School on television. Teaching children to play music is, he says, a dream come true and he reminds me that he taught a teenage drug addict to play guitar, when he was in the loony bin, at the age of eighteen.
Apart from that, he says, he has romantic ideas about trying to start a herd of wild horses, on his farm in Tipperary.
‘And I would like to get a camper van and travel. Anywhere.’
‘But you have been around the world several times,’ I point out.
‘Yes, but I was touring most of the time. And I haven’t even seen all of Ireland. But I don’t feel at home in Ireland anymore, I don’t feel at home anywhere. I think I was born to travel. Some people are born to travel. And wherever you are, is a little bit of Ireland, like Rupert Brooke said about England, just before he was killed. He said ‘If I am to lie, a rotting corpse in a Flanders field, it will mean that there is always a spot that is always England.’
At this point, Shane starts to cry. I suggest we postpone the interview, being less comfortable with people crying than he is. But he insists that he’s just getting warmed up.
‘Rupert Brooke would have turned out to be as brilliant as Kavanagh, had he lived,’ he says. ‘He had that ultra romantic view of the land.’
Shane has always been a romantic, and we get onto Kavanagh, for quite some time. He shows me pictures of the dark haired girl that inspired ‘Raglan Road’, from a biography of the poet. Along with this book, he has a stack of others, practically a suitcase full, including biographies of Gerry Adams, Che Guevara and Robert Emmet. He’s also obsessed with Hemingway, at the moment.
‘Hemingway blew his brains out on his sixtieth birthday, after getting his last blow job,’ he informs me.
‘Because he didn’t want to get any older. If you feel you’ve come to that point, it could be a good idea, but I have no intention of coming to that point at sixty. But then again, I haven’t fought as many lions or f**ked as many Arabs as Hemingway did and I wasn’t a medic in the first world war. I think he thought there weren’t any more kicks to be had, he had done it all. So on his sixtieth birthday, drunk, he blew his brains out with his family downstairs.’
‘Did they not mind?’ I ask, concerned.
‘Of course they minded! But if he had left it twenty years later, he would have been hooked up to horrific devices, in a hospital and it would have been worse.’
For Shane there is no danger of taking the Hemingway route, at this stage.
‘ Jesus, I’ve only just got going,’ he says, indignantly, when I ask him about the possibility. ‘I’ve got the whole world to cover.’
‘Well, strangely enough, all the bits Joey likes, I hate,’ he says. Joey is his manager, Joey Cashman. ‘But then, he’s a Cancer and I’m a Capricorn, so we get on, but we have massive differences of opinion about everything. Joey is a pessimist, I’m an optimist. Joey is cynical, I’m not. Joey is lonely and I am too. Joey is a funny guy and so am I. So it’s bad and good. Ha ha ha ha ha……’
He and Joey are seldom seen apart. Joey shared a flat with us in London, for a while. Will you stay together until you are old men? I ask.
‘No, I’ve got to get him a woman. Women love him, but he can’t handle monogamy. He won’t commit. I had a lot of trouble with it, myself, but now I see the beauty and the sense in it.’
‘A lot of men won’t commit,’ I say.
‘Yes, but Joey isn’t any man, he’s a great man. He’s an imaginative man. A man who understands things that most men don’t understand.’
‘Speaking of Joey,’ I say, ‘there has been a bit of trouble lately, with a petition…’ A group of people, including Shane’s parents have signed a petition on the internet to get rid of Joey.
‘We didn’t have any trouble with it,’ he scoffs. ‘It went up on the ‘Friends of Shane’ website. A few of the people who signed it were people I knew, people that I really like. But it was a gross slander. It’s just family feuding on the internet. That’s basically what it is. Thank God they’ve got the internet to act it out on, or we would all be lying around riddled with bullets! Heeeeee hheeeee hhhheeee.’
And despite the fact that the allegations are that serious amounts of money are unaccounted for, that’s as seriously as Shane is prepared to take the situation.
‘Lets move on to your recent incident with the scaffolding,’ I say. He was attacked in a bar in Belgravia and beated about the face with a piece of scaffolding.
‘When the scumbag from the middle ages, sorry I meant the midlands, attacked me?’ he asks. ‘Me and a couple of friends were having a drink and we got talking to this Irish guy. And he bought me a drink. Later on, I saw him talking to this other bigger guy. Who followed me into the toilet and hit me with what felt like a knuckle duster. I couldn’t believe the pain! I’ve never experienced pain or suffering like that before in my life.’
‘Even though you’ve been beaten up before, many times?’ I ask.
‘Yes. It was really horrible. I just took the punches and then I slid down the wall. He kicked me with his foot a few times, but that was like someone applying bandages, compared to the metal.’
‘Did he say anything?’
‘He said ‘Are you queer?”
‘Yes. He looked like Sean Bean, actually.’
On our first date, Shane picked a fight with the bouncer at the 100 Club, so we never actually got inside the club. He isn’t usually an aggressive person, though.
‘I would stay I was stubborn and single minded, rather than aggressive,’ he says. ‘But I don’t take shit.’
He asks me to light a cigarette, for him because the wind is strong, where we are sitting, but the taste is revolting. It reminds me that when we were together, I used to smoke and drink and take drugs. Now I am fairly clean and serene. Shane has recently given up heroin, this time for good, he says. And he appears to mean it.
‘There are two ways that our souls are being attacked, at the moment,’ he says. ‘Television is one of them. Heroin is another. They sell it to school kids, which is really heavy. Heroin, I got into when I had enough money. I don’t blame them for wanting to try it. But I blame the people who should be stopping kids from being introduced to it. I would say that nobody can handle heroin.’
‘Was it very hard to kick?’
‘Yes, it was incredibly hard. I was terrified, all the time, of cold turkey. It is unbelievably horrific. The physical bits are so horrific that they blank out the screaming depression, though. It’s the loneliest feeling in the world.’
We are interrupted by the waitress, bringing another gin and tonic. He still orders a lot of drinks, but I notice that he doesn’t drink most of them, he just collects them on the table around him, as if for security. Shane tips the staff astronomical amounts. I can’t help worrying. About ordering all the drinks. And of course, I criticise his profligacy. He assures me that he can always make more money.
I feel too old for late nights and hangovers, I just want to be healthy and go to bed early. Possibly, if I was with someone less hedonistic I wouldn’t be so neurotic, I tell myself.
Later, we both have the Ayurvedic massage where they drip the warm oil on your head. Shane says it’s like opium, that you could definitely get people off drugs by giving them massages. I say that’s what Deepak Chopra does. He knows, he says. He’s bought a copy of Deepak’s new book as a present for me.
When we get it together to go sightseeing, we find ourselves at Mass, in a local church and Shane takes Communion. We also visit, at his insistence the church where Our Lady is supposed to have appeared. And we sit in the cathedral, just looking at the paintings which are every bit as inspired as those in the Sistine Chapel. Shane’s a pagan as well as a Catholic, he says.
‘That’s what being an Irish Catholic is. We sing and we fight and we f**k and all of those things are banned. Our whole civilisation is based on religion.’
I ask him if he’s having a good time. He is.
‘There’s a feeling of absolute serenity,’ he says. ‘Total and absolute serenity. I am like Cesare Borgia, my ego is so massive that I can almost imagine God. In fact, I see God everywhere. Did you know about Michelotto, his half Irish servant?’
‘No,’ I say.
‘Michelotto was left in charge of things while Cesare was away and the Pope had him garrotted and strung up. Cesare found him, just as he was about to die, and asked him who had done it to him. ‘Twas the holy faaaather, sorrrr’ he said (in an Irish accent). HEEEE HEEE HEEE.”
‘What’s the similarity between you and Cesare Borgia?’ I ask. He thinks about it.
‘ Cesare Borgia was a great Italian and I’m a great Irishman,’ he concludes.
‘Indeed,’ I say. And I wonder if he could be right.