About this season in the year 2000, the adventurous and inimitable singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl was killed by a power-boat whilst scuba-diving off Cozumel, Mexico. She was a couple of years younger than I am today. Now her family and friends announce they are winding up their campaign of investigation into the somewhat questionable circumstances surrounding her fatal accident, on the grounds that 'Justice for Kirsty' has accomplished everything it can hope to. (BBC.)
Kirsty MacColl brought a witty, eclectic, folky sensibility to British pop music, and beat it over the head therewith until it acquired a better clue. She could conjure more erotic wickedness in a smoky vocal inflection and a glinting lyric, than Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera could manage by mud-wrestling in red leather sexy devil suits - or, when she would, put over a rough warm empathy beyond the range of commodity-pop altogether. She was one of the musical greats of my generation, and her songs inspired me to several stories I never finished, as well as one character I don't propose to finish with any time soon.
Like only a very few other artists - Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard, and Steve Earle spring chiefly to mind - she could touch me to the bone with sentiments which would normally find nothing but the sore spot on my spleen.
Every Yuletide for many years, and on any other occasion that seemed to warrant, Dad and I used to go out for some serious supping, and come back carolling the great MacColl/Pogues classic A Fairytale of New York to the frosty stars. Something about it spoke to the deep-down sameness in the ways we looked at the world, for all our passionate arguing about its details. Now he is gone too, and I have nobody to sing it with who feels quite the same way about it. I can never hear it without hearing his voice raised alongside mine - another good reason for me to listen to it, whenever the stars and the tides are right.
So in this year of her fiftieth anniversary, the winter has come when the MacColl kin lay her banner down beside her at last. Sleep well, fire-mouthed Kirsty, and dream bravely in the minds of we who outlived you.
Billy Bragg wrote it, and you took it and made it your own and sang it so that I could hear it, and turn it to my own mood:
I don't want to change the world
I'm not looking for a new England -
No, not quite! But you did better than most politicians and activists, on your side of the lines or mine: you changed the world and renewed your several tribes in the only way of an honest woman, within the reach of your own hand and the authority of your own voice. I am reminded that I have many seeds to cast and hearts to shake with my own craft, before I have as much to my credit as you wrought in your shorter day. And I remember, again, how and why it is worth trying.
We are still looking for another girl, for you do not come again.