Nick Cave has taken aim at the BBC for censoring The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s ‘Fairytale Of New York’ over Christmas. This comes after it was announced last week that they will be playing an alternate version of the anthem on Radio 1 during the daytime to avoid younger listeners hearing the homophobic slur in the track.
In the track, MacColl controversially sings to The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan: “You scumbag, you maggot / You cheap lousy f****t / Happy Christmas, your arse / I pray God it’s our last.” The BBC has since defended its decision in a statement, which reads: “We are aware that young audiences are particularly sensitive to derogatory terms for gender and sexuality, and after considering this carefully, Radio 1 has decided to play a version featuring Kirsty MacColl singing alternative lyrics, provided by the record label.”
Radio 1’s edited version will instead “you’re cheap and you’re haggard”, it will also censor the word “slut” from an earlier point of the song. This debate about ‘Fairytale Of New York’ seemingly rumbles on every single year and now Cave has criticised the BBC in the latest instalment of his ‘Red Hand Letters’ page.
He wrote: “The idea that a word, or a line, in a song can simply be changed for another and not do it significant damage is a notion that can only be upheld by those that know nothing about the fragile nature of songwriting.
“The changing of the word ‘f****t’ for the nonsense word ‘haggard’ destroys the song by deflating it right at its essential and most reckless moment, stripping it of its value. It becomes a song that has been tampered with, compromised, tamed, and neutered and can no longer be called a great song. It is a song that has lost its truth, its honour and integrity – a song that has knelt down and allowed the BBC to do its grim and sticky business.”
Cave continued with the indignation of an authentic artist: “I am in no position to comment on how offensive the word ‘f****t’ is to some people, particularly to the young – it may be deeply offensive, I don’t know, in which case Radio 1 should have made the decision to simply ban the song, and allow it to retain its outlaw spirit and its dignity.
“In the end, I feel sorry for ‘Fairytale’, a song so gloriously problematic, as great works of art so often are, performed by one of the most scurrilous and seditious bands of our time, whose best shows were so completely and triumphantly out of order, they had to be seen to believed. Yet, time and time again the integrity of this magnificent song is tested,” continued the Bad Seeds singer.
“The BBC, that gatekeeper of our brittle sensibilities, forever acting in our best interests, continue to mutilate an artefact of immense cultural value and in doing so takes something from us this Christmas, impossible to measure or replace. On and on it goes, and we are all the less for it.”
You can read the full letter here.