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Dirty Old Town


I met my love by the gas works wall Dreamed a dream by the old canal I Kissed my girl by the factory wall Dirty old town Dirty old town

Ewen MacColl did not write Dirty Old Town in 1949 about Ireland, in that while this great big giant love of Irish bands seems to have elevated the tune to the point where people think it’s Irish in origin, fat chance. (Fat chance, of course, being Scottish, right? MacColl’s folks were Scottish, fat chance eh?) The town that MacColl was referencing in that great tune was Salford. Salford was a part of the industrial revolution in England, now Britain. Britain used to make a lot of stuff. So did the United States of America. That all pretty much went away, this is what happens. So, MacColl grew up in Salford. The government thought he was a communist. His father had a hell of a time finding work because the entire country blacklisted him. Bastards. I know how that feels.

I’ve been blacklisted a time or two.

I don’t care what people think about me, I reckon I’ve done some pretty good time on this planet and I don’t need anyone’s approval. I made lots of stuff between then and now. By the time I met Rocio, I didn’t much care about carving out my mark on some big tree. I remember the day that Anna was conceived. Rocio pointed to a spot on the floor of the house we were about to rent there in Rowland Heights. I didn’t argue. Anna won’t read this, but she was made right then and there. Purposefully. We talked it over and decided to have a kid. And we did. Fat chance, eh? True, all true, I promise.

Dirty old town, dirty old town.

* *

“God,” I started. “This is the third time I’ve asked you for anything. Just let her be healthy and let her live. I promise I’ll do my best to raise her good. That’s all I can promise.”

Clouds are drifting across the moon Cats are prowling on their beat Spring's a girl from the streets at night Dirty old town Dirty old town

Tijuana, 1993, that’s where I was, washing my hands and all suited up. As though I could change a thing. That baby was coming out, to hell with anything else. They gave Rocio a shot (and I laughed and she still wants to kill me for that), and here we go. Of course, no men ever entered the arena, and there I was, the exception to the rule, apparently. On my behalf, look, I saw two Cesarean sections, both courtesy of my ex. I could handle a normal childbirth.

I held Rocio’s hand and she nearly broke it. We had a baby girl, in Las Brisas, Tijuana, that place isn’t even there anymore. Everyone looked at us beforehand like we were nuts. Here I was, a Gringo, we could’ve had her over there, on the other side. Rocio probably would’ve agreed to it. I didn’t want to.

Dirty old town, dirty old town.

The years, you know, they just fly by. Anna did most of her schooling here in Mexico. Now she’s navigating the U.S. system and it’s horrible. She gets a B in geometry and an F in physical education? “Sorry Dad, I forgot my gym bag.” And of course, my response? “Cramps. They come in really handy.” I would’ve used that excuse. I really would have. Cramps. Why not?

I Heard a siren from the docks Saw a train set the night on fire I Smelled the spring on the smoky wind Dirty old town Dirty old town

* *

So there I was, dressed out, and the doctor war starring up my wife’s gown. He nodded as though everything was going according to plan. I thought he was a clown. I mean, what else was he supposed to do? The nurse was too embarrassed to stay in the room, she left. My wife went into transition and almost broke my hand. I’ve had my hand broken before, so I know of what I speak. I’m amazed she didn’t break it.

I'm gonna make me a big sharp axe Shining steel tempered in the fire I'll chop you down like an old dead tree Dirty old town Dirty old town

We took Anna home that night. I had to fight with the staff. One day Anna might ask me why she was born in this dirty old town. Well, it’s your dirty old town, Anna. I wanted you to have one. I wanted it to be here. I wanted this dust to be yours, something you could hang on to. You’re going to be eighteen. I want you to have this. I was born in San Diego, but I hang on to Rowland Heights. Baby, you get Tijuana. All of it. I did this on purpose.

I met my love by the gas works wall Dreamed a dream by the old canal I kissed my girl by the factory wall Dirty old town Dirty old town Dirty old town Dirty old town

* *

Dirty old town, Anna. I just want you to have this dirty old town. If I can’t give you anything else, then I give you this.

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I met my love by the gas works wall Dreamed a dream by the old canal I Kissed my girl by the factory wall Dirty old town Dirty old town

Ewen MacColl did not write Dirty Old Town in 1949 about Ireland, in that while this great big giant love of Irish bands seems to have elevated the tune to the point where people think it’s Irish in origin, fat chance. (Fat chance, of course, being Scottish, right? MacColl’s folks were Scottish, fat chance eh?) The town that MacColl was referencing in that great tune was Salford. Salford was a part of the industrial revolution in England, now Britain. Britain used to make a lot of stuff. So did the United States of America. That all pretty much went away, this is what happens. So, MacColl grew up in Salford. The government thought he was a communist. His father had a hell of a time finding work because the entire country blacklisted him. Bastards. I know how that feels.

I’ve been blacklisted a time or two.

I don’t care what people think about me, I reckon I’ve done some pretty good time on this planet and I don’t need anyone’s approval. I made lots of stuff between then and now. By the time I met Rocio, I didn’t much care about carving out my mark on some big tree. I remember the day that Anna was conceived. Rocio pointed to a spot on the floor of the house we were about to rent there in Rowland Heights. I didn’t argue. Anna won’t read this, but she was made right then and there. Purposefully. We talked it over and decided to have a kid. And we did. Fat chance, eh? True, all true, I promise.

Dirty old town, dirty old town.

* *

“God,” I started. “This is the third time I’ve asked you for anything. Just let her be healthy and let her live. I promise I’ll do my best to raise her good. That’s all I can promise.”

Clouds are drifting across the moon Cats are prowling on their beat Spring's a girl from the streets at night Dirty old town Dirty old town

Tijuana, 1993, that’s where I was, washing my hands and all suited up. As though I could change a thing. That baby was coming out, to hell with anything else. They gave Rocio a shot (and I laughed and she still wants to kill me for that), and here we go. Of course, no men ever entered the arena, and there I was, the exception to the rule, apparently. On my behalf, look, I saw two Cesarean sections, both courtesy of my ex. I could handle a normal childbirth.

I held Rocio’s hand and she nearly broke it. We had a baby girl, in Las Brisas, Tijuana, that place isn’t even there anymore. Everyone looked at us beforehand like we were nuts. Here I was, a Gringo, we could’ve had her over there, on the other side. Rocio probably would’ve agreed to it. I didn’t want to.

Dirty old town, dirty old town.

The years, you know, they just fly by. Anna did most of her schooling here in Mexico. Now she’s navigating the U.S. system and it’s horrible. She gets a B in geometry and an F in physical education? “Sorry Dad, I forgot my gym bag.” And of course, my response? “Cramps. They come in really handy.” I would’ve used that excuse. I really would have. Cramps. Why not?

I Heard a siren from the docks Saw a train set the night on fire I Smelled the spring on the smoky wind Dirty old town Dirty old town

* *

So there I was, dressed out, and the doctor war starring up my wife’s gown. He nodded as though everything was going according to plan. I thought he was a clown. I mean, what else was he supposed to do? The nurse was too embarrassed to stay in the room, she left. My wife went into transition and almost broke my hand. I’ve had my hand broken before, so I know of what I speak. I’m amazed she didn’t break it.

I'm gonna make me a big sharp axe Shining steel tempered in the fire I'll chop you down like an old dead tree Dirty old town Dirty old town

We took Anna home that night. I had to fight with the staff. One day Anna might ask me why she was born in this dirty old town. Well, it’s your dirty old town, Anna. I wanted you to have one. I wanted it to be here. I wanted this dust to be yours, something you could hang on to. You’re going to be eighteen. I want you to have this. I was born in San Diego, but I hang on to Rowland Heights. Baby, you get Tijuana. All of it. I did this on purpose.

I met my love by the gas works wall Dreamed a dream by the old canal I kissed my girl by the factory wall Dirty old town Dirty old town Dirty old town Dirty old town

* *

Dirty old town, Anna. I just want you to have this dirty old town. If I can’t give you anything else, then I give you this.

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