Sarah Recommends: “Dirty Old Town” by The Pogues

Cover image from IF I SHOULD FALL FROM GRACE WITH GOD — Island Records

I’m going to brag for a minute. Don’t worry, later on I’ll get my comeuppance.

It’s Cannes Film Festival time. So I’m looking at photos of people on the red carpet and wishing I was there. I’ve attended Cannes twice and adore it.

I was just a tourist, a lover of cinema with little money to cover more than airfare on my first trip to Cannes. I shared a one bedroom apartment with ten people — but all I used it for was sleep. There was too much to do. During the day, I saw films and explored nearby towns. My pale skin burned to a tan. At night, I went out with friends. We crashed parties — met film execs and ate dinner on their expense accounts. I danced on a table with a glass of champagne in my hand, grinning into the lens of a cameraman as he filmed me twirl in my Goodwill castoffs.

I attended my second festival for work — staying in a villa with my own room. It all seemed glamorous at first. I hoofed it for miles each day in heels and a fancy dress, shooting interviews with directors and actors and producing short-form documentaries. The work was fun but intense. So much adrenaline pumped through me that it took a full day to realize I was sick with a strain of the French flu, which came paired with bronchitis and a throat infection.

I was quarantined in my bedroom. I shook with full body tremors. I lost almost ten pounds in three days due to fever and lack of sustenance. During the worst of it, I awoke to shitty dance music coming from a party yacht over a half a mile away. The flashing lights from the yacht glinted in the villa’s pool outside my bedroom window. I wondered if I’d die there, alone.

But the antibiotics did their work and soon I was back to mine, rallying for the last days of the festival. Still weak, but intent on not being a spoil-sport, I hit a club with my co-workers on our final night.

I’m not one of those people who believes Disco sucks, but man does the music in Cannes discotheques suck. I kept hoping for the perfect song to play, something to uplift me, but most of the music was the stuff I’d heard coming from the yacht — the type of EDM that could be shat out by a computer.

Around 4 am, I left the club with aching feet. I took my heels off and shuffled along the cobblestones barefoot. A memory came to me —  walking that same street with a roommate during my first trip. He was a Dutch filmmaker who longed to win the Palme d’Or and walk the red carpet with a drag queen. He didn’t take any of the Cannes mania seriously. We’d sipped Pastis from plastic cups and he’d grinned at the glitz around us, singing “Dirty Old Town.”

And it hit me. I was in a town suffused with glamour and beauty, and I’d done things I’d never thought possible while growing up in a small Midwestern city. Even knocked down, I was gloriously alive.

Back to the villa I went, singing “Dirty Old Town” to the empty streets. I couldn’t help but smile as the first glints of sunshine came across the horizon.

I’m going to make me a good sharp axe
Shining steel tempered in the fire
I’ll chop you down like an old dead tree
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

(Song recommendation by Sarah Skiles)

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