Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” continues to resonate with audiences

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The Dropkick Murphys’ sound is almost unmistakable. Certainly, for fans of Irish music and rock music, the Celtic band from Quincy, Massachusetts is almost perfect. The band’s sound isn’t just about St. Patrick’s Day revelry. In the course of the group’s 20-plus year history, there are plenty of songs by Dropkick Murphys to play over and over without a holiday, Irish or otherwise. While the band has amassed a catalog full of good songs, one perennial remains a perennial favorite. The popularity of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” can be seen in the various scenarios in which it has appeared.

“I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys

It is difficult if not impossible to measure how many people learned about this song via the police procedural television show “Rizzoli & Isles,” or the Martin Scorsese film, “The Departed,”  and how many people simply knew about it because they had access to Dropkick Murphys’ 2005 album, “The Warrior’s Code.”

Regardless of how people found their way to the song, the fact remains that it is a stirring tune. The opening with its rousing stomp created by the mixture of drums, accordion, guitar, and mandolin is distinctive. The frantic pace is only slightly slowed during the chorus, which is mostly “I’m Shipping Up to Boston/whoa-oh-oh/ I’m shipping up to Boston/whoa-oh-oh/ Shipping off to Boston/to find my wooden leg.”

The lyrics to “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” are attributed to Woody Guthrie, and lead singer Ken Casey found them in the folk singer’s archive that the late singer’s family invited him to examine, according to Boston.com. The invitation came as the result of the late singer’s grandson being a fan of Dropkick Murphys, the website further reports.

While it might seem like Guthrie and Dropkick Murphys have nothing in common, but each supports and sings the plight of the working-class. Rollingstone.com and other media outlets detail Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) using “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in his public appearances much to the ire of Dropkick Murphys. The band took to Twitter to tell the politician to stop using their song and that they “hated” him. The governor’s anti-union stance did not sit well with the pro-union band.

The story of a “sailor peg” who has lost his leg fits the Celtic punk instrumentation perfectly. The easy rhymes make the song almost funny, but then, considering that a similar fate might have been true for sailors in certain time periods adds an air of solemnity to the tune. But because the lyrics are repetitive and shout-y, they are fun to sing along with.

Regardless of how and when audiences first heard “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” the song practically cements Dropkick Murphys’ penchant for detailing the plight of the working-class and disenfranchised. The approach and the Celtic punk instrumentation continues to resonate with listeners.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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