Paint the town red

In 1837, Henry de la Poer Beresford, the 3rd Marquess of Waterford, literally painted an English town red.

Nothing good happens when a middle aged man from the Iron Range gets a Doja Cat song stuck in his head. Plump, scruffy, festooned in plaid with a Stormy Kromer cap on my head, now is not the time for me to mouth “B****, I said what I said” at a fellow motorist. And yet, here we are.

A lot of people say their musical taste is eclectic. Mine would be admissible in court if I ever need to plead insanity. Rock, country, rap, sure, but also Cossack choirs, Himalayan throat singers and dance hall music — both polka and electronica. Anything with a hook, man. I like a song that knows what it is, even if it’s not for everyone.

Doja Cat’s current hit is “Paint the Town Red.” It’s just the sort of song that infuriates anyone who uses the phrases “rap music” or “these days” without irony. She’s crass, cocky, profane and espouses none of the values that elevated the erstwhile Roman Empire. Yet she also shows self-awareness and growth if you listen closely to the lyrics, which happen to include phrases like “you can’t talk no s*** without penalties.” 

Part of the subversion comes from the way the song samples the 1964 Dionne Warwick hit, “Walk on By.” Then she repeats the phrase “paint the town red,” essentially party slang from the early 19th century. 

By the way, one purported origin of the phrase “paint the town red” comes from a tale of drunken debauchery featuring an Irish nobleman

Henry de la Poer Beresford, the 3rd Marquess of Waterford

In 1837, Henry de la Poer Beresford, the 3rd Marquess of Waterford, drank all day with his friends near a small English town called Melton Mowbray. When the keeper of a toll gate told them they were too drunk to pass, they snuck into town anyway.

They uncovered barrels of red paint from a construction site and began painting the doors of the town. When local authorities tried to stop them, they attacked the officers and painted them red. They threw a pub sign into the river. Then they climbed up the side of another building to cover a decorative swan in scarlet.

It took 18 months, but eventually the Marquess and his friends would be fined 100 pounds each for their disorderly conduct, a hefty sum in Victorian England. When the swan was restored in 1988, traces of red paint could still be found in its crevices. Some say that’s where “paint the town red” comes from.

Old Henry would come to be known as the “Mad Marquess” of Waterford because this sort of behavior became pretty typical for him. Around the same time period, a man dressed in a mask and winged cape leapt across the rooftops of London, terrorizing the people he encountered. He captured the imagination of the city, eliciting disgust, awe and fear. They called him “Spring-heeled Jack,” and he became a sort of super-hero folk character in pulp novels for a century to come. Critics theorize that he was the original inspiration for Batman. 

Spring-heeled Jack became English pulp novel fodder.

But get this, many of the time firmly believed the Mad Marquess to be Spring-heeled Jack. There’s actually a compelling case that he was. One man’s drunken exploits became exaggerated into a two-century folk legend.

Anyway, Henry got married and settled down in Waterford, giving up the wild ways of his youth. He died falling off a horse in 1859.

There’s an interesting Iron Range connection to this story. The title of the marquess of Waterford includes the name “de la Poer.” This dates back to the original Norman soldiers granted land for rousting the vikings out of Ireland, one of them named “Poer,” a French word for “poor.” Over the course of eight centuries, “Poer” became warped by the Celtic brogue of the local population into “Power,” which many medieval families in Waterford adopted as a surname.

One such family produced a teenage boy named John Power who, in 1863, ran away from home to join the Union army on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. After the war, he settled in Michigan where he and his wife had eight children. The youngest boy was named Victor Power. This early 20th century mayor of Hibbing forced U.S. Steel to pay taxes that built many fine amenities across the Iron Range.

Power lost a 1924 race for Congress, however, after a newspaper ran a salacious report of his drunken debauchery the week before the election. So it went for the latter day Marquess of Waterford.

Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does often rhyme.”

Doja Cat said, “I’m going to glow up one more time.”

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. No doubt you are aware the “controversy” sort of surrounding Andre 3000 and his new file release. I enjoyed listening to the album while doing some graphic work. Doja Cat would nit have done it for me in that moment. That is okay. Tomorrow I might be doing some demo work. She would be great. Music has its moments. And so did the nice bridge to VP. Thanks

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