I'm still reading Kenneth Allsop's "Hard Travellin' - the Hobo and his History" from 1967, which I am becoming convinced must surely stand as the standard reference work on the subject of the hobo. It is well-written, thorough and seems authoritative.
What came as something of a shock, however, was his account of the famous song "The Big Rock Candy Mountain." I've known this song ever since I was a Kindergartner; we used to sing it all the time. All of my kids became familiar with it as children, too. It enjoyed a resurgence of popularity when the Coen Brothers used it as the theme song to "O Brother Where Art Thou?" (2000).
The old recorded version (the vinyl noise is retained) used in the movie was sung by Harry McClintock, who claimed to be the songwriter. (This is disputed.) But the lyrics he sings aren't the original and complete lyrics; those are different, as this passage from Allsop's book makes clear. And they should be understood in their original context - which is creepy. Who knew what seemed a pleasant song about a fanciful candy land was really about the homosexual seduction of minors by the homeless? Ewww.
Here's the old McClintock recording of the song, by the way. I've heard a version of it that has McClintock's spoken introduction, but this is the song-only version that became the theme music to "O Brother Where Art Thou?"
Since I like musicology and stories about song origins, I was also interested to read about folklorist Alan Lomax' connection of the piece to the Norwegian song Oleanna, and a favorite play, Peer Gynt. (I provide links at the bottom of the Allsop excerpt.)
My friend Bob, e-mailing me about Alec Guinness in yesterday's blog, wrote, "Like a real spy, he just blends in, virtually unnoticed – like a real operative would." Yes... a friend of mine is a CIA operative. Interesting guy. When I first met him he made no impression on me whatsoever. Average height, average weight, totally indistinguishable looks. In fact, when he was away on a foreign posting for a few years, my wife mentioned him - and I had a difficult time recalling his face in my memory! I would think that this is exactly what a real spy looks like.
I also knew some operatives when I worked at the National Security Agency; once again, men of indistinguishable features, some bearded, given to wearing baseball caps and dark glasses and jogging suits. They make no impression at all. BUT - I'm guessing that to another operative they would stand out precisely because they don't stand out.
People have physical clues and give off vibes. I can often spot former Marines, rugby players, Mormons and reenactors in a crowd. (The Mormons are real easy to identify.) Once, in a line at a Wal-Mart, I decided to simply go for the gold and asked a guy in front of me, "Are you a rugby prop?" He was stunned. Likewise, I sometimes enjoy going up to a complete stranger and asking, "What ward (Mormon parish) are you in?"
Reenactors often give themselves away with eccentric facial hair and grooming. I was at a yard sale, once, and noted many historical books for sale by a fellow who waxed the tips of his mustache. "You wouldn't happen to do Great War reenacting, do you?" I asked. Hit the mark.
The other day I was in training on a boring subject, and, as is my wont to stay awake, I bought a little something to eat. I chose a small bag of honey-roasted cashews by Barcelona, a company based in Baltimore.
Note the logo and the art on the bags. I used to play a little game with my kids I called "good design-bad design." We'd be in a grocery store, and I'd take some package that appealed to me (or not), show it to the kids and ask, "Good design or bad design?" They'd look at it, cock their heads and think and render a decision. It was my little way to get them to think about art and design.
You know what the Barcelona bag design says to me? You're in a hell-hole gas station off the Jersey Turnpike, you've just used the filthiest men's room on the East Coast, and all the convenience store has to offer are these crappy bags of nuts - and they have a layer of dust on them. Some Third Worlder glumly rings up your purchase and you're off. Bad design. They need to re-do that logo.
Boy Uses Rugby Skills to Save Family from Fire. All I ever use 'em for is to hurt other players. I feel ashamed.
Annndddd... that's all for this week. Yard sales tomorrow. I'll be dashing about in my convertible bug. Even better, my wife flew my middle daughter home for a few days as a surprise for my birthday, so we'll have her most welcome company!
Have a great weekend!
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