Posted by: Tom Triumph | May 10, 2009

34. Big Rock Candy Mountain: Harry McClintock

Flipping through a book of car songs for children, I came across this one (the lyrics were changed to be acceptable to a third grader). For the rest of the day, the tune and lyrics stuck in my head. I recommend the use of a recording of this song when you teach it.

For those poetry purists, I realize this is a song. I lump this with my “This Land is Your Land”, “I’ll Fly Away” and “Amazing Grace” pile of social justice “poems” that are songs. My rationale is that the lyrics and how the author uses language makes this blog a good home. There is a lot here, but the music will allow your students to take this to heart. The words and style are the lesson.

Beyond words and phrasing, imagery and hyperbole are essential lessons. The historical context is also a lesson in itself. How about a lesson on the power of music to enlighten and become an agent of change (perhaps “agent” is too strong of a word here)? Can a poem be fun?

Where this really came into play for me was in the concept of utopias. Read this alongside “Animal Farm”, “The Giver” or “The Uglies”. What is McClintock’s outlook on the upcoming utopia? In many ways, this is a child’s utopia. Why? At what age does it go away?

The website from the National Institute of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, where I picked up these lyrics, reminds us about context with regard to language that was alright in the 1920s, that homelessness is not to be taken lightly, cigarettes and alcohol are bad for our health, and includes links and warnings about candy. I am not quite sure why they are posting it, other than to get you to click on the hyperlinks attached to the above mentioned vices. You can check it out yourself here. Keep that in mind as McClintock sells your students on a hobo utopia.

Big Rock Candy Mountain
Harry McClintock

On a summer day in the month of May a burly bum came hiking
Down a shady lane through the sugar cane, he was looking for his liking.
As he roamed along he sang a song of the land of milk and honey
Where a bum can stay for many a day, and he won’t need any money

Oh the buzzin’ of the bees in the cigarette trees near the soda water fountain,
At the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings on the Big Rock Candy Mountains

There’s a lake of gin we can both jump in, and the handouts grow on bushes
In the new-mown hay we can sleep all day, and the bars all have free lunches
Where the mail train stops and there ain’t no cops, and the folks are tender-hearted
Where you never change your socks and you never throw rocks,
And your hair is never parted

Oh the buzzin’ of the bees in the cigarette trees near the soda water fountain,
At the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings on the Big Rock Candy Mountains

Oh, a farmer and his son, they were on the run, to the hay field they were bounding
Said the bum to the son, “Why don’t you come to the big rock candy mountains?”
So the very next day they hiked away, the mileposts they were counting
But they never arrived at the lemonade tide, on the Big Rock Candy Mountains

Oh the buzzin’ of the bees in the cigarette trees near the soda water fountain,
At the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings on the Big Rock Candy Mountains

One evening as the sun went down and the jungle fires were burning,
Down the track came a hobo hiking, and he said “Boys, I’m not turning.”
“I’m heading for a land that’s far away beside the crystal fountains;”
“So come with me, we’ll go and see the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, there’s a land that’s fair and bright,
The handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars all are empty and the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees and the cigarete trees,
The lemonade springs where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, all the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
The farmer’s trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay
Oh I’m bound to go where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall, the wind don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, you never change your socks
And little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats and the railroad bulls are blind
There’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too
And you can paddle all around ’em in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains the jails are made of tin,
And you can walk right out again as soon as you are in
There ain’t no short-handled shovels, no axes, saws or picks,
I’m a-goin’ to stay where you sleep all day
Where they hung the jerk that invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

I’ll see you all this comin’ fall in the Big Rock Candy Mountains!

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