Saturday, November 10, 2018

My Father Sings . . . Rocky Mountain Water

This version is way more 70s-psychedelic than the song my dad sang.  Dad's version is acoustic and mellow, pitched a key or two lower, a little more yearny.  And Dad's words (lyrics below) were always a bit less alcoholic. I don't know if Frishberg's jazz version (he's the original composer) was my dad's primary source, but I do know this has been a perennial favorite at our house.

* * *




Well, since I left Montana, covered lots of ground.
Been from Corsicana up to Puget Sound
Been from Santa Clara down to Santa Fe
Drinkin' milk and root beer all along the way.
Now my rollin's over and you know I'm Rocky Mountain bound.

Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
If I don't get some of that Rocky Mountain water
I declare I'm gonna lose my mind.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Yes, it tastes like champagne wine.

Now I've done some cruisin'.
I've been everywhere.
Seen some heavy losin'.
And I done my share.
Now I'm tired of ramblin' like a rollin' stone,
Keepin' dry and lonesome as a buffalo bone.
Wanta wet my whistle in that good ol' Rocky Mountain air.

Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
If I don't get some of that Rocky Mountain water
I declare I'm gonna lose my mind.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Yes, it tastes like champagne wine.

Whiskey tastes my money
Everywhere I roam. 
Even took my honey
From my honeycomb. 
Now I don't want no brandy, I don't want no rum.
Makes my mouth all cotton and my nose all numb. 
Guess I best be headin' for my good ol' Rocky Mountain home. 

Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
If I don't get some of that Rocky Mountain water
I declare I'm gonna lose my mind.
Rocky Mountain water tastes so fresh and fine.
Yes, it tastes like champagne wine. 
I mean it tastes so fresh and fine. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

My Father Sings . . . The John B. Sails

Before the Beach Boys made "Sloop John B" their own in 1966,  the Kingston Trio recorded "The John B. Sails" in 1958, from an old Bahamaian song, collected at least as early as 1927 by Carl Sandberg in his American Songbag.  At my house growing up, I heard the song referred to both ways interchangeably and the version we sang somewhere between the two.

After all the excitement of yesterday, happily resolved . . . Dad said, "In all my wildest dreams, I never imagined my response to a doctor telling me I had a blood clot from armpit to elbow would be, YES!" and pumped his arm in victory . . . this just seems appropriate to celebrate my Dad's coming home as planned, at last, to his own home where he hasn't spent a night for six long weeks and sitting down in his own kitchen,  at the little table across from Mom, to a promised breakfast of scrambled eggs and green onions . . . Or if a celebration is still too beforehand, my parents still sitting around in Dad's hospital room last I heard, cooling their heels, waiting this morning to be cleared for takeoff, I'm offering it as theme song and heartfelt hope in their behalf,  Let me go home! Let me go home! I just wanna go home!   I feel so break up, I wanna go home!

* * *



We come on the sloop John B
My grandfather and me
'Round Nassau town we did roam
Drinking all night
Got into a fight
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

So hoist up the John B's sails
See how the mainsail sets
Send for the Captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

Well, the first mate he got drunk
Broke into the people's trunk
Constable had to come and take him away
Sheriff John Stone
Won't you leave me alone
Well, this this is the worst trip
I've ever been on

So hoist up the John B's sail
See how the mainsail sets
Send for the Captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

Well, the poor cook he caught the fits
And threw away all my grits
Then he took and he ate up all of my corn
Sheriff John Stone
Why don't you leave me alone?
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

So hoist up the John B's sail
See how the mainsail sets
Send for the Captain ashore
Let me go home, let me go home
I wanna go home
Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home

Well, I feel so break up
I wanna go home...

[There's also a verse Dad sometimes sang that goes something like: 

The steward he got stewed
Ran 'round the poop deck nude
Constable had to come and take him away . . . ]

Thursday, November 8, 2018

My Father Sings . . . Catch a Falling Star

For me, these songs are a pocketful of starlight.  Seeds gathered to set tomorrow's dark garden to shimmer with as many songs as yesterday.

This morning my dad was rushed to the hospital. I'm on my way down there now, but I wanted one more star in my pocket.  Especially the lines,
For when your troubles start multiplyin',
-- And they just might --
It's easy to forget them without tryin'
With just a pocketful of starlight
I've noticed as I've begun this collecting that there are waves and seasons of songs. A few are perennial, others, usually in a cluster together,  rose in ascendancy and then set.  Some my younger sisters don't even know and some I'm not as familiar with since they've become part of Dad's repertoire since I left home.  This is a song we sang during my early teens. I thought the whimsy of the words and the melody right in the sweet spot of most singers' range was just swoony and asked for it over and over again.

I remember singing this song once at least in our van filled with starlight while driving cross-country from Kettering, Ohio, to visit grandparents in Utah. We often sang together in the car to fill the empty miles, going around in turns to choose a favorite song to sing next.  My parents always drove the 24+hour trip through the night. We usually left in the early evening so the nighttime driving could come while drivers were the freshest, stopping only to refuel and refresh and trade drivers. I loved settling into the wide open road as the sun went down, watching the moon rise over the empty prairies. Then waking up somewhere new, all misty pink and unfamiliar trees. But then, by the next evening, always ending up back where my earliest memories happened and in the arms of people I loved and who loved me.

* * *



Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day

For love may come and tap you on the shoulder, some starless night
Just in case you feel you want to hold her
You'll have a pocketful of starlight

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day

For love may come and tap you on the shoulder, some starless night
And Just in case you feel you want to hold her
You'll have a pocketful of starlight

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day

For when your troubles start multiplyin', and they just might
It's easy to forget them without tryin'
With just a pocketful of starlight

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

My Father Sings . . . Where Have All the Flowers Gone

I'm here two hundred miles north and find myself thinking, "Oh, I wonder what Dad will think when I tell him . . . " and then realizing I won't be going over to sit with him through the afternoon.  I'll have to call.  Because I can.  Because he can answer and we can talk even two hundred miles away. Though in the past, it was usually Mom I called to talk to and expected her to pass my love along.

I will call. I'll call and talk with Dad himself.

I heard from Mom this morning that they're getting ready for Dad to return home later this week.  His new medication is in, the one he'll be taking now for the rest of his life.   Dad, of course, read through all of the information and discovered one of the side effects of his new medication is that it might affect his eyes . . . and his voice.

That just wrings something in me. No, no, not fair  . . .  Maybe it won't happen to him.  "Not everyone gets every side effect," says my mom.  I hear again my dad saying just a week ago, Old age is not for sissies.  And Grandpa before him, joking darkly, No one gets out of here alive.  

To think of my Dad without his voice--  I meant to record him singing each of these songs once he got his strength back--  I thought--  I wanted to-- Why didn't I?

When I sang this song as a girl with my dad I felt it was a lovely thing, the circle of life and all, the graveyards covered with flowers to be plucked by girls who fall for young soldiers who are buried beneath flowers.  But it seems not quite so sweet to me now.

* * *



Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone to young men every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers every one
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

Songwriters: Peter Seeger
Where Have All the Flowers Gone lyrics © The Bicycle Music Company

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

My Father Sings . . . The Battle of New Orleans

This was a favorite Saturday night sing-along, my brothers and I dancing out the running through the briers and brambles and bushes where a rabbit couldn't go, high-stepping with the bloody British, then slapping our own tails and exploding with the 'gator that lost his mind.  We played all the parts.

My idea of America has always included the scrappy backwoods underdog chasing the top-lofty redcoats of the world's mightiest empire out of town.  Sometimes we get so turned around, though. Are we the evil empire now?  Is it the rebel cause or the resistance we're fighting for? Redcoats, red hats, we keep playing all the parts, the good, the bad, the ugly.

Maybe because I've grown up on the songs my Dad sings, I still have faith in the plucky common sense and deep-down courage of my country to finally stand their true ground, to do the right thing, to hold fire until we can look the problem right in the eyes then really give it all we've got. We've done it before. We'll do it again.

Go vote.

* * *





In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'.
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

We looked down the river and we seed the British come
And there must have been a hundred of 'em beatin' on the drum.
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring.
We stood behind our cotton bales and didn't say a thing.

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'.
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Old Hickory said we could take 'em by surprise,
If we didn't fire our muskets till we looked 'em in the eyes.
We held our fire till we seed their faces well,
Then we opened up our squirrel guns and gave 'em . . . Well, we

Fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'.
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Yeah, they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go.
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

We fired our cannon till the barrel melted down,
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round.
We filled his head with cannonballs 'n' powdered his behind
And when we touched the powder off, the gator lost his mind --

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin'.
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Yeah, they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go.
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hut, hut, three, four
Sound off, three, four
Hut, hut, three, four
Sound off, three, four
Hut, hut, three, fourWriter/s: JAMES MORRIS

Monday, November 5, 2018

My Father Sings . . . City of New Orleans

Steve Goodman wrote this song, but Dad says Arlo Guthrie sings it better. When Dad sings it, there's usually a catch and repeat at "I'll be gone -- I'll be gone -- I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done, " while Dad reaches for the tricky chord change there.  I expect to hear it when I play Arlo's version, and I miss it not being there.

Dad reminded me that Steve Goodman died young of leukemia (age 36) and grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in Chicago.  Perhaps not  the stereotype you might be expecting of someone who wrote the "perfect country and western song."  Of all his songs, though, City of New Orleans is Steve Goodman's classic.

I think it's so very American, the lonely but loving outsider voice of this song. The lone and lowly joining with other lone and lowly, playing cards together, passing a bottle in a kind of ecumenical communion,  passengers and porters all cradled in the same rhythm, mothers nursing their babies, each calling out to the nation at large, claiming a rightful place, "Don't you know me?  I'm your native [child]." And the stubborn sense of optimism that this country can be a place where even the "sons of Pullman porters, and the sons of engineers" get a turn to ride at their ease, on their way to future places.

Anyway,  that's what this daughter of a (mechanical) engineer, riding her father's magic carpet made of song, thinks. And very American, too, the bit of blues mixed in.



* * *



Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central, Monday morning rail,
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.
All along the southbound odyssey:
The train pulled out at Kankakee
And rolls along past houses, farms and fields,
Passin' trains that have no names
And freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.
Good morning, America!
How are ya?
Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son.
I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans
And I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done
Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car,
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle.
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of Pullman Porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpet made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.
Good morning, America!
How are ya?
Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son.
I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done
Nighttime on the City of New Orleans:
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee,
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness,
Rolling down to the sea.
But all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his songs again:
"The passengers will please refrain . . . "
This train has got the disappearing railroad blues.
Good night, America. 
How are you?
Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son.
I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done

Songwriters: Steve Goodman

Sunday, November 4, 2018

My Father Sings . . . Rock of Ages

My last day recently visiting with Dad, we talked about this old hymn, one of his best-loved. When he and Mom were in England this spring, visiting family history sites, he was going to make a side trip to Burrington Combe, Somerset, where the Reverend Toplady, an Anglican minister,  sheltered from a storm in a cleft of a rock and was inspired to compose this classic hymn.

Dad leads the choir when he's in his home ward and recently, when he had the choir perform "Rock of Ages," he first told the congregation the story he now tells me. His voice shakes as he sings, then he pauses to point out the symbolism. I listen to the trembling words come from him with such steady forward faith.

We thought we were going to lose him for a bit there this month. 

I can only say that now that danger seems past. But the last verse still causes a pang to hear him say. Someday, not today. Someday, my best comfort will be his assurance in that world unknown.


* * *



  1. Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
    Let me hide myself in Thee;
    Let the water and the blood,
    From Thy wounded side which flowed,
    Be of sin the double cure,
    Save from wrath and make me pure.
  2. Not the labor of my hands
    Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
    Could my zeal no respite know,
    Could my tears forever flow,
    All for sin could not atone;
    Thou must save, and Thou alone.
  3. While I draw this fleeting breath,
    When my eyes shall close in death,
    When I rise to worlds unknown,
    And behold Thee on Thy throne,
    Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
    Let me hide myself in Thee.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

My Father Sings . . . Little Deuce Coupe

Mom kept track of time by the births of babies, but Dad counted years by the cars we owned: a series of Jeeps and pickup trucks he'd buy used, then rebuild and resell for a profit. I always kind of hated when he finally got a truck all gorgeous and working well because it was only a matter of time until it disappeared and some woebegone clunker took its turn at the transformation.

During my girlhood in West Jordan,  there were a gray Jeep, a red Willey's station wagon, and two CJs ("what you'd call a Jeep Wrangler today"): one a white soft-top and the other, my favorite, a beautiful sparkly grape purple1969 CJ5 -- this one almost broke my heart when he sold it and started all over with something else.  Dad also had three green pickups, a Willey's and a Jeep Gladiator, and a sparkly green Chevy half-ton (this truck was the only one he bought new).  In those days, I thought Chevrolet the loveliest name and fully intended to bestow it upon a daughter, though I could never quite decide if it oughtn't to be Chevrolette.  During these years, Dad also bought an old Dodge pickup for $25, worked on it for a while, then decided it was a lost cause and sold it for $75.  One spring, he bought a motorcycle -- brand new -- an orange Yamaha 250 Enduro.  He gave us rides along the canal road, hugging him tight, the wind wild and free, after he ensured our helmets were snugged down tight.  Other times he'd go off to ride alone on a sunny afternoon, but he found it wasn't much fun to ride by himself, so the next spring, Dad sold the motorcycle after about 400 miles (and for only a loss of $100) and bought instead the little Sears garden tractor that he still uses to plow the garden and to scrape snow.

Reading through his life history this past week, it made me laugh with delight to see he had a table including every single one of the cars he's ever owned, up to the minute!

As far as the Little Deuce Coupe, when singing this song, Dad would stop to explain that this was a little hot rod, a Ford V8, Model B. And the "pink slip" means he'd won someone else's registration in a drag race.

* * *



Little deuce Coupe
You don't know what I got
Little deuce Coupe
You don't know what I got

Well I'm not braggin' babe so don't put me down
But I've got the fastest set of wheels in town
When something comes up to me he don't even try
Cause if I had a set of wings man I know she could fly
She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got

(My little deuce coupe)
(You don't know what I got)

Just a little deuce coupe with a flat head mill
But she'll walk a Thunderbird like (she's) it's standin' still
She's ported and relieved and she's stroked and bored.
She'll do a hundred and forty with the top end floored
She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don't know what I got)

She's got a competition clutch with the four on the floor
And she purrs like a kitten till the lake pipes roar
And if that ain't enough to make you flip your lid
There's one more thing, I got the pink slip daddy

And comin' off the line when the light turns green
Well she blows 'em outta the water like you never seen
I get pushed out of shape and it's hard to steer
When I get rubber in all four gears
She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don't know what I got)

She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don't know what I got)
She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don't know what I got)

Friday, November 2, 2018

My Father Sings . . . Back Home Again

My dad has been singing this song throughout the week. Today, in just a few more hours, he will be home.   Home, even in the skilled nursing facility, because my mother will be back at his side.

She has always been his refuge. This beautiful, bright, well-spoken, classy woman who could see a shining side of him not always visible to others. No wonder Dad always told us how proud he felt to walk into any room side-by-side with her.

In addition to his rural roots, my dad also had a stutter.  Has, I guess, though we forget it.  It is so much a part of his uber-competent self. I read this week in his life history about a time Mom and Dad had a difference of opinion while they were still dating. He was holding forth, criticizing someone my mom was defending, but he got caught in a verbal block.  And my mom just listened. Then, when he had gotten his words out, she in her droll way said, "That's easy for you to say."

She had won his heart entirely.

College had not been all roses for my dad up to that point, even after all his effort to get there. After pneumonia his last quarter of high school, the doctors had told him he'd have to postpone going to the university until his lung sealed back up. At the last possible minute, he did heal and was declared good to go. But once he got there, many girls didn't want to go out a second time with him when they found out he hadn't, and wouldn't be serving a mission. Because of his stutter.  Though he'd petitioned all the way up to the top, even sitting down with Elder Delbert L. Stapley, a cousin of my dad's grandmother, to try somehow talk the powers that be into allowing him to go. As far as his studies, Dad couldn't decide between engineering, history and teaching, or speech therapy. And only after a year of general education and speech therapy classes, Dad decided speech therapy was the way to go

In those days, to register for a class, you stood in line in front of the table where the class you wanted had piled up cards for each available seat.  My dad finally got to the front of the line at the table in front of his speech therapist professor who asked him what he was doing there, "Wouldn't that be a case of the blind leading the blind? I think you should look for something else to do."

My dad walked away, heartsick, sat down against the wall and put his head in his hands, praying for some door to open, some way to seem clear. He wrote later,
As I was sitting there, a man about thirty years old came and stood by my chair and introduced himself as Mark Percival. He said that he had overheard my conversation with Dr. Morley and had noticed that I might be in need of help.  He mentioned that he also had a stuttering problem and that he wanted to help me. He asked me if I had other interests besides speech therapy and I told him that I had considered mechanical engineering. He got a surprised look on his face and told me that he was a new graduate assistant in the Mechanical Engineering Department and was going to be teaching beginning classes.  He took me over to the mechanical engineering desk and helped me register for classes. It was a direct and almost instant answer to my prayers and I am forever grateful for Mr. Mark Percival.
But even after choosing a major, Dad faced professors who told him he'd never be able to succeed as an engineer because of his stutter.  His prospective in-laws told their daughter his stutter was probably a sign of mental instability.

Once when first married, poor as church mice, my mom fell ill with the flu and suggested Dad go over to the Dairy Queen across the street and get a hamburger instead for his dinner.  A couple of young guys behind him in line got impatient with the time Dad took to order and purposely jostled his tray after he'd paid, spilling the milkshake onto his sandwich. They began to mock him with pretend stutters, until my dad just wanted to haul off and punch them. Instead, my dad -- my competent, confident, capable, clever, economical father --  dropped his ruined, already-paid-for  meal there on the floor and walked out.

He walked back straight to my mother's arms, sobbing into her neck, which I can't imagine.  He gets teary at beautiful music, but to actually cry? She just held him, telling him over and over, "It's going to be all right. It's going to be all right."


* * *





There's a storm across the valley, clouds are rollin' in.
The afternoon is heavy on his shoulders. 
There's a truck out on the four lane, a mile or more away.
The whinin' of his wheels just makes it colder.
He's an hour away from ridin' on your prayers up in the sky.
And ten days on the road are barely gone.
There's a fire softly burning. Supper's on the stove.
But it's the light in your eyes that makes him warm.
Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.
Yes, and hey,  it's good to be back home again.
There's all the news to tell him, how did you spend your time?
And what's the latest thing the neighbors say.
And your mother called last Friday, sunshine made her cry.
And you felt the baby move just yesterday.
Yes, and hey, it's good to be back home again. Yes, it is.
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend
Yes, and hey it's good to be back home again
And oh, the time that I can lay this tired old body down
And feel your fingers feather soft on me
The kisses that I live for, the love that lights my way,
The happiness that livin' with you brings me.
It's the sweetest thing I know of, just spending time with you.
It's the little things that make a house a home,
Like a fire softly burning and supper on the stove,
The light in your eyes that makes me warm.
Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.
Yes, and hey, it's good to be back home again.
Hey, it's good to be back home again, you know it is.
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.
Hey, it's good to be back home again.
I said, hey, it's good to be back home again.

Songwriters: John Denver
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