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A-trickling down the rocks
January 2, 2010 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Big Rock Candy Mountain is just a wonderful little song. I don't know many hobo tunes, but this one gets stuck in my head from time to time. It has been covered by Burl Ives, a drunken Tom Waits, and then was reworked as the theme song to the amazingly awesome animated TV show that is The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.
posted by GavinR (61 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's also the music for the Tender Crisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch Burger King advert and the intro music for O Brother Where Art Thou?
posted by Lizc at 6:17 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Drunken Tom Waits" sounds just like Brak.
posted by functionequalsform at 6:20 PM on January 2, 2010


The Burger King thing I was reluctant to include, and the Cohen brothers clip I couldn't find but then again I didn't search hard enough obviously. The soundtrack to that movie is absolutely where I first got hooked on the song.

Also, I can't say enough about how great Flapjack is.
posted by GavinR at 6:25 PM on January 2, 2010


thanks...

for you darn kids: When I was young (and we walked to school two miles, uphill (both ways) through three feet of snow) we spent a part of every day singing songs like "Big Rock Candy Mountain"... there's not a one of us in my generation that can't sing that song, and a hundred others like it... and, we're better people for it....

the hell with the bail out... we need more folk songs!
posted by HuronBob at 6:27 PM on January 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


Laugh-Out-Loud Cats FTW.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:45 PM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell do a delightful kiddi-fied derivative version of this. Their harmonies are just so pretty.

I am sorry to admit that I didn't know about the much more fun hobo version; thanks GavinR. (Boy is the Sherman family going to be confused when the playcount on their slideshow video suddenly jumps.)
posted by AgentRocket at 7:07 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


After watching some clips AND reading the Wikipedia entry AND looking at the Official Page...is that a kid's show or what?
posted by DU at 7:09 PM on January 2, 2010


It's also the music for the Tender Crisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch Burger King advert

Poor Hootie.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 7:10 PM on January 2, 2010


Man, anyone know if Billy Bragg has done a cover of this?
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 7:13 PM on January 2, 2010


Bowdlerization. (among other crimes)
posted by telstar at 7:25 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell do a delightful kiddi-fied derivative version of this.

WTF is this? My only reward, so far in life, for knowing all the words to "BRCM" has been hearing my three-year-old sing about paddling all around a lake of whiskey in a big canoe. And it's priceless.

Thanks for the post!
posted by palliser at 7:30 PM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wow, "drunken Tom Waits" still sounds like a poor man's Don Van Vliet.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:34 PM on January 2, 2010


HuronBob, we did, too -- we called them, imprecisely, "Dad's cowboy songs." Sadly, our government now feels the need to accompany its transcription of the lyrics to this song with the following warning: "smoking and alcohol addictions are extremely harmful to your health; and no situation will be improved by having easy access to cigarettes or alcohol, as promised in the fictional (and extremely unhealthy!) Big Rock Candy Mountains."
posted by palliser at 7:36 PM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Thanks for the cool post. The Beat Farmers did a nice version.
posted by marxchivist at 7:39 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the only Candy Mountain song I know... Chaaarlieeeee
posted by msbutah at 7:47 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks. I first heard this from O Brother, and I love the song. Goes well, if you're interested, with Utah Philips.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:53 PM on January 2, 2010


I learned this song from my grandpa, an actual railroad cop in 1920s Texas, but it was the version sung by the late Country Dick Montana that I love best. Must've heard the Beat Farmers play it a hundred different times.
posted by kenlayne at 8:08 PM on January 2, 2010


I've had this song going around in my head for the last few days, and now this post has locked it in for the forseeable future...

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
All the cops have wooden legs,
The bulldogs all have rubber teeth,
And the hens lay soft boiled eggs.

posted by robcorr at 8:09 PM on January 2, 2010


This is one of the songs I know by heart and would sing to myself when walking the long trek to school through the woods growing up.

All the other ones where murder ballads. I was kind of the weird kid.
posted by The Whelk at 8:15 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just came in to mention that whilst researching a project a couple years back I learned (as the wikipedia link mentions) that the song was written as a hobo recruiting a child with false promises about a great life on the road. The child would be used for panhandling (because they earned more) and for sex, as shown in the removed stanza in which the child being conned replies:

"I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I'll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains."


The song seemed rather dark and sinister after I learned that.
posted by sharkfu at 8:15 PM on January 2, 2010 [15 favorites]


The song seemed rather dark and sinister after I learned that.

This is my like Aunt thinking Mack The Knife is a jaunty song about a charming cad , right?
posted by The Whelk at 8:20 PM on January 2, 2010


Um, yeah I was going to say what sharkfu was -- I've heard it was a hobo song that was meant to lure kids onto the rails to basically be slaves for them (work slave and sexual slaves). I can't believe that doesn't even show up in the wikipedia entry.
posted by mathowie at 8:27 PM on January 2, 2010


Sadly, our government now feels the need to accompany its transcription of the lyrics to this song with the following warning

Holy shit -- I thought you were kidding and then I clicked on the link and now I want to cry for the children. What's next, warning labels about carbon taxes on matchbox cars?
posted by Forktine at 8:32 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see some substantiation of the song-as-bait thing. It certainly seems plausible though! And that NIH link was insane. Why the hell do they have the song on their site anyhow?
posted by serazin at 8:44 PM on January 2, 2010


Buzzkill! I used to like this song!!
posted by theredpen at 8:49 PM on January 2, 2010


the song was written as a hobo recruiting a child with false promises about a great life on the road.

The version that I have has a whole intro by the guy who either wrote it or knew the guy who did who supported this interpretation. I think I got it from the Smithsonian Folkways recording or something similar. It's also weirdly racist, my version has a line about "where they hung the Turk that invented work..."
posted by jessamyn at 9:11 PM on January 2, 2010


It wouldn't be a folk song without a sinister backstory now would it?
posted by The Whelk at 9:25 PM on January 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


On a website where the pro's beware 'cause a blue background's a'glowin'
Comes a cross cyclin' mathowie and he said my viking's a'showin'
We're blazing a trail with pb in tail by the pepsi blue fountains
So come with me an' we’ll go an' see the MetaFilter Mountains

In the MetaFilter Mountains where the secret word is "the."
Where threads will all wendell with the Westphalia Treaty
Where the quonsars all are schmoopy and the cat scans every day
Where the jon emcees with our overthunk beans
jessamyn enamors, cortex ban-hammers
In the MetaFilter Mountains
posted by peeedro at 9:31 PM on January 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Wikipedia article mentions the sinister backstory /now/...
posted by DataPacRat at 9:32 PM on January 2, 2010


Okay, fuck that NIH link.

no situation will be improved by having easy access to cigarettes or alcohol

I read in a comic book that Dope will get through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.
posted by marxchivist at 9:36 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Despite efforts, there are still some trolls in the Metafilter Mountains, but they turn to stone and ash in the light of our Brand New Day.
posted by The Whelk at 9:45 PM on January 2, 2010


From The Hobo's Horn Book (1930) by George Milburn:

In many small cities and towns the children of
poor whites use the railroad yards as their playgrounds,
From these urchins the jockers sometimes recruit their
road kids, and to entice them they tell them roseate tales
of tramp life. These fabrications are known as "ghost
stories." To homeguards "The Big Rock Candy Moun-
tains" may appear a nonsense song, but to all pied pipers
in on the know it is an amusing exaggeration of the ghost
stories used in recruiting kids.

One sunny day in the month of May
A jocker he come hiking;
He come to a tree, and "Ah!" says he,
"This is just to my liking!"

In the very same month on the very same day
A hoosier's son came hiking;
Said the bum to the son, "O, will you come
To the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Chorus:

"TU show you the bees
And the cigarette trees,

ex

The Hobo's Hornbook

And the soda-water fountains,
And the lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains."

So they started away on the very same day,
The bum and the kid together,
To romp and to rove in the cigarette grove
In the land of sunny weather.

They dreamed and hiked for many days,
The mile posts they were counting
But they never arrived at the lemonade tide
And the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

The punk rolled up his big blue eyes,
And he said to the jocker, "Sandy,
I've hiked and hiked and counted ties,
But I ain't seen no candy.

i've hiked and hiked till my feet "re sore,
111 be God damned if I hike any more
To be a homeguard with a lemonade card
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains/3


Without citation, from WP:

Before recording the song, McClintock cleaned it up considerably from the version he sang as a street busker in 1897. Originally the song described a child being recruited into hobo life by tales of the "big rock candy mountain". Such recruitment actually occurred, with hobos enchanting children with tales of adventure called ghost stories by other hobos. In proof of his authorship of the song, McClintock published the original words, the last stanza of which was:

The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
And said to the jocker, "Sandy,
I've hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain't seen any candy.
I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I'll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains."

posted by oneirodynia at 9:52 PM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Bob Dylan played the "songwriter's version" of this on his Theme Time Radio Hour in March (and was rerun a few weeks ago, which is where I heard it, which inspired this blog post - a transcript of Dylan's introduction, and detailing more information about Harry McClintock the man who claims he wrote it in 1898 and often gets credit for it, although that claim has been challenged.
posted by julen at 9:54 PM on January 2, 2010


Gavin Bryars did an extraordinary and soothing composition built upon a recording he took from a down-and-out: Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet. (Background and sample at last link). Highly recommended.
posted by fcummins at 1:53 AM on January 3, 2010


This is exactly how a thread on Metafilter should evolve... good work folks! (even to those of you that have, forever, turned this song dark for me! :-/ )
posted by HuronBob at 4:20 AM on January 3, 2010


Wait. Flapjax got his own show?

You know what that means?

Ponies can't be far behind!
posted by humannaire at 4:32 AM on January 3, 2010


Flapjack is a weird and subversive show. I love it.
posted by minimii at 5:34 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It sounds like the hobo-kid backstory has separate confirmation from that 1930 Hobo Handbook, but on the other hand, it's rarely possible to say what a folk song is "really" about. Certainly, McClintock's version shouldn't be considered necessarily definitive here. According to the Dreamtime podcast, he "made something of a career of claiming authorship of traditional songs that he didn't write," claiming to have written several songs when he was 15 or 16 that are clearly much older. And he lost a copyright infringement case in which he claimed to have written "Big Rock Candy Mountain"; the judge found that, rather, it was a traditional song that anyone could sing and record.

The Hobo Handbook's backstory is a little more nuanced -- that the song was not itself used to lure young boys onto the road, but was an exaggerated portrayal of the "ghost stories" that were used that way.
posted by palliser at 8:23 AM on January 3, 2010


I was so excited for this post because I thought it was about one of my favorite Wee Sing videos ever. I always thought the song was written for the video. And now that I know the backstory my favorite childhood videos is ruined...
posted by lilac girl at 9:18 AM on January 3, 2010


The song reflects (no matter that there may be slightly other readings seen in it) what many cultures have: an escape to a much better place where all will be well:
see: Shenendoah, as used by Eugene O'Neil; Over the Rainbow, The Blessed Isles, or even your wll-known Christian and Muslim Paradise.
posted by Postroad at 9:30 AM on January 3, 2010


Great, now I can't get the image of Captain K'nuckles buggering Flapjack out of my mind.

=(
posted by GavinR at 11:30 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Hobo Handbook's backstory is a little more nuanced -- that the song was not itself used to lure young boys onto the road, but was an exaggerated portrayal of the "ghost stories" that were used that way.

I pretty much agree with your comment, except for the "exaggerated" part. While it's clear that the song is about an imaginary land, it is not unusual in it's portrayal. From Nowhere in America: the Big Rock Candy Mountain and Other Comic Utopias:

'Green tells of being tricked into leaving Alabama as a young man to travel to Arkansas: "They told us in Arkansas the hogs just laying around already baked with the knives and the forks sticking in them ready to be et; and there was fritters a-frying in them ponds of grease; and that there was money trees where all you had to do was pick the money offen them like picking corn off the stalk."'
posted by oneirodynia at 11:32 AM on January 3, 2010



'Green tells of being tricked into leaving Alabama as a young man to travel to Arkansas: "They told us in Arkansas the hogs just laying around already baked with the knives and the forks sticking in them ready to be et; and there was fritters a-frying in them ponds of grease; and that there was money trees where all you had to do was pick the money offen them like picking corn off the stalk."'


Huh. I'm suddenly reminded of something I read a while back (I wanna say its from Calvino but I could be totally wrong) about the medieval peasant conception of Heaven - as a banquet that never ended in which hogs would serve themselves.
posted by The Whelk at 11:51 AM on January 3, 2010


oneirodynia - more on Jockers here.

I turned up a bunch of this stuff as a result of a typo a while back, and as I said at the time, it seems like it should be made up by John Hodgeman, but aparently isn't.
posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


the medieval peasant conception of Heaven - as a banquet that never ended in which hogs would serve themselves.

What fools they were. Everybody knows that's not Heaven, but the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:27 PM on January 3, 2010


BRCM is an avatar of The Land of Cockaigne, which is itself an echo of an echo.

Apparently it's avatars all the way down.
posted by Haruspex at 2:35 PM on January 3, 2010


I grew up listening to the Burl Ives version. The version from the beginning of O Brother seems to describe a hobo's equivalent to the sailor's Fiddler's Green. The fact that they end that version with "I'll see you all this comin' fall in the Big Rock Candy Mountain" makes it extra bitter.

[omg, there's a cavalry version of Fiddler's Green. Mudcat.org is awesome.]
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:39 PM on January 3, 2010


I grew up listening to the Cisco Houston version.

He, in turn, may well have picked it up from Woodie Guthrie.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:46 PM on January 3, 2010


As a kid I first heard the song on an album by The Grasshoppers, a blatant knockoff of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Back then the cigarette trees seemed the most subversive thing about it. Later I was delighted to discover the lines about cops with wooden legs and jails made of tin.
posted by TheDailyRhyme at 3:08 PM on January 3, 2010


I had tears come to my eyes when I saw #1300 entry of the LOL Cats cartoons of Adam Koford (Apelad) - a wonderful presentation of BRCM featuring, of course, Pip and Kitteh, the hobo cats:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/apelad/4167973615/

posted by pdxjmorris at 7:50 PM on January 3, 2010


.... the medieval peasant conception of Heaven - as a banquet that never ended in which hogs would serve themselves.

Hahaha, isn't that *every* conception of heaven? It's all the shit you don't have or aren't allowed in your culture. The thirsty & horny Bedouin trader dreams of an oasis full of sexy young things, the poor & powerless exile in the Roman Empire dreams of his own city (with streets paved in gold!), and the evangelical American uncomfortable with humanist democracy dreams of a King to worship in the afterlife.

There was a teevee preacher when I was growing up who promised "Pie in the sky, with ice cream on top." Reverend Ike was his name. Poor people in America used to consider sweets a luxury.

The weird charm of Big Rock Candy Mountain is in the mundane dreams of the poor hobo. He wasn't ambitious enough in his fantasy world to imagine a life without being jailed on a regular basis. He just wanted the jail walls to be made of tin, so he could easily break out.
posted by kenlayne at 9:24 PM on January 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


The weird charm of Big Rock Candy Mountain is in the mundane dreams of the poor hobo. He wasn't ambitious enough in his fantasy world to imagine a life without being jailed on a regular basis. He just wanted the jail walls to be made of tin, so he could easily break out.

Well, yes of course, which is why it was used in O Brother Where Art Thou. The wild dreams of the men in the movie (and in the song) are just so sad, basic Maslow hierarchy stuff.

"Pie in the sky" - Are you referring the famous Salvation Army parody "Work all day, and sleep on hay, and you'll get a pie in the sky when you die"?


Hahaha, isn't that *every* conception of heaven?

Well in the passage I remember reading, it was being contrasted with the scholar's conception of an empty dune for all eternity. So I guess it's more "people who aren't sure where they're next meal is coming from and who have to work impossibly hard for scarps have a similar concept of heaven."
posted by The Whelk at 10:03 PM on January 3, 2010


Also the indication in the thread that the song was meant to be a humorous exaggeration explains some of the tin jail lines of my these nits are so nice, I'll just pick at them s'more.
posted by The Whelk at 10:17 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cool post. I remember this song from an elementary text book from the 70s. Specifically, how the jails are made of tin and when you get in them you can get right out again.
posted by PHINC at 10:42 PM on January 3, 2010


Reminds me how I wanted to rewrite and record the song in mid-2008 as "Barack Candy Mountain" as a parody/homage to the optimism of the Obama campaign.

wouldn'ta that been OSSUM?
posted by grubi at 8:04 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


GavinR : The soundtrack to that movie is absolutely where I first got hooked on the song.

Me as well. And it helped to perfectly set the tone for the rest of the film.

*knows what I'm watching tonight*
posted by quin at 10:32 AM on January 4, 2010


To be fair, Burl Ives is probably drunk, too.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 12:38 PM on January 4, 2010



The weird charm of Big Rock Candy Mountain is in the mundane dreams of the poor hobo. He wasn't ambitious enough in his fantasy world to imagine a life without being jailed on a regular basis. He just wanted the jail walls to be made of tin, so he could easily break out.
posted by kenlayne at 10:24 PM


That always stood out for me as well. Even when anything the singer had anything he wanted at his finger tips, he was still going to commit crimes. They already "hung the jerk that invented work", what other crime was there to do?

I always assumed that this song was about an old hobo knowing he wasn't going to survive another year. The big rock candy mountain was his heaven. Now I don't think I will be able to listen to it again without thinking of it as the hobo recruiting song.
posted by agent of bad karma at 2:10 PM on January 4, 2010


It sort of reminds me of This Land is Your Land, which also is often performed in a truncated version to avoid the darker ending.
posted by Cookiebastard at 4:37 PM on January 4, 2010


GO ON.
posted by The Whelk at 5:59 PM on January 4, 2010


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Land_Is_Your_Land Interesting.
posted by theredpen at 7:22 AM on January 5, 2010


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