USC Digital Folklore Archives / Musical
Tales /märchen

Prince story


Zack was born in Boston Massachusetts and grew up in a house in rural Norwell Massachusetts in a secular family. His father is a musician and his mother a homemaker. Zack is a photographer who works with musicians and has traveled extensively both in his childhood following his father on tour and in his current occupation.

Original script: There is a fable amongst the rock and roll world and its about prince. Prince was known even amongst the inner of inner circles that he was a puzzling guy. Story goes, a new guy gets brought on the road to be Prince’s guitar tech. If you have been hired to be princes guitar tech it mean you’re probably a great guitarist, that said everyone’s first day at work is nerve-racking. Show begins everything is going well, the guitar tech has done all the work he should’ve done, at this point of the night he hands princes his various guitars between songs. Half way through a particularly boisterous and well-lit performance of a song, prince signals off stage towards the tech to approach. The tech sheepishly crosses the stage and leaves in to prince to hear what the problem is; prince says two words, star wars. The tech retreats into the wings of the stage in a panic. He begins consulting his new colleagues about what star wars might be, is it an affect on one of his guitars, is it some sort of pyro technic happening that is coming. The guy starts freaking out. Finally a grizzled roady halts the tech in his track and asks “what’s the problem” the tech says “prince said he wants star wars, I don’t know what he means!” the roady laughs and says “oh man its ok, he just wants star wars playing on his tour bus when he gets off stage”.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: This story is shared by roadies and other members of the crew that work for musicians. The informants work as a rock photographer places him in the situation where he hears stories like this one about the sometimes outrageous demands of rock stars.

Context of the Performance: This story is told in the close-knit circle of crew that work around and for performers.

Thoughts about the piece: The occupational folklore shared here is not focused on the artist but on the nerves experienced by the new member of the team who is a fish out of water. Prince the artist could be replaced with any over the top performer.



Throw the handkerchief

My informant is a 48 year-old woman who has lived her whole life in China by now.

"This a game we have all played in kindergarten. Several people sit in a circle. 
except for one stands outside of the circle; they are in charge of throwing a 
handkerchief. After running around the circle, the person will drop the 
handkerchief behind someone’s back. That person must now get up quickly and chase
the person who dropped the handkerchief. If the chaser catches the person, 
then they are winner. If not, they are the loser and will have to pay a penalty. 
The game is played until each person has had a chance to throw the handkerchief. "

Throw the handkerchief
Throw the handkerchief
Put it back of our friends quietly
We all do not tell her
Quikely,quikely catch her
Quikely,quikely catch her

She thinks kids are taught to play this game along with singing this song at 
kindergarten is a good outdoor activity for them to interact and get along well 
with each other.

I've also played that game in my childhood, I think it's really much more fun to 
play with each other face to face back to those times, comparing to nowadays kids
just each holding an iPad alone.
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nosebleed-nosebleed seats

JH is a high school senior living in Pasadena, CA.

JH told me about a major perk of living above a large concert venue:

“Generally living above the Rose Bowl can be a huge pain in the ass – New Years is a huge production, and there’s traffic every weekend during the college football season when UCLA has its home games here. They put barricades on all the side streets to keep people from parking, but they direct traffic down the main street in the neighborhood…but for the last few years they’ve gotten really big music people to play in the Rose Bowl, like Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Rihanna…but tickets are usually way over $100 if you want to see anything…luckily for kids my age, who really like the performers and the music, because the sound from the Rose Bowl carries all the way into the neighborhood. There’s this one street a couple blocks away with houses on one side and cliff-kind of thing on the other, that drops off straight into the Arroyo and where the Rose Bowl is…so if you go sit out there, you can hear the music almost perfectly. It’s usually warm enough in the summer that we can go out with chairs or blankets and stuff and just listen to a free concert. It’s not so great for the older people in the neighborhood that hate the music…they’re always complaining about like, being kept awake at night…I do feel kinda bad for them.”

My analysis:

The concerts here are probably a contentious issue in the neighborhood, with most residents probably being against the extra noise and traffic. But for younger kids who would actually want to attend the real event, the ritual is more about making the best of a bad situation. It shows the dichotomy between a generation who probably moved to the neighborhood never imagining these circumstances, and the generation that grew up in it appreciating these extra perks.


The Trollmom’s Lullaby

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.


När trollmor har lagt sina elva små troll

och bundit dom fast i svansen,

då sjunger hon sakta för elva små trollen

de vackraste ord hon känner:

Ho aj aj aj aj buff,

ho aj aj aj aj buff,

ho aj aj aj aj buff buff!

Ho aj aj aj aj buff.

Informant: There’s a song that my mom would always sing to me in Swedish about trolls. It’s called Trollmors Vaggivisa, which literally translates into The Trollmom’s Lullaby. It’s about how this trollmom puts her 11 kids to bed, and the kids are trolls obviously, and how she sings a song to them after, and then it literally says when troll mom puts her 11 small trolls to bed and ties up their tails.

Collector: Wait, do trolls have tails?

Informant: These trolls do. And then the last part of the song says that she sings slowly to the 11 small trolls the prettiest words she knows. And then it goes like “ho ai ai ai ai buff ho ai ai ai ai buff ho ai ai ai ai buff buff ho ai ai ai ai buff.”

Collector: What does that mean?

Informant: It doesn’t mean anything. It’s giberish. It’s just supposed to be the prettiest words that the mom knows. And my mom used to sing this to me when I was a kid, and she has always sung it to us even when we were older. When I was in France and missing Sweden, she would always sing that to calm us down and put us to sleep, actually. It reminded me of home.

Collector: Why do you liked this song?

Informant: I think there was always something comforting about my mom singing it to me. It was calming and it made me feel like I was back home in Sweden.

I found this song particularly funny, because there isn’t really any meaning to it at all. I think that’s what makes this song particularly endearing, because it’s a cute little bedtime story about trolls. Even though it’s a song about trolls, it has significant meaning for my friend, as it connects her to her Swedish culture. Being international myself, I know how hard it can be to be away from home, and how important it is to have things that can connect you back to your culture.



Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: There is a ritual, kinda like a Swedish holiday, but not really. It’s called a Swedish name that means something like midsummer. And it’s generally in June, and it’s basically welcoming summer, so you get a big big cross and you decorate it with flowers and on each arm you put circles, you hang them on the cross, it looks like the things you put on your door for Christmas. Midsummer this year is on the 24th of June. Also what you do is pluck flowers and make flower crowns that you wear for this thing. All that you really do on this day is you just like get together with people. There are different parties or you can do this cross thing with your family or you can go to a big party with everyone in your town depending on your preference and then you usually picnic over there. You have food outside, and you dance around the cross and sing different songs.

Collector: What kind of songs?

Informant: These are typical songs for midsummer, this one song is called the small frogs, literally translated. It goes like this:

Smoagruden na

Smoagruden na

Ad lustiga asia

Ad lustiga asia

A aron A aron

Svan sa hava dia

A aron A aron

Svan sa hava dia

Cua ca ca Cua ca ca

That last part is supposed to be a like a frog sound. So when they say the first part you run around the cross until the second part, and then you put your hands on your ears and make them look like cow ears, and when it says svan sa you put your hands on your butt making it look like a tail. And during cua ca ca you jump with your two feet at the same time around the cross like a frog.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I think it’s a cute tradition that you do with your family. It’s the small kids that really enjoy it, I liked it a lot when I was a kid. It’s a good time to spend with your family and friends, and have fun with them. It’s one of the biggest rituals in Sweden. And even people who go abroad like me carry it with them, and when I lived in France we used to make our own cross in our garden. It’s just like a really nice time to get together with my family and it’s just like really fun. More than celebrating summer, it’s a family thing

I think it’s interesting that two of the pieces of folklore that my Swedish friend told me involved songs with small creatures and gibberish at the end. It makes me wonder if that is a common pattern in Swedish folk songs. I think this is a cute little tradition, and although I’m not Swedish and have never done anything like Midsummer, I remember how much I used to enjoy doing similar things as a kid. I also think it’s cool that my friend carried it abroad with her, and that she still celebrated and underwent this ritual with the cross even though she was no longer in the country that celebrated it.


London Bridge

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: Do you know the London Bridge song?

Collector: Yes.

Informant: Ah, yes. Well, I guess it’s pretty popular over here too. But basically, it’s a song that goes like this:

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair lady.

I think the actual song is longer than that, but that’s all that people really use. So what we do, it’s usually a kids game, but what we do is we get two people to stand together and hold their arms together like they’re making a bridge, and then people have to run under it, until the last line. And then the people drop their arms and trap whoever is under it, and like that person loses. It’s like a song, but it’s also a game, which is cool.

Collector: Do you have any idea where it might have come from?

Informant: I actually have no idea the history behind the song. I just know that it’s a really old game, and a lot of kids play it. It’s pretty popular. I don’t think the London Bridge has ever really fallen down. I hope it won’t.

I remember playing this game when I was a kid, and it’s interesting to hear that it’s popular all over the world too. Despite mentioning London in part of the lyrics, I didn’t actually know that this was a traditional English song. I thought that the Americans had made it up during the revolution to show patriotism and strength to beat the British. It’s funny to see that I was completely wrong my entire life, and that the song is nothing more than a mere game that people used to play in England, and passed on to the people in America and all over the world.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Las Fiestas de Noviembre

The informant, S, is 18 years old and from Miami, Florida, but he grew up in Cartagena, Colombia (Northern, Columbia). His mom is from Barranquilla, Columbia (Northern Columbia), while his dad is from Cartagena, Columbia. He considers himself a Latino Columbian and is majoring in Civil Engineering Building Science.


S-“So where I’m from in Cartagena, Columbia we have the whole month of November called Las fiestas de Noviembre (the November parties) where it consists of having different parades for different days of the week where all the main streets are closed and they are usually used for parades. There is traditional music. Kumbia, and ballenato is played. People go on the streets and they you know celebrate for las fiestas. Another big aspect of it is having this called bolcitas de agua (little water bags). What happens is everyone in the city usually has ammunition of little bags filled with water so wherever you are in the street you just have to be ready to like get hit with bags of water “

Like giant water balloon fight?

S-“Yea it’s this giant thing so like during the fiestas different neighborhoods get together and like fight each other with like the water bags or balloons if you want to call them. I remember like when I was little with my cousins we would get up on my balcony, and we would have tubs filled with little balloons and just like throw them at cars and people walking by. It’s cool because everyone knows and has the general consensus that it’s ok to do so. “

Do you know the history behind it or how it originated it?

S-“I do not”

So there is different parades at different periods?

S-“It’s just during the whole month. So like there is this big parade called el Bando and that day they just close the big streets and they throw maizena (corn starch) and water everywhere. Live music, a lot of fireworks. Do you know what a busca piez is?

Yea I think so

S-“It’s like the thing that you light up and throw it on the floor and it goes all over. Which is a bad thing because a lot of injuries happen. Like during this month there are people missing fingers and missing hands, but it’s a cool month.”

Analysis- The constant and long celebration would appear to many as waste of time and water, but to the people of the area it means much more. The events only happen in Cartagena, Columbia and the regions around it, for the festivals are meant to celebrate the independence of the area. The water throwing was not originally part of the idea of the festival but quickly merged with what people believe was the original plan. Today, however, as more outsiders move in, these things may be changing as they do not agree with everything that happens during the festival. Water throwing, for example, is banned from November 1-17 as well as fireworks from November 1-15.

For more information see: EL UNIVERSAL (2014, Oct. 30). Cartageneros Hablan de las Costumbres Novembrinas mas Irritantes. Retrieved from


Trot Trot to Boston

Folklore Piece

‘This is a song my mom would always sing to me and my siblings when we were little. She’d place us on her lap and move them up and down while she sang “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Lynn / Look out little [T.R.] / You might fall in!” and then pretend to drop us between her legs. The second first was “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Town / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall down!” Then repeat the dropping motion. Finally, “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Dover / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall Over!”


Background information

“Yeah, I learned it from my Mom. I mean, I don’t really remember learning it, and I certainly don’t really remember her performing it, but I’ve seen her do it with some of my younger cousins, and I have too. Uh, I don’t know, I just, I like the piece because it’s catchy, and it makes me nostalgic about Boston and my Mom and stuff, you know? You’ve probably heard it too, right?” ( I have)


He certainly did not bounce me on his lap, however he did say that he “would definitely do this with his kids when he’s older, no matter where he lives. I just like the way I hold on to something from my home town, you know? Being 3,000 miles away, like, you lose a lot of that. I think I wanna move back eventually, but who knows?”


My mom also performed this song for me when I was younger. I, too, perform it with my younger cousins and babies from the Boston area. I’ve always found it so interesting, because growing up in a town north of Boston where most people move to from all over the country, we don’t have too many unique traditions or pieces of folklore that bring us together as a town. But this song, even though it’s about Boston, is shared amongst almost all of us in the metropolitan Boston area. I tried to find the origin of this story, and was unable to locate a direct source. However, the book Trot Trot to Boston, published in 1987 is referenced as saying that it is a Mother Goose poem. Additionally, there are a number of variations of the poem I found. An online forum found here has at least 8 variations of the song.

The informant said that it reminds him of his mother, too. It’s funny how songs that are performed to us when we are children – often before we can even remember – make us so nostalgic. Certainly we can’t remember the circumstances under which these songs were performed. However, we know that our mothers took care of us at a time that they sang this song, and it’s so embedded within us, associated with childcare and motherly love, that it’s hard not to look at it so fondly.


Folk speech

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold” is a chant sung around the campfire by Girl Scouts as long ago as the 1960’s.

This chant encourages young people never to abandon an old friend for the sake of a new one. Because “old” rhymes with “gold,” I assume that the old friends are gold, and the new friends are silver. This implies that there is something more inherently valuable about old friends.

I imagine it works particularly well in a camp environment, where many young people are anxiously seeking social comfort and status. It is easy for them to get caught up in the feverish nature of it all, and abandon old friends for new, possibly more popular ones. However, this chant encourages them never to do so, as a new friend’s value cannot match an old one’s. It doesn’t discourage them from making new friends, but it does advise them to keep in mind the value of relationships that have had a chance to develop over a long time. In this way, it helps to foster an ever-expanding yet stable network of friendships within the Girl Scout troupe. I also believe it serves as a warning to young girls to avoid the cattiness and exclusivity typical of adolescents.

The informant is my mother. She remembers learning this chant at Girl Scout camp in the 1960’s from camp counselors and other girl scouts. It was often performed around a campfire. I asked my mother what the chant means to her to which she replied:

“They are both very precious…An old friend is really valuable because they know you and you’ve come to trust each other. Keeping them close while making new friends seems to make so much sense to me.”

She often repeated it to me as I was growing up. I believe she did so because it is one of the tenements she has lived her life by. She always relishes the opportunity to meet a new, interesting person, but prioritizes her long-standing relationships.

I believe it’s a particularly poignant chant, especially for children to hear. It is very tempting for children to abandon their old friends when they find new, shiny ones. This is a dangerous trap that robs them of people who know and love them. In this way, the chant is a smart, succinct warning against dangerous impulses that exist within every child’s mind.


Hush Little Baby

The following is a nursery rhyme that my father sang to me when I was a child in order to lull me to sleep.

“Hush little baby, don’t say a word. Momma’s gonna buy you a mocking bird. And if that mocking bird won’t sing, Momma’s gonna buy you a diamond ring. And if that diamond ring…turns brass, Momma’s gonna buy you a looking glass. And if that looking glass gets broke [laughs] Momma’s gonna buy you a billy goat. And if that billy goat won’t pull, Momma’s gonna buy you a cart and bull. And if that cart and bull turn over, Momma’s gonna buy you a dog named Rover. And if that dog named Rover won’t bark, Momma’s gonna buy you a horse and a cart. And if that horse and cart falls down, you’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.”

My informant is my father, a 62-year old English professor in New York City. He remembers his own mother singing this song to him, and traces its roots back to this:

“I and my Mom were the beneficiaries of a folk revival movement that really literally started in Asheville, North Carolina where Peter Seeger and other people were looking for the old songs. But basically they were digging in the Appalachian mountains for songs, and then they made records of these songs. And then the mothers of my mother’s generation heard these songs on the records and then they took them into the nursery. These are old folk songs, but they then become personal through records.”

He appreciates this folk lullaby for two reasons:

“As I sing that, two things occur to me. The rhymes weave. Basically, the thing that makes that a long-lived folk song is that the rhymes tell you about the content. As soon as you’ve got the sound, you’ve got to find the mutation in the next line that rhymes. So I was stuck—I couldn’t remember what happened to the diamond ring. Um, but then I went to brass and that led to looking glass. So basically, it’s a chain in memory. But then the second thing is, this is what’s famous about lullabies. They’re often half-hostile. That is to say, this one ends with “You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town, but really it’s a litany of disaster. It’s like Chad Gadya. Yeah, in other words, everything can wrong all the time. And so—so in one way, one powerful folkloric mode is that it mixes something that feels and sounds good with something that expresses the undertow. Parents are exhausted, they’re kind of angry, right?”

As my father says, this song speaks to the endless minor disasters that can occur while raising a child. It makes sense to me that he laughed while singing the song back to me. He has always enjoyed mocking the emergency state our family enters when something small goes wrong or missing. Furthermore, I believe he enjoys the honesty and duality within the song. It doesn’t present a sugar-coated view of the parent-child dynamic, as so much children’s music tends to. I also think this song, in a sweet and subtle way, expresses how badly parents both want to please their child and to distract their child. The song itself is a distraction, a long link of rhymes structured as so to lull a baby to sleep. Of course the parents want the baby to be happy, but they also want the baby to shut up and go to sleep.