USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘camp song’
general

Childhood Camp Song

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As any other child who went to summer camp, it is classic to have been picked up and driven to camp on a school bus. Even if that didn’t happen for you, you probably had some other kind of experience that was bonding for a group of people. One of my brother’s favorites was the lyric down by the bay. We would always have different games and songs that we would sing on the bus just to pass time and again to bond with people. This song was about going home and making up a silly rhyme. Basically, each Time that you saying “down by the bay where the watermelons grow, back to my home I dare not go, for if I do, my mother will say,” and then insert a different kind of rhyme such as “did you ever see a moose kissing a goose, down by the bay? And then continue the rest of the song for it however long you could go. Sometimes we would spend up to 45 minutes singing this song on our way home. It was overall just a very fun way to interact with other campers and to socialize.

 

Customs
Game
Humor
Musical

“The Bagel Song” at Camp

The informant is a 20-year old college sophomore at University of Michigan majoring in industrial and systems engineering. She went to sleep-away camp for several years and was excited to share some of her fond memories of it with me. One such memory is “the Bagel Song.”

 

“Bagels, doo doo doo

Bagels, doo doo doo

 

Bagels on Mars, Bagels on Venus

I got bagels in my…..

NOSE!

 

Bagels, doo doo doo

Bagels, doo doo doo

 

Bagels on the pier, bagels on the dock

I got bagels on my….

NOSE!

 

Bagels, doo doo doo

Bagels, doo doo doo

(The next person makes up a stanza similar to the first two, with provocative lyrics that make the listener think of something dirty, but that ends in NOSE

 

Interviewer: “Where did you learn the Bagel Song?”

Informant: “I remember my counselor one year teaching it to me and a few other campers. We thought it was totally hilarious. When I was a counselor a few years ago, I taught it to my campers too.”

Interviewer: “Where would you guys sing the song?”

Informant: “Oh gosh, all the time. Um, we would sing it when camp songs were song. Like at bonfires and before mealtimes when everyone was together waiting to eat. We would tease the cute male counselors with it too…”

Interviewer: “Did your counselor who taught you the song say where she learned it?”

Informant: “No. We never asked. But I do have a friend who went to an all-boys camp in Wisconsin who told me they had a variation of the song they would sing.

Interviewer: “Do you remember how the variation went?”

Informant: “Hmm. I think it was the same general principle. I think what was different was that the boys said “Bacon” instead of “bagel”? I’m not entirely sure though; it was a long time ago that I talked to my friend about it!”

 

Thoughts:

I see the Bagel song as a humorous song dealing with taboos of sex and sexuality. The song is especially funny because it makes the listener the one with the “dirty mind”, not the singer, as it is the listener who thinks the singer is going to make an obscene reference.

Oring talks about Children’s folklore (I would consider “The Bagel Song” fitting into this category) a good deal in Folk Groups and Folklore Genres. Ideas of childhood have been purified for a long time in American society, and the oppressiveness of the controlled environment in which children reside in can partially explain their dealing with the sexuality taboo, along with other taboos.

Legends
Musical
Narrative

Kum Ba Yah

Kum Ba Yah

Informant: Okay, it needs to be dark, there needs to be a campfire, I got get myself in the mood here. Umm . . . okay . . .

In a deep, doth, darkest of Africa, there was a group of men who went into the mountain. They were thirsty, they were hungry, they needed to eat! They mined  for their families. They did everything they could, everything they could to find food and help their families! (pause)

They were in the mine, when a horrible, horrible, horrible, accident had happened. (pause)

The barrel of coal started from the top and started to head down deep and hit 12 men. That took all the shorings out and everyone of those men, were stuck in that deep mine.
Well you know how these men would be, they would be freaking out! Wouldn’t you? Right? Don’t you remember your great-grandma telling you this story, right? Of those men? Her brothers and sisters even! They did what ever they could to feed their families.

*A beat, informant becomes highly emotional *

(solemnly) Well it was a horrible, horrible, day. Back in 1886 in that mine and everything went wrong. Everything collapsed. (Raises voice) It was horrible! It was horrible! (pause)

And the men didn’t know what to do, they were out of their minds crying. They were frightened. They were crying . . . yet there was this one man who said, “no, we’re going to make it. We’re going to make it through this. We are not gonna perish today. We are gonna make it through”. (pause)

So this man he prayed. He prayed. “Come pray with me” he said. “Pray?” What are you talking about, we need to get out of here, we need tools, we need people to get us out!” said the others. “ Well” he said, “ we need to pray that we can get out of here”.

And the men started crying, (sobbing voice), “ what are we going to do, I don’t know what to do, how are we going to get out of here? We’re going to die in here!”. So the miner started singing, (in a singing voice) “Come by here, my lord, come by here. Kum Ba Yah, my lord, Kum Ba Yah”. He sang, he finally got the men to laugh. “ Please, laugh with me . . .laugh with me” he said. “Even if this may be our last day on earth, we can have a good laugh, we’re together, let’s hold hands. It’s pitch dark in here, there is nothing else that we can do”.

“okay”, the others said, “it’s worth a try”. They prayed, they laughed, they cried together because they were so frightened. Then the miner said, “I think were going to make it”. He started singing again (singing) “come by here my lord, come by here”. Louder! “Come by her my lord! Come by here!”. So all 12 men started to sing. Then something came over them and they started to laugh and they thought, “okay, this might work”.

Then they heard it. They heard it. (Takes keys and starts tapping it against table in a rhythmic tapping). “what’s that?” one man said. “It sounds like Billy-Bob, he’s on the top!”. “Billy-Bob we’re here, we’re down here Billy-Bob”, they all scream.

And so the men, started to all be so positive. They started to start clinking. “Grab the rocks, get your tools, pound! Pound! Pound into that rock! We’re going to make it! (rhythmic tapping). “can you here us up there? oh God! Can you hear us? Help get us out of here! (rhythmic tapping)

Ands all of a sudden there was this huge pound. Huge Pound! Huge Clink! (one final tap) and Billy-Bob broke through the rock. There was sunlight coming through, the men could breath. The lights came back on.

The roar could be heard all over town! “They’re alive, they’re alive! Sound the alarm, they’re alive”. And they were. Each man held his hand up and walked out of that mine and they were all saved that day. And that’s the story of Kum Ba Yah.

(singing) Kum Ba Yah my lord, Kum Ba yah.  (2 x) Oh Lord, Kum Ba Yah. And that’s why we sing Kum Ba Yah out at campfire, almost every night to close it. So we can think about how it is to be at camp. Looking at the last ember of the flame of the campfire and thinking about how grateful we are to be together.

Interviewer’s notes:

It is interesting to note the blatant religious motif such as the fact that there were 12 men, just like the 12 apostles. The story perfectly coincides with the Christian ideas of  YMCA camp by highlighting the rewarding aspects of having faith in God. As an oral story, the storyteller employs an interesting use of the rhetorical. This invites audience participation, which in turn enhances the memorability and thus the longevity of the story. Furthermore, the story has a direct connection to the song the campers sing each night at camp. This also ensures the resonance with the audience. Also repetition in the story, no only enables memorability, but is also in keeping with Olrik’s Epic Laws of Narrative.

Childhood
Gestures
Musical

“Rare Bog, Rattlin’ Bog,” A Camp Song

“Rare Bog, Rattlin’ Bog,” A Camp Song

Chorus (clapping)

Rare bog, rattlin’ bog, way down in the valley-o

Rare bog, rattlin’ bog, way down in the valley-o

And in this bog

There was a tree [arms in front of you in a circle]

A rare tree! [swing arms to left and right]

A rattlin’ tree [shake arms down and right]

[clapping]: And the tree was in the bog, and the bog’s down in the valley-o!

Chorus

And on this tree

There was a branch [stick one arm out]

A rare branch [swing arm back and forth]

A rattlin’ branch [shake arm down]

And the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog, and the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And on this branch

There was a twig [stick one finger out]

A rare twig [swing arm back and forth]

A rattlin’ twig [shake arm down]

And the twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog, and

the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And on this twig

There was a nest [make hand into a fist]

A rare nest [swing back and forth]

A rattlin’ nest [shake arm down]

And the nest was on the twig, and the twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree and

the tree was in the bog and the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And in this nest

There was a bird [repeat nest gesture]

A rare bird [repeat]

A rattlin’ bird [repeat]

And the bird was in the nest and the nest was on the twig, and the twig was on the branch, and

the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog and the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And on that bird

There was a feather [stick finger out]

A rare feather [swing arm]

A rattlin’ feather [shake arm down]

And the feather was on the bird and the bird was in the nest and the nest was on the twig, and the

twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog and the bog’s

down in the valley-o

Chorus

 

The informant is a young woman who attended many years of camp, being immersed in American campfire traditions. Thus, this piece was learned from others of her camp. She admits that very few of her friends and family remember this specific song, and when asked to recall it, she had to take many moments to write it out herself to solidify the tune in her mind.

So many characteristics of the piece indicate that it is suited for children: it’s rhythmic, repetitious, and physical, allowing children to learn quickly and engage with others in a performative way.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Camp Hess Kramer Happy Birthday Song/Celebration

A Jewish summer sleep-away camp in Malibu, CA by the name of Camp Hess Kramer holds hundreds of Jewish kids ranging from eight to seventeen for most of the summer.  As the kids are away from home, often for the first time for extended periods of time, the camp makes an extended effort to make birthday celebrations for kids who have birthdays during a camp session especially special.

A birthday celebration at the Camp Hess Kramer is quite different from the average singing of happy birthday song for an individual.  Typically, two different counselors create a new inventive skit that integrates the camper with the birthday into it.  The skit takes place in the dining hall where all the campers have gathered for a meal — breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  While the skit takes place the camper is asked to come to the center of the room and must perform some activity involving the skit.  After the skit ends a unique version of happy birthday song is sang to the camper. The song goes as thus:

“Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. Happy birthday to you.  Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to you.  Skip around the room, skip around the room, we won’t shut up till you skip around the room. Skip around the room, skip around the room, we won’t shut up till you skip around the room.  Go the other way, go the other way; we won’t shut up till you go the other way.  Go the other way, go the other way; we won’t shut up till you go the other.  Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday. Happy birthday to you”

This song is sung for each birthday camper and also a previous version had at the end a chant where all the campers say, “Lick the floor! Lick the floor! We won’t shut up till you lick the floor!”  This version in the past few years has been taken away because of sanitary issues — as one can imagine the floor of a dining hall at a sleep-away camp is far from clean. During this song the camper must follow the song and physically follow the song’s directions as “skipping around the room” and different things like that.

I found this story of the happy birthday song rather interesting because it is a variation of the tame, mundane “Happy Birthday Song” and shows kids ability to turn twists and ideas onto songs.  The “lick the floor chant” reveals younger kids interest and making others complete gross tasks similar to dares that people make each other do.  The celebration for the kid in front of the camp also occurs I think to make him feel more special.

Childhood
Humor
Musical

Boy Scout Birthday Dirge

Contextual Data: We had gone out to dinner to celebrate my Uncle’s birthday, and once we returned home, my family was talking and joking as we debated whether or not to put a candle on my Uncle’s cake and actually sing “Happy Birthday.” My brother then piped up and recounted this “Birthday Dirge” that he learned when he was younger. I asked him to sing it, and after, I asked him about when and where he heard it. He replied that he learned it at Boy Scout camp, when he was about fifteen years old — the counselors taught it to him: they would sing it in the morning in the mess hall as the campers were eating breakfast, whenever a camper was celebrating his birthday.

Happy Birthday (Clap or Thigh Slap)
Happy Birthday (Clap or Thigh Slap)
There is sorrow in the air,
People dying everywhere,
But Happy Birthday (Clap or Thigh Slap)
Happy Birthday (Clap or Thigh Slap)

The song is sung as a sort of chant, and my family did chuckle a bit after he recited it. My Uncle offered a sarcastic “thanks.”

My brother said that they all loved it at camp. He enjoyed sharing it with others because he found it funny. He did qualify it by saying that he had taught it to some of  his friends when he returned home, and not everyone reacted the same way. Some laughed, others found it inappropriate and random. (He mentioned that gender didn’t really play a part when it came to this — some girls found it hilarious and some guys found it idiotic and vice versa). I actually remembered my brother teaching it to me after he first returned from camp, and I shared it with my friends to similar reactions — some laughed, others dismissed it.

He mentioned that the song was never taken seriously or meant to be a sobering song — and to expand upon this, in some ways, this song does seem to be a bit of a practical joke that taps into this idea of a birthday as a liminal phase, as a person transitions from one year into the next. The song subverts the traditional expectation that a person be wished well and bidden good luck as they move into a new year of their life and that’s where the humor seems to come from. More than this, in American culture in particular, birthdays are thought of as a person’s “special day,” but this song seems to mock that idea through both the lyrics and the somber tone in which it is sung.

Beyond that, it’s so short and repetitive that it is really easy to remember: my informant still recollected it nine years after he first learned it. I imagine the context of learning it at Boy Scout camp also helped — it was a fun experience and one that he remembered fondly.

Customs
Folk speech
Musical

Summer Camp Folksong: Mr. Johnny Verbeck

Informant: Once every week at camp cedars the dining hall would serve sausages for breakfast, little sausage patties, and uh there was a certain song that went along with the sausages about a man named Johnny Verbeck. Uh, it went a little something like:

Oh Mister, Mister Johnny Verbeck, how could you be so mean?

I told you you’d be sorry for inventing that machine.

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen

For they’ve all been ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine!

 

Oh once there was a Dutchman, his name was Johnny Verbeck

He made the finest sausages and sauerkraut and speck.

Till one day he invented a sausage-making machine,

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen.

 

Oh Mister, Mister Johnny Verbeck, how could you be so mean?

I told you you’d be sorry for inventing that machine.

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen

For they’ve all been ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine!

 

One day a boy came walkin’, a-walkin’ through the door.

He bought a pound of sausages, and laid them on the floor.

The boy began to whistle, a-whistle up a tune

And all the little sausages went dancin’ round the room!

 

Oh Mister, Mister Johnny Verbeck, how could you be so mean?

I told you you’d be sorry for inventing that machine.

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen

For they’ve all been ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine!

 

One day the machine got busted, the darn thing wouldn’t go

So Johnny Verbeck he climbed inside to see what made it so.

His wife she had a nightmare, went walkin’ in her sleep.

She gave the crank a heck of a yank and Johnny Verbeck was meat!

 

Oh Mister, Mister Johnny Verbeck, how could you be so mean?

I told you you’d be sorry for inventing that machine.

Now all the neighbors’ cats and dogs will nevermore be seen

For they’ve all been ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine!

 

The informant, a Caucasian male, was born in Spokane, Washington and then moved to Omaha. He is currently a student at USC and studies computer science.

The informant learned the song when he was about eleven years old “the first time we went to camp cedars so the very first summer,” and “sometime within the first week.” Camp Cedars is a Boy Scout summer camp. The informant attended the camp for about five or six years and was a counselor for one year.

When asked about the performance, the informant said “So um, everyone would know that it was time for the sausage song because before everyone even got their food, the staff members would be walking around with a sausage on their fork, like holding it in the air above their heads and during the song, at first the staff members would stand by their tables and just sing the song, but on the line ‘all the little sausages went dancing round the room’ they would do so, and just kind of skip around the room and circle all of the campers at their tables.”

The informant liked this tradition and song because it was “just something fun that would bring everyone together, and it helped build a community among the campers.”

In addition to being an entertaining song that everyone at the camp would sing, I feel it also serves other purposes. First, the song jokes about the contents of sausages. Sausages are not clearly related to whatever meat they originally came from, so they can incite parody about their contents, which in this case are cats, dogs, and even human. There is also a hint at the fear of being killed in a traumatic way such as being ground up into a meat sausage.

Customs
Folk speech
Musical

Summer Camp Customs and Lore: The Announcements Song

Informant: “So I went to camp cedars every summer. The weekend after fathers day since the time I was about eleven until um… maybe about fifteen or so was the year I decided that I should be a camp counselor at camp cedars. Great time. I spent the whole summer out there, I was actually going to go to a camp-out one week, uh when the rest of my troop was, but I decided it would be more fun just working again for that week. It was a very enjoyable time. One of the… I guess, every day for every meal of the day, there would be a couple of announcements that um the staff would have to share with all of the campers, but they couldn’t say that. ‘Announcements’ was a bad word at camp cedars. It’s been a bad word as long as anyone has known. It’s such a bad word that the moment anyone says the word announcement no matter who it is or what context, they are immediately surrounded by all of the staff members in the area and this happened about once a week, sometimes more, um one time three days in a row the same guy uttered it while giving the announcements. So, uh when someone said announcements they were ridiculed for the next five minutes or so and um everyone else sang the announcements song. Which um I don’t remember all of the verses but it started something like:

(to the tune of the farmer in the dell)

Announcements, announcements, annoouuuncements!

A wonderful way to die, a wonderful way to die

A wonderful way to start the day, a wonderful way to die!

Announcements, announcements, annoouuncements!

 

(unknown)

We sold our cow

We sold our cow

We have no use

For your bull now.

 

(to the tune of the more we get together)

Have you ever seen a windbag, a windbag, a windbag?

Have you ever seen a windbag? well there’s one right now.

Blows this way and that way and this way and that way

Have you ever seen a windbag? well there’s one right now.

 

(To the tune of London bridge is falling down)

Words of wisdom, words of wisdom,

Here they come, here they come:

More words of wisdom, more words of wisdom:

Dumb dumb dumb, dumb dumb dumb

 

The informant, a Caucasian male, was born in Spokane, Washington and then moved to Omaha. He is currently a student at USC and studies computer science.

The informant learned the song when he was about eleven years old “the first time we went to camp cedars so the very first summer.”Camp Cedars is a Boy Scout summer camp. The informant attended the camp for about five or six years and was a counselor for one year. As a camper, he didn’t really worry about saying the taboo word because it was usually just the staff that ended up saying it when giving announcements. In addition, the informant “was never really giving announcements, so I never had to worry about saying the word.” Because announcements were a daily thing, they usually had to be referred to as A-words or some other euphemism.

The informant felt that the traditions were around to raise morale, keep the counselors from getting bored, and build a rapport between all of the members of the camp. The informant said that there were “many, many, many traditions” at this camp. Additionally, these traditions were just a fun thing.

He first learned the words of the song from watching the counselors perform the song; he especially recalls this song because he thought, “it was ridiculous and it happened all the time.” The informant said “I encountered it probably over a dozen times being a camper plus the summer when I worked there maybe another dozen or two times, so very repeated and it’s a lot of fun too – being the staffer and being the one who is singing the song, making fun of whoever happened to inadvertently say the word or intentionally… like I’m sure the guy who said it three times in a row was not entirely accidental”

In a way, this song and folk tradition appears to be a parody of tabooistic discourse because the camp tradition turned an ordinary word into something taboo, forcing camp members to find euphemisms for an otherwise innocuous word.

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