Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).
GK: “My girlfriend’s a vegetable, (and then everyone would answer you back, so like each time you say something they say it again). So it goes:
My girl’s a vegetable
She lives in the hospital
And I would do anything to keep her alive
She has a green TV
It’s called an EKG
I would do anything to keep her alive
She has no arms or legs
That’s why we call her Peg
I would do anything to keep her alive
Sometimes I play a joke, pull a plug and watch her choke
But I would do anything to keep her alive
“So yeah there’s a lot of just nonsense ones like that, that are very strange”
CB: [laughs] “Thats great, so what does it mean to you?”
GK: “Well that one in particular doesn’t really mean anything to me”
CB: “So what context would they sing them in?”
GK: “Oh, you just sing them to pass the time. And too, they’re also like morale raisers. Like when morale is really low you’d just sing a cadence. Because like they actually sound pretty musical when everyone sings them together, and like you don’t need any instruments and everyone knows them.”
. . .
“A lot of them are about dying, to like make dying seem not so bad. A lot of them are about really horrible things too. There’s like napalm 66, and there’s one about shooting up a playground. There’s just all sorts of shit”
CB: “And so why do you think they’re so horrible?”
GK: “Well like war is a horrible thing, and so a lot of cadences are started by infantrymen, and it prepares people for the horrible things that they’re going to see for one. And two, singing them, it makes things seem not so bad. Like they sing about the worst things that can happen to you. And just thinking about it is so awful it can make you freeze up, and when you sing about it and make it not so bad, so then when you think about it, it makes it more of like a joke so you’re not going to freeze up.”
My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. He described cadences as very similar to a sort of summer camp song that bonds and amuses those engaging in it. The main difference is the content. Despite this example being relatively mild, my informant assured me that many cadences engage in very dark humor and describe horrific events.
I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.
The cadences portray horrible situations as humorous. The song describes a loved one on life support humorously, while also portraying a commitment to her. It encourages the singers and the listeners to interact with a horrific reality, that they might not have been prepared for otherwise. My informant talked about how the cadences are spread by infantrymen who are likely engaging in some of the worst situations that war has to offer. The cadences are then taught to the incoming trainees as a way to desensitize them and prepare them for the horrors ahead. It’s interesting that they also act as such a strong morale booster. I think that by singing them with others it acts as a reminder that you’re not alone. Yes, you may be forced into some horrific situations, but you will never be alone.
For another version of this song see entry titled “My Girls A Vegetable” in the online Army Study Guide. https://www.armystudyguide.com/content/cadence/marching_cadence/my-girls-a-vegetable.shtml