Tag Archives: musical

“The Johnson Boys” Campfire Song

Context:

KR’s grandfather was a Scoutmaster in Ontario who led Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts on camping trips and also enjoyed going camping with his own family. He remembers this piece as one of the songs his grandfather used to sing around the campfire with them.

Main Piece:

“The Johnson Boys”

Verse 1:  
Oh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill,
Verse 2:
Oohh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill,
Verse 3:
Ooohhhhh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill.

Continue ad infinitum, with the “oh” being drawn out longer with each repetition of the verse.

Analysis:

KR remembers “The Johnson Boys,” as “the song with one hundred thousand verses.” He says it’s, “a fun little song that everyone gets to chime in on,” since the lyrics were easy to remember and stretching out the “oh” always made the kids laugh. This song fulfills the classic roles of a good campfire song: something easy to pick up and remember, but with a fun twist to entertain the children. Since KR’s grandfather was a scout leader, the trips he led were mainly composed of children, it makes sense that he would have a library of these songs that are easily accessible for anyone.

This facet of folk song is interesting to me because while it is folk culture, it is also in some ways an institutionally pushed song. By this I do not mean that it was integrated into standardized education, or utilized by the government/corporations, but it significantly differs from some other children’s songs because it is a song that was taught to children by adults, and generally performed between children and adults. Often, folkloric children’s chants and songs evolve within the young population, perhaps even against the will of the adults surrounding them. But this song, and other campfire songs like it, are more of a bridge between the cultural worlds of the child and the adult leaders. They are neither the children’s song (because the children did not create it or claim it as their own to change and sing on their own) but also not a song for the adults (because the adults sing it primarily for the enjoyment of the children).

Jambo Bwana Song

Background: Informant is a 19 year old of Kenyan heritage. Their parents immigrated to Los Angeles from Kenya and the informant wears a bracelet to feel connected to their heritage. 

Me: Where did this song come from? 

Informant: When I think about a song in Swahili the first song I think of is what I learned when I was four or five because my Kindergarten for graduation they wanted to do a whole cultural thing. So, they asked my mom and another girls mom who was Indian to come and teach us songs. So they taught us songs in Hindu and Swahili. The song we learned in Swahili is… 

Transliteration: 

Jambo, Jambo bwana, 

Habari gani, Mzuri sana.

Wageni, Wakaribishwa,

Kenya yetu Hakuna Matata.

Translation:

Hello, Hello sir,

How are you

I very fine

The visitors are welcomed

To our Kenya, don’t worry.

Reflection: I loved hearing the informant sing this song. It was interesting how they knew this song due to their schools’ emphasis on diversity, and how their mother shared her culture with the class through music. I find it so amazing how music can be used to bring people together in the sharing of cultural heritage. This also reflects the use of folklore in children’s education, with folk music being something that mainly children know today. 

Audio:

The Unitarian Universalist Church

Context: Gathered from one of my roommates once he found out about my collection project.

Background: My roommate has never had a set religious background, and was always in something of a melting pot of faiths when he went to churches like the one described here.

Dialogue: So, I don’t know exactly how Unitarianism, like, started, but… At some point it was just this sort of culmination of, like, various Christian sects, like Episcopalian or Protestant or whatever was around Massachusetts going on. Just a bunch of them sort of, like, coalesced into one group that’s like… “You know what, Trinity or Unity, doesn’t matter! We all have spirit!”

Analysis: The intereseting thing about this piece of folklore to me is how much is blended together in a church like this. It’s not only a mixing of various religious sects, either: at one point, my roommate sang a song he was taught as a kid, about the “Seven Guiding Principles of Kindness.” He remembers only these lines:

One, each person is important
Two, be kind in all you do

The song, interestingly enough, is set to the tune of “Do-Re-Mi” fromthe mucial The Sound of Music. So we have a mashup of popular culture, religion, and folk belief, all in this single church.

“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.

The Chocolate Ice Cream Cone Song

My (hold note) mommy said if I’d be good she’d send me to the store,

she said she’d bake a chocolate cake if I would sweep the floor,

she said if I would make the bed and help her mind the phone,

she would send me out to get a chocolate ice cream cone.

 

And so I did

the things she said,

I even helped her make the bed.

Then I went out,

just me alone,

to get a chocolate ice cream cone.

 

Now (hold note) on my way a-comin’ home I stumbled on a stone,

and need I tell you that I dropped

my chocolate ice cream cone.

A little doggie came along and took a great big lick (slurping sound),

and then I hit that mean ole doggie with a little stick.

And he bit me

where I sat down

and he chased me all over town.

And now I’m lost,

can’t find my home,

it’s all because of a chocolate, chocolate, chocolate ice cream cone.

 

The informant was my father, a 49-year-old engineer who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but who grew up in the area surrounding Austin, Texas. The song is one that his mother used to sing to him and his siblings when they were little. The song was primarily sung right before bed, as well as occasionally on long road trips. The informant says his mother would sing it to the children almost every night, sometimes “perfunctorily,” sometimes smiling and adding “extra ‘chocolate, chocolate, chocolate’s’ on the end.” The informant sees it as a mix of a “bizarre lost kid fairy tale” and a “moral lesson for young kids growing up,” the lesson being, “don’t go out on your own or, you know, you might get lost and never find your way home again.”

 

This song was collected while I was home for Spring Break and performed in my living room. It was interesting to me because my father also used to sing it to me and my sister when we were children because, “when you’re a parent, you’re looking for, you know, the things to pass down and it was one of my favorite songs as a child.” The tune of the song makes it seem fun and harmless, but there is a dark undertone about the lyrics that I recognized, even when I was growing up. Looking at it now, I think it is less of a moral lesson, and more of a lesson to children about the random, horrible things that can happen to you when you are not expecting them. None of the events that take place are really the narrator’s fault (other than being chased by a dog after he hits it with a stick), and yet the narrator still ends up lost and alone. It is a dark reflection on everyday life hiding within a song for children, as is often the case with old songs and stories created for children.