Tag Archives: song

Summoning a Plymouth Colonist Ghost through Song (Legend, Memorate)


Collector: “Do you have any experiences with ghosts in your childhood?”

Informant: “Yeah, I was probably about 10 or 12 years old. I was in a town called Duxbury Massachusetts, which is right outside of Plymouth. In Duxbury, there is a little memorial park [for] one of the founding colonists on the Mayflower named Myles Standish he was a military general of Plymouth Colony. The cellar hole where his house used to stand, you can kinda walk down this cliff face to this beach. I was kickin’ it there with my buddies, swimming [in the water] and such, and the sun started to set. A friend of mine started telling this freaky ghost story he had heard on the internet. It was like a song that was starting to haunt people. He got the the end of the story and then started playing the song. The sun sets, it’s dusk, we look up at the cliff face and there’s this like dark pilgrim-looking figure standing up there and we started freaking out. We all saw it. It looked like someone was standing at the top of the cliff. So we [run] up the stairs and get to our bikes, we start peddling down the streets. That’s my ghost story.”


The Informant is a 21-year-old male college student who grew up in Boston Massachusetts. As a child, he would visit Plymouth to see family and frequently heard legends about the land, its bloody history, and spirits who came back to haunt it. The informant’s friends summoned a colonist spirit by playing a song. 


The Informant’s story is an example of a memorate because this spiritual encounter was a first-hand experience. The Friend’s “freaky ghost story” about a song was a legend that the group then decided to test. What intrigued me about the story was where the test took place. There was a memorial site on the land for a brutal colonist military general, Myles Standish. The English general was infamous for the ruthless slaughter of Neponset Band Natives in The Massacre at Wessagusset. Standish lured Natives into a small building where he stabbed and hung them. The general even (my Informant shared this with me during a different conversation) stuck a well-respected Neponset Band Warrior’s head on a pike to scare the Natives. The dead bodies did not get a proper “send-off” into the afterlife. According to our class lecture, some cultures believe that the absence of a ritual or funeral ceremony for the dead means spirits cannot transition into the afterlife. Instead, the spirits are condemned to haunting the land where they died. Plymouth is not only haunted by spirits but by its history. The story of Myles Standish delegitimizes the land and calls into question rightful ownership. This supports Professor Thompson’s commentary on why Americans do not encourage or embrace the practice of folklore. 

Row Your Boat Parody; Swim Ye Sperm

Informant was a teacher of sixth grade science for several years at a private, US K-12 school in the South.

Swim, swim, swim you sperm
From the testicles
to the epididymis
and onto vas deferens
Snack, snack, snack you sperm
on the sweets galore
From the seminal vesicle
not the grocery store
On, on, on you go
through the donut hole,
the prostate press
shoots you out
It is the great escape! 
(last line preformed as goodness what a mess, but when dictated out loud this was the last line used)
Swim, Swim, Swim Ye Sperm Preformed

Informant created this parody of row, row, row your boat for her sixth grade science classes when they learned the reproductive system. Her goal was to ease some of the awkwardness of the subject of genitals for middle school students by having them sing a silly, goofy song to both help them remember the reproductive system and to normalize the discussion of the topic. The other teacher that taught sixth grade students did not teach their students the song, so it became an identifiable marker of who was or was not in the informant’s class or associated with her. Additionally, because the song was so absurd, students often remembered the informant by this song she taught them.

As the informant’s daughter and with features that bare resemblance to her, I would be approached by random students several times throughout my years at the school she taught at. They would ask “Are you [informant]’s daughter?”, and when I replied that I was, they would explain that they were in her sixth grade science class and still remembered the song she taught them and then they would sing it to me.

The American School System has a long history of lacking when it comes to sexual education. Many students’ sex education can be summed up by the word “abstinence”. Although the private school this song was taught at did not have an extensive or even satisfactory sex education, it did have material covering the reproductive systems of males and females and how they worked individually. The conservative approach to the discussion of sex, sexual organs, and sexuality leads to those subjects being taboo both in school and outside of it. The informant’s use of a well know song to ground the subject in something well known and her parodying it with a subject rarely discussed provide a medium by which her students could comfortably and socially acceptably learn and talk about the reproductive systems that were taboo up until that time in their lives. She would sing the song to them first before they had to do it with her to ease tension and let them know it was okay to say or sing all of those words in her class. The need for such a song is indicative of the long standing taboo treatment of sex.

The Big D


Residents of Dallas refer to it as “the Big D.”


The informant lived in Dallas for 17 years, and grew up knowing this nickname for her hometown.


Preliminary research points towards this nickname originating from the song with the same name, “Big D” from the 1956 musical The Most Happy Fella. The name popularized when Bing Crosby recorded the song, and stuck when a columnist at Dallas Morning News titled his column “Big D.” Since then, residents of Dallas have continued to call their city “the Big D” without necessarily knowing the origin of the nickname.

The longevity of the nickname may be more due to its function as a double entendre than the timelessness origins. Though the nickname remains the same, the meaning behind it changes, so that new generations believe their hometown nickname is unironically an epithet for genitalia.

I Can See Clearly Now

CONTEXT: DM is a current USC student who attended a North Carolina Christian sleep-away camp in the summer of 2011. This is a narrative joke that she heard from the head of camp, Jimbo. She heard this during Jimbo’s “Breakfast Club” during which he talked about God and told jokes. DM interprets this as a joke and a pun.

Alright, so one time there was this kid named Jim who lived in the fine, fine city of
Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was just coming up into high school, and in his
sophomore year of high school he’d just started to get a little bit interested in girls. And
there was this one girl in his English class that he really liked, and her name was
Lorraine. And he thought “oh my gosh, what an interesting name.” She was beautiful,
she had, like, beautiful eyes, beautiful hair, she was smart. They start talking. They
eventually start going on dates, and at first, everything’s awesome. Y’know, they’re
going on dates, hanging out all the time, getting to know each other, and then right
around when he says, “I love you,” world stops. Everything changes. And now, she is all
over him all of the time. She does not get off his case, is blowing up his phone while
he’s in class, while he’s at home, while he’s at work. And, like, he cannot get away from
this girl and it starts driving him crazy to the point where he goes “I think I need to break
up with this girl, but I don’t know how.” Same time, about halfway through his school
year, they get a transfer student from abroad. And she’s from some hippy-dippy
European family, whatever… she shows up in school and says that her name is Clearly,
and instantly AH, by-God, Jim is just struck over with love. He is falling head over heels
in a second, and he has forgotten completely about Lorraine. He is all about Clearly. All
he has to do is do it. So, he decides “What do I have to do? How can I sweeten the
deal? How can I make this go over without her actually killing me?” And he decides
“Alright, I’ll take her to the finest site in the city of Chattanooga – the Chattanooga River.”
Which, if you’re familiar, just is laden with the most beautiful., impressive, walls and
walls of concrete and big steel churning dams, and puffs of black smoke, and trash
floating all down the river in beautiful colorful sequence. And he takes her down to the
river, and he starts going “Well, y’know, I don’t… I don’t… I don’t really know how to say
this but I, um, I’ve been feeling…” and she’s going “yes?” As they’re walking, he sees
something cool in the river and he thinks “oh my god, what a great opportunity to
change the subject, ‘cause I cannot do this right now.” And he points in the water, and
he goes “Look!” And she turns around and leans over and falls into the river. And she
floats away and eventually drowns in the river. How sad. Oh my gosh. And he’s thinking
as he starts to call the police “Oh my gosh my girlfriend just fell in the Chattanooga
River. She’s probably suffocating on some plastic right now. How sad is this.” And then,
a thought crosses his mind, and he starts singing to himself as he walks away down the
river, “I can see Clearly now, Lorraine is gone.” (To the tune of I Can See Clearly Now
by Creedence Clearwater Revival)

ANALYSIS: This is a narrative joke in which the punchline is a play on a popular song from the 1970s. It is a play on words of the concept of seeing visually versus “seeing” someone in a romantic sense. The set up uses the names of two of the characters, Clearly and Lorraine, which doesn’t seem to be important until the punchline. It also relies on the similarity in sound between “Lorraine” and “the rain.” The punchline is sung so that the audience recalls the music it is based on. The joke will only work if the audience is familiar with the song. Knowing the storyteller, it is clear to me which parts of the story were added or embellished based on her personal preferences and style. It is a great example of how details are changed through oral tradition, even when the basic premise of the joke remains the same. It is also interesting that the main character of the joke, Jim, shares a name with the person DM heard the joke from
originally. It is the only character whose name has no bearing on the punchline. I wonder if that character has a different name in other versions of this joke, or if his shared name is a coincidence. It is also a “clean” joke, suitable for an audience of children at a Christian summer camp.

Swedish-American Happy Birthday


This tradition involves bringing in a Swedish apple cake with candles on it to the birthday person and waking them up with first the American Happy Birthday song:

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday to you

Happy birthday dear  [the name of the person]

Happy birthday to you

Followed by the Swedish Happy birthday song:


Ja må hon leva! 

Ja, må hon leva! 

Ja, må han leva! 

Ja, må hon leva uti hundrade år! 

Javisst ska hon leva! 

Javisst ska hon leva! 

Javisst ska hon leva uti hundrade år! 

Ett fyrfaldigt leve för [the name of the person], hon leve, 

hurra, hurra, hurra, hurra!


Yes, may he (she) live!

Yes, may he (she) live!

Yes, may he (she) live for a hundred years!

Of course, he (she) will live,

Of course, he (she) will live,

Of course, he (she) will live for a hundred years!

Hooray, hooray, hooray, hooray!

If any of the candles are not blown out that is the number of new partners that person will have in the next year of their life.


The informant is the daughter of a Swedish immigrant who came to the US for college and ended up staying here and marrying an American. This tradition is done at every birthday by all people present.


For me, this indicates the merging of cultures, Swedish and American. As neither one wants to let their culture go the traditions are combined to form a new one. The Swedish song is very common throughout Sweden and is not unique to the family, however, combining the two songs is something only done by the half Swedish half American side of the family. In addition, the Swedish apple cake with candles on it was part of the Swedish tradition as well as the idea of the number of remaining lit candles correlated with the new partners. The reason for the keeping of these traditions is to preserve a sense of identity and culture. All of the grandchildren participate very strongly in all of the traditions and are proud of their Swedish heritage. Even when new people like significant others join the family it is very important to keep these traditions, although the addition of the American Birthday song may also be there to soften the entry.