Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Workin' Man's Ph.D" - Aaron Tippin, 1993 (country)

You get up every morning 'fore the sun comes up
Toss a lunchbox into a pickup truck
A long, hard day sure ain't much fun
But you've gotta get it started if you wanna get it done
You set your mind and roll up your sleeves
You're workin' on a working man's Ph.D.

With your heart in your hands and the sweat on your brow
You build the things that really make the world go around
If it works, if it runs, if it lasts for years
You bet your bottom dollar it was made right here
With pride, honor and dignity
From a man with a working man's Ph.D.

Now there ain't no shame in a job well done
From driving a nail to driving a truck
As a matter of fact I'd like to set things straight
A few more people should be pullin' their weight
If you wanna cram course in reality
You get yourself a working man's Ph.D.

When the quittin' whistle blows and the dust settles down
There ain't no trophies or cheering crowds
You'll face yourself at the end of the day
And be damn proud of whatever you've made
Can't hang it on the wall for the world to see
But you've got yourself a working man's Ph.D.

Now there ain't no shame in a job well done
From driving a nail to driving a truck
As a matter of fact I'd like to set things straight
A few more people should be pullin' their weight
If you wanna cram course in reality
You get yourself a working man's Ph.D.

It's starting to get chilly and that makes me not want to go outside anymore, so it's time to fire up the old blog-ola again and get back to playing the 8th instrument out of seven that I know how to play the best....the radio. Given the current State of the Union (or lack of as the case may be), I thought I'd do a series of songs that touch on the economy.

If there has ever been a medium for man to vent his frustrations without fear of reproach, it's music (because music is always considered a "creative art" and therefore accepted as being 100% subjective and individualistic). Music has always been a form of communicating man's darkest fears, his deepest troubles, his doubts, and his shortcomings. It's been there for him to voice his opinion on all aspects of life, from partying and social issues to politics, religion, and even the weather, and unlike all other forms of media, music has always set itself apart as being the one true media within which a person can convey their actual feelings. The pen may be mightier than the sword, and many great orators have risen to and fallen from power on their abilities to captivate an audience with speech, but music is the only thing that has the ability to transcend the boundary between the physical mind and the metaphysical spirit....i.e. "It gets ya right here." (place fist over heart). And besides, as we've seen before and as is the point of this blog, if you want somebody to remember something (consciously or sub), well, just sing 'em a song and they won't be able to help it, even if they disagree.

And so, to help us remember that it wasn't always this bad, I've chosen a song that really doesn't have much to say in the way of things historically, however we can use music to actually create a memory, or rather, an association. By association, I mean something that we think about when we hear a song. You have probably noticed by now that there have not been many posts here containing country music. It's not that I don't like country music (come on, I'm a farmer and I own 3 horses and live in the country...er...what used to be country). Country music doesn't actually work the same way that rock-n-roll does. It hasn't got much grit when it comes to politics and there's more tears in beers than there are fists in faces. Country music is more laid back and reflective. In fact, the subject matter of country music is actually closer to the daily lives of real people than any other genre, so much so that one of our local country stations' slogan is "Music for real life". Instead us catching a vicarious glimpse of someone else's experiences, country music has that mass "been there, done that" quality that you can actually identify with personally, and that you won't really find anywhere else.

Even if you're not a country fan, you can appreciate the message that Aaron Tippin's "Workin' Man's Ph.D" tries to send. It's a song about things being American made. No tricks, no frills, no gimmicks, just a song about the contributions of the American working man. So, let's look at what he's been up to all this time. Here's a list of U.S. inventions, and products and companies that are still Made in the U.S.A.:

  • Ford - that's a no-brainer. Ford may use some foreign parts, but by all rights these cars and trucks are American, based in Dearborn, Michigan. In fact, Ford gets top billing here for not only being an American car, made in America, but also for being THE very first car...ever! (1901)

  • Oreck upright and canister vacuums. (Long Beach, MS)

  • Shop Vac - those small but mighty vacuums that even have us calling all R2D2-esque canister vacuums "shop vac". (Williamsport, PA)

  • Peanut butter - While peanuts have been used to make paste since 930 B.C., it was an unknown U.S. doctor who invented the tasty-sweet pasty snack in 1890, and in 1903 Dr. Ambrose Straub of St. Louis, MO patented the first peanut butter making machine.

  • Eddie Bauer - (Bellevue, WA) The clothes, the shoes, and the names on the SUVs. While you may see the name being associated with Germany and Japan, it isn't that the outdoorsy company is contracting to have their clothes made there, but rather that they have their catalogues distributed there.

  • Step2 - (Streetsboro, OH...a stone's throw away!). They make everything from those tough plastic mailboxes (have one!) to outdoor children's toys. This stuff can hold it's own against everything, including the snowplow.

  • Pyrex - any woman who's spent time in the kitchen knows what Pyrex is. It's the ONLY company worth buying who makes glass cookware. (Charleroi, PA)

  • Anchor Hocking - Next time you order a drink at the bar or pour a Kool Aid (also an American drink) at home, check the bottom of the glass. This company, located in Lancaster, OH (yay!) shows up like a rash when it comes to glassware.

  • MagLite - Shining light on the subject from Ontario, CA since 1979. (they make flashlights).

  • Banjos! - a purely American instrument for purely American music - bluegrass. Developed by African slaves in the U.S. It's one of the few musical instruments that are made here in the U.S. that are well made. Musical instrument making in the U.S. isn't all that great, I think mainly due to the fact that it's a very old art and we're just too busy and haven't been around long enough as a nation to really perfect it.

  • Louisville Slugger - perhaps its the fault of this Louisville, KY company that there was no joy in Mudville when Mighty Casey struck out, but this company's bats have hit more home runs than there are green M&Ms.

  • Channellocks - (Meadeville, PA.)

  • Snap-On - forget Craftsman (made overseas by various companies...BOOOOO!). Snap-On is a little more expensive, but their stuff is a lot nicer than the competition. I should know...my husband owns so many that not all the toolboxes fit in our house! (Elkmont, AL; Algona, IA; Elizabethton, TN; Milwaukee, WI)

  • Wiffle Ball - now who doesn't love wiffle balls? They don't hurt when they hit you and they make the most delightful sound as they slosh through the air. (Shelton, CT)

  • Big Wheel - you know, those tricycle-like plastic toys. Yep, they still make 'em! (Cedar Rapids, IA)

  • Snapper lawnmowers - (McDonough, GA)

  • Western Saddles! - nobody in the world makes a saddle like the Americans. Cowboys were another purely American invention. They bred their own horses (see next entry) and designed their own saddles. The Western saddle is unique to the U.S. and was designed around the job of the American cattleman's job. Everyone who's been around horses long enough knows that if you want the rootin'est, tootin'est saddle for your money, then you buy one that's hand made right here in the U.S. of A. This is another area that we excel in as a country.

  • Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals in the 1760s.

  • 2 words... "Eli Witney". There's enough right there: interchangeable parts, cotton gin, milling machines.

  • Colt and Smith & Wesson firearms.

  • Potato Chips! - invented by George Crum (how fitting!) in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1853.

OK, and now for a laundry list of other stuff we invented - stuff that is used on a daily basis throughout the entire world, and without which none of us would be the same. This is stuff that the world couldn't live without, and dag-gone it, we invented it (and of course, let's not forget that with a single invention comes all its ensuing technology and uses):

disposable diapers, drive-through windows (the negative feedback amplifier), THE INTERNET, sunglasses, deodorant, inline skates, LAPTOP COMPUTERS, clothespins, kitty litter, street sweepers, VOICEMAIL, condensed milk, sextants, mail order catalogs, safety pins, vertical filing cabinets, sousaphones (marching tubas!), thumbtacks, ZIPPERS, mercury vapor lights (oh how I hate them!), garbage disposals, CELL PHONES, jukeboxes, reclining chairs, ice cube trays, air conditioning (freon), DIGITAL WATCHES, White Out, THE AUTOMOBILE, crash test dummies, defibrillators, TRANSISTOR RADIOS, cruise control, MICROWAVE OVENS, hair spray, windsurfing, cable TV, TV dinners, CREDIT CARDS, magic markers, golf carts, artificial hearts, BAR CODES, automatic sliding doors, radar detectors, HARD DRIVES, snowboarding, NASCAR, videotape, LEDs (light emitting diode), glucose meters, smoke detectors, COMPUTER MICE, Astro-Turf, CDs, Kevlar, catalytic converters, EMAIL, Post-It notes, control top pantyhose, AIRPLANES, the Heimlich meneuver, LIGHTBULBS, Gore-Tex, MRIs, nicotine patches, TiVo, THE TELEPHONE, GPSs, automatic coffee makers, refrigerators, WINDOWS (as in Bill Gates), blue jeans, Coca-Cola, FIBER OPTICS, Band-Aids, brassieres, corrugated cardboard, chewing gum, BLOOD BANKS, grocery coupons, crossword puzzles, drinking fountains, CAMERAS, passenger elevators, electric guitars, FOOD BANKS, Jell-O, lipstick, MORSE CODE, nylon, roller coasters, ASSEMBLY LINES, tea bags, teddy bears, Teflon, TOILET PAPER, tissues, tractors, traffic lights, VIDEO GAMES,.....and the ONE greatest invention that has gone down in history as "the greatest thing"....

......sliced bread. Yep. We did it here first in 1928. It was invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, IA.

WOW! We've been busy! And unlike everyone else, we've done it all in only 229 years. Nothing about this country has come easy or been handed to us. We've done everything by ourselves since our Independence.It would seem to me like we've earned that Ph.D. There's a lot here to be proud of.

~Sources? Read the labels...and maybe perhaps somethings from a generic Google search.

Friday, July 3, 2009

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" - Julia Ward Howe, 1862 (traditional patriotic)

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!...
...His day is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!...
...Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!...
...While God is marching on.

Why is The Battle Hymn of the Republic heard playing at some point in nearly every war movie? Well, if you were to pay attention, you'd find that you'll never hear the Star-Spangled Banner played in any movie with a subject dated before 1889, and if you do it means that someone didn't do their homework. Even though the Star-Spangled Banner's words were written in 1814, until the Navy first officially used it in 1889 and President Wilson official use the song in 1916, the U.S. didn't have a national anthem. There were plenty of other patriotic tunes, though, including what Americans refer to as "The Battle Hymn", which was the closest thing the U.S. came to a national anthem in the mid-to-late 1800's.

"The Battle Hymn" was the unofficial anthem of the Union, although the tune and the words we know today weren't put together until 1861. The tune was transcribed in 1855 by William Steffe, and as is typical of American folk music, there were many different sets of lyrics; however, the most famous version of this song was sung by the soldiers in the Union Army, whose version of the song was known as John Brown's Body. When an Americans hear the name "John Brown", they immediately think of the famous abolitionist and hero of Harpers Ferry, and it would seem that a rousing tune with his name on it would be so fitting to represent the abolitionist American North. Surprisingly, though, the John Brown in the song really isn't the same person. It's about a Scotsman, John Brown of the Second Battalion, Boston Light Infantry Volunteer Militia - who just happened to share the same name, and who had an intermittent punctuality problem.

When Sgt. Brown finally did show up he was ribbed by the others, who jabbed that they thought he'd never show up because they'd heard he was dead. So, who was John Brown and what happened to him? John Brown's campaign on Harpers Ferry is considered to be a major catalyst that propelled the U.S. into civil war. He led the raid with 32 men (including his own sons) in an effort to lead an arm slaves and lead them in revolt. His first order of business wast to lay siege to the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. However, news of his actions quickly reached Washington, and he was then shortly met by General Robert E. Lee and a detachment of U.S. Marines who quickly cut off the bridge out of town (and subsequently Brown's only means of escape). He was tried in Jefferson County and found guilty and hanged for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. His execution caused a great deal of stir as such a drastic punishment was perceived by anti-slavery supporters to indicate the government's support of slavery. And so, this is the premise behind the chastising of Sgt. John Brown of Boston - that his tardiness was a result of his death (and also quite possibly a slight-of-hand joke that his lack of punctuality was slightly treacherous in itself).

All joking aside, the country still had no national anthem, and early on in the Civil War, some well-respected Union gentlemen proposed a national contest to see who could write a song that was worthy of the title. The idea was a smash most likely due to the hefty prize sum of $500 (which was a lot of money back then). Even though over a thousand songs were submitted, none were found to be suitable.

In 1862, two volunteers from the US Sanitary Commission were invited to visit President Lincoln in Washington. The US Sanitary Commission was a government watchdog agency that was set up as a means to ensure sanitary conditions within U.S. POW camps. As part of their trip, the visitors, Julia and Samuel Howe made a visit to a Union army camp in Virginia, just across the Potomac. Interestingly enough, rumor has it that Samuel Howe was a member of the Secret Six...who were the men responsible for bankrolling the real John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. That night, the Howe's heard the soldiers singing the song, John Brown's Body. In her autobiography, Julia Howe recalls how she lay awake listening to the song playing over and over in her head, but how she felt that such a noble and inspiring tune had such unfortunate lyrics. In the morning, she awoke with a new words echoing through her brain. She lay there in her bed until she had written them all, then scrawled them onto an old piece of paper. Using forceful words and images like “As he died to make men holy/let us die to make men free,” Julia used Biblical images to urge people to adhere to their principals and end slavery.

In 1862, her poem The Battle Hymn of the Republic was published in the Atlantic Monthly. The poem was set to the music of John Brown's Body, and if the Billboard Music Charts had been keeping score at the time, it would have gone straight to the top and been a No. 1 Single for four years running. The tune was so popular it became the most instantly recognized Civil War song of all time. In its popularity it became the unofficial anthem of the Union, and at the same time obviously became the most infuriating and hated song in all of the South.

As far as the contest to find a national anthem goes, no song was ever chosen as a result of it, and no person received the $500 prize...not even Julia Ward Howe, who's Battle Hymn of the Republic came the closest - her poem was used by the North's military and military supporters until the Star-Spangled Banner's official inception in 1889. She was paid a whopping sum of $4.00 for her contribution.
Omitted third and sixth verses:

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."

Glory, glory, hallelujah!...
...Since God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!...
...Our God is marching on.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" - Julia Ward Howe, 1862

~Had to raid the Virginia Commonwealth area site for some information...

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Calypso" - John Denver, folk (1975)

To sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean
To ride on the crest of a wild raging storm
To work in the service of life and the living
In search of the answers to questions unknown
To be part of the movement and part of the growing
Part of beginning to understand

Aye, Calypso, the places you’ve been to
The things that you’ve shown us
The stories you tell
Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit
The men who have served you
So long and so well

Like the dolphin who guides you
You bring us beside you
To light up the darkness and show us the way
For though we are strangers in your silent world
To live on the land we must learn from the sea
To be true as the tide
And free as the wind-swell
Joyful and loving in letting it be

Aye, Calypso, the places you’ve been to
The things that you’ve shown us
The stories you tell
Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit
The men who have served you
So long and so well

One of my hobbies is SCUBA diving. I am a certified PADI diver - and not just the crash course certification you get when you go on vacation. Nope, I spent the money and the time in class to receive my honest-to-goodness certification. That's me in the pictures. I've been diving in the British West Indies and Mexico. I live very close to Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes hold the largest concentration of shipwrecks in the world. I've been on many of those wrecks, from modern steel sand suckers to 19th century schooners (tall ships). I have been in underwater caverns with 100 feet of solid bedrock above me and no way out but to follow a winding narrow corridor at a depth of over 100 feet, and I have been diving in the middle of the night with nothing but a Sabre Light to show the way. I've swam with barracuda, eels, sea sponges, loggerhead turtles, rays, skates, scratched the belly of a manatee or two, and miles upon miles of beautiful coral fields, and I've also been followed around and studied intensely by curious Yellow Snapper. I own several wet suits, air tanks (one looks like a bottle of Dad's rootbeer), buoyancy compensators (BCs), masks, fins, snorkels, dive cameras and housings...and if I need anything else, I'm sure I can borrow it from a buddy of mine. All of this that I have done and all of the equipment that I (and the rest of the SCUBA diving world) uses is all thanks to one man: Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Without his discoveries and contributions to marine science, none of this would be possible. Without his research we would still know next to nothing about what lies beneath the ocean surface. His first research vessel, the RV (research vessel) Calypso is the topic of this John Denver hit.

Calypso was originally a Minesweeper belonging to the British Royal Navy. In 1950, Irish millionaire Thomas Loel Guiness purchased the ship and leased it to Cousteau for one franc a year. Cousteau converted the ship into a research vessel, a mobile laboratory for ocean exploration. The ship was outfitted to be a support base for diving as well as for filming and other forms of oceanic research. Calypso carried some of the most advanced exploration equipment. On board were both one and two man submarines (also developed by Cousteau). There were diving saucers and underwater scooters, and the ship's bow had a transparent nose cone - an underwater observation area three feet below the water line. Calypso also had a helicopter pad on deck. In 1996, Calypso was accidentally rammed by a barge in Singapore. She was raised by a 230-foot crane, patched, pumped dry, and put into shipyard. The following year, Jacques-Yves Cousteau passed away, having flung open the doorway to the bottom of the ocean and everything in between. His contributions include:

The invention of SCUBA in 1942. On a small Riviera beach, Cousteau entered the water with his rubber flippers and some new-fangled completely autonomous diving gear - the aqualung, a compressed air device invented in 1925 by Captain Yves Le Prieur. The problem with the aqualung was that air continuously flowed from it, which put limits on how long a diver could use it. Cousteau modified the device based an idea he got from the Germans during WWII. The Germans requisitioned gasoline, and engineer Emile Gagnan invented a demand regulator that would feed the gas into the engine in just the precise amount the vehicle needed. Cousteau modified this device to work with air, placed it at the top of his aqualung, and the Self Contained Underwater Breathing Aparatus was born. Now a diver could move around more quickly with less fatigue, which meant less air consumption and longer bottom time (and consequently more time for undersea observation).

The development of Denise the diving saucer in 1959. Denise was a permanent part of Calypso's standard research arsenal. This SP-350, aka Denise, nicknamed "diving saucer" because of its resemblance to the sci-fi UFOs of the period, was the first underwater vehicle designed and equipped expressly for scientific research. She sat a crew of 2 in her cabin, which she could take as deep as 1148 feet and could remain there for 4-5 hours. Cousteau designed this little submarine around the squid's propulsion system. It sucked in water from the front and spit it out the back. The crew inside looked through portholes that brought them to within centimeters, but more importantly, since the deeper one dives the darker it gets, Denise was equipped with 3 special underwater lights. These lights were movable by the crew inside, and could light up objects as far as 108 feet away (and at different angles). Denise's lights lit up a world filled with creatures that no man had ever seen before. Luckily, Denise's standard equipment included a radio and tape recorder and 2 cameras. The crew, however, were not limited to just observation. Denise had a sampling arm, which was a sort-of robotic extension of the vessel that could be operated by controls within. The operator could pick up objects as well as look at them. Because of Denise, more development was made of this technology, and today "Sea Fleas" (single-man diving devices) can dive to a depth 1640 feet.

In 1942, Cousteau began tinkering with what would be come a submarine camera. It started with a regular Kinamo 35mm camera in a watertight case. The first problem he encountered was light. Everything looks blue under the surface, and objects quickly fade into obscurity. So, in 1948 Cousteau began stringing powerful lights on long cords linked to the surface by an electric cable, and the first in-color film footage was shot. Cousteau and his team studied the behavior of light in the water. They noticed that reds were absorbed first, then yellows, then greens, then blues. The behavior of the light rays led them to develop an artificial light source that was capable of behaving according to the water, and as a result the colors captured on film were not only more accurate but were more vibrant and distinct. And since sea critters can move incredibly fast, he invented underwater scooters, which were basically lawnmowers with propellers, in order that a camera could follow them.

Believe it or not, in the early 1960's Jacques Cousteau also made a hefty contribution to NASA's space program, but he didn't do it in the air. He did it between 30 and 300 feet underwater with his Conshelf experiments numbers I, II, and III. In these successive experiments, steel cylinders were placed on the bottom of various sea floors and Cousteau's "oceanauts" were placed inside to see if man could live under the sea. These guinea pigs were given every luxury - TV, radio, library, and bed. In Conshelf I, at 30 feet down off the coast of Marsielle, two men successfully lived for one week. In the Conshelf II experiment, at 50 feet under the Red Sea, an entire village was placed inside and lived for a month. In Nice, France, the Conshelf III experiment housed 6 oceanauts at a depth of 328 feet for three weeks. While the experiments were a smashing success, they also proved that man had too many physical limitations and was just simply not meant to live in a world devoid of sunlight. It was the training that these oceanauts received prior to their Conshelf installation that NASA adopted and still uses today.

Visit http://www.cousteau.org/ to read all about Jacques Cousteau and his work, which has continued even after his death. If you go to the menu and click "Expeditions" you can see Calypso's "places she's been to" and read "the stories she tells".

"Calypso" - John Denver, 1975

Here are a couple of my own SCUBA videos.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Hot Rod Lincoln" - Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, pop (1972)

My pappy said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin'
If you don't stop drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln."

Have you heard this story of the Hot Rod Race
When Fords and Lincolns was settin' the pace.
That story is true, I'm here to say
I was drivin' that Model A.

It's got a Lincoln motor and it's really souped up.
That Model A Vitimix makes it look like a pup.
It's got eight cylinders; uses them all.
It's got overdrive, just won't stall.

With a 4-barrel carb and a dual exhaust,
With 4.11 gears you can really get lost.
It's got safety tubes, but I ain't scared.
The brakes are good, tires fair.

Pulled out of San Pedro late one night
The moon and the stars was shinin' bright.
We was drivin' up Grapevine Hill
Passing cars like they was standing still.

All of a sudden in a wink of an eye
A Cadillac sedan passed us by.
I said, "Boys, that's a mark for me!"
By then the taillight was all you could see.

Now the fellas was ribbin' me for bein' behind,
So I thought I'd make the Lincoln unwind.
Took my foot off the gas and man alive,
I shoved it on down into overdrive.

Wound it up to a hundred-and-ten
My speedometer said that I hit top end.
My foot was blue, like lead to the floor.
That's all there is and there ain't no more.

Now the boys all thought I'd lost my sense
And telephone poles looked like a picket fence.
They said, "Slow down! I see spots!
The lines on the road just look like dots."

Took a corner; sideswiped a truck,
Crossed my fingers just for luck.
My fenders was clickin' the guardrail posts.
The guy beside me was white as a ghost.

Smoke was comin' from out of the back
When I started to gain on that Cadillac.
Knew I could catch him, I thought I could pass.
Don't you know by then we'd be low on gas?

We had flames comin' from out of the side.
Feel the tension. Man! What a ride!
I said, "Look out, boys, I've got a license to fly!"
And that Caddy pulled over and let us by.

Now all of a sudden she started to knockin',
And down in the dips she started to rockin'.
I looked in my mirror; a red light was blinkin'
The cops was after my Hot Rod Lincoln!

They arrested me and they put me in jail.
And called my pappy to throw my bail.
And he said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin'
If you don't stop drivin' that Hot... Rod... Lincoln

We're long overdue for a good car song - not the kind of song that just happens to mention a car while singing about something else but an song that pays homage to actual, physical, honest-to-goodness American heavy metal. The song was written and first performed in 1955 by Charlie Ryan, and later Johnny Bond recorded the song with some minor changes to the vehicle's specifications. However, the most popular version, which is the closest to the Charlie Ryan recording, was released in 1972 by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (and how all of that name fit onto a 45 rpm record label, we'll never know).

The hot rod race between coupe Fords and Lincolns mentioned at the beginning of the song is a section of southern California's "Ridge Route Highway", which winds over the San Gabriel and Tehachapi Mountains between Castaic Junction on the south. "Grapevine Grade" was a 6 1/2 mile section of Ridge Route Highway that was popular among young American motorists with a need for speed. While many people believe that this highway segment is named because of its many winding turns and switchbacks (resembling a giant grapevine), it was actually named Grapevine Grade because the early wagoners had to cut their way through thick patches of Cimarron grape vines. Even today, while travelling this famous stretch, off the road you will see patches of what appear to be ivy. These are actually Cimarron grape vines that date back to the 1800s. California was the birth place of the hot rod, thanks to the landscape of open country, dry lake beds, and to challenge the vehicle's handling...grades just like the Grapevine. And just like Santa, M&Ms, and The Grapevine, Hot Rod Lincolns do exist.

At the time the races on the Grapevine were popular, the Hot Rod Lincoln was a 1931 Ford Model A coupe over a cut-down Lincoln Zephyr chassis. This Ford had a 12-cylinder Lincoln engine and a 4.11 rear-axle ratio and overdrive. The popularity of hot rod Lincolns gained so much momentum that they even became the getaway vehicle of choice of bootleggers and gangsters. In fact, if it wasn't for the Lincolns, we might not enjoy extensive vehicle modification like we do today - they were the first hot rods; and while this 1931 Ford has plenty of its own specs, it certainly didn't come off the assembly line that way.

Even while the motor car was in its infancy, gear heads across the country were tinkering with their toys to achieve greater vehicle performance. "Hot rod" was a term that first appeared in the American language around the 1930's and early 1940's. While it's uncertain exactly where it came from, we do know that it specifically refers to the modification of an American car for the purpose of gaining linear speed. The term "hot rod" was the new, hip term to replace "gow job" and "soup-up". One theory behind the term "hot rod" is that it is a contraction of the words "hot roadster".

Traditionally, a "roadster" is defined as a vehicle that only seats two people and does not have a roof, side windows, or a rear windshield. The absence of these features made their bodies light, and because of this (and because of their cool and sporty look) roadsters were a prime target for tinkering with. The early Model A's, however (which is the vehicle specified in our song) had only a single seat for the driver. (Other theories behind "hot rod" include: the practice of leaving the exhaust pipes exposed, which of course are quite hot while the vehicle is running; or referring to the connecting rods, cams, push rods inside the engine, or exposed frame rails of the car).

To increase vehicle performance, mechanics would install larger tires in the rear than in the front, which raised the gear ratio for high speed. Leaving the standard size tires in the front lowered the vehicle to the ground and raked it forward, which decreased wind resistance and made the vehicle more aerodynamic. Mechanics would also cut louvers along the sides and into the hood to release trapped air and to help with engine cooling.

Ford was usually the chop vehicle of choice because their 85-hp engines were being mass produced by the millions. These engines were relatively inexpensive, and their configuration made it very easy to modify, not to mention that this same configuration provided the opportunity for an infinite number of enhancement. One of the earliest modifications to coax more speed out of these Fords was to remove the muffler and straighten out the pipes. Later, multiple carburetors were added on top of that, and the result was an engine that would zip these cars across open country and dry lake beds at speeds of more than 100 mph.

Eventually, the body work caught up with the hot rod engine. Body modifications helped the vehicle's overall handling and performance. A favorite technique was "top chopping", lowering, or channeling the entire frame of the vehicle to within inches of the ground. Seams were frenched (smoothed and filled in) and skirts (smoothed out fenders put over the rear wheel openings). It was also popular to install lakes (exhaust that sticks out the side instead of the back). Of course the car had to look good, so chrome was in abundance as were elaborate paint jobs. However, as the cars got better, the parts got more expensive and junkyard parts just couldn't deliver what the mechanics were looking for.

Eventually, Detroit entered the hot rodding arena and began to manufacture normal cars with get-up-and-go --muscle cars. While these cars had more than one seat, a roof, and all of the windows, they were made with huge displacement engines such as the Chevy 396, 409, and 427. Chrysler came out with the 440 and later the 426 hemi, which was racing-engineered (with hemispherical combustion chambers). Of course, the fuel crisis of the 1970s brought an end to the era of the whomping v8 performance engine, which put hot rodding on haitus for almost 20 years. Muscle cars and hot rods rarely saw the light of day except to make an appearance at a special day at the races, a car show, or the slow Sunday drive down Main Street. Hot rodding dwindled and became the hobby of those who could afford it - the parts to build it and the gas to drive it. However, in the 1990's, once again California revived hot rodding among youth. Young Latinos from California's Chicano culture found an interest in the modification of vehicles from the 1960s, particularly Chevy Impalas. Thus, the lowrider was born, and although these vehicles aren't designed around increasing linear speed, the spirit of their design and modification remains true to the character of the hot rod.

Figure out what famous hot rods are pictured? They are (from top to bottom)
1.) Munster Koach, three Ford Model T bodies and a 289 Ford Cobra engine (from the TV series The Munsters)
2.) Milner's Coupe, a 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe (from the movie American Graffiti)
3.) Drag-U-La, a 1964 real coffin (molded from) with a Ford Mustang engine (also from The Munsters)
4.) The original Batmobile, a 1955 Lincoln Futura (from the original TV series Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward)
5.) ZZ Top's Eliminator, a 1933 Ford Coup
6.) Greased Lightning, an imaginary 1948 Ford (from the movie Grease)

"Hot Rod Lincoln" - Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, 1972

~information gathered and modified from places like:

Sunday, May 31, 2009

"James K. Polk" - They Might Be Giants, 1996 (geek rock)

In 1844, the Democrats were split
The three nominees for the presidential candidate
Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
James Buchanan, a moderate
Louis Cass, a general and expansionist
From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

Austere, severe, he held few people dear
His oratory filled his foes with fear
The factions soon agreed
He's just the man we need
To bring about victory
Fulfill our manifest destiny
And annex the land the Mexicans command
And when the votes were cast the winner was
Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

In four short years he met his every goal
He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
Made sure the tariffs fell
And made the English sell the Oregon territory
He built an independent treasury
Having done all this he sought no second term
But precious few have mourned the passing of
Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

President James Knox Polk was the 11th President of the United States and the last of the Jacksonian legacy and the last strongest President to hold office before the Civil War. Yet despite his monstrous contributions to the country in his single term, he remains somewhat obscure and little discussed. This shouldn't be all that surprising, though, seeing as how he began his Presidential career in obscurity. He does, however, happen to be my favorite President.

He was the first "dark horse" President ever elected. The term "dark horse" is an old horse racing term used to describe a mount that just seems to appear from out of nowhere - no one knows who he is or anything about his career, and therefore it is difficult to forecast how he will perform. A race's "dark horse" is virtually unknown, making it difficult for gamblers to place give odds and bets on. The last of the Jacksonians, he shot out of the gate and upset Henry Clay by a nose. It was the issue of expansion that sealed the victory for Polk.

The clincher in this 1844 election was Manifest Destiny - the belief that the U.S. was destined, if not divinely ordained, to expand across the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Henry Clay did not support this idea, and it cost him the election, although narrowly. In his four years as President, he did a great deal to expand the U.S., which proved to stimulate the country economically. Polk's Presidential administration did everything his campaign promised it would do, and he did it better than everyone expected him to.

Probably one of Polk's most famous contributions to America was his permanent acquisition of Oregon. It was certainly a lynch pin in his campaign. The people's feelings regarding the territory of Oregon ran so strong that adamant proponents and extremists were willing to go to war with Great Britain over it, as is evident by their slogan, "Fifty-four forty or fight!". "Fifty-four" refers to the latitude line that marked the boundary of Oregon - 54 degrees, 40 minutes (54* 40') north latitude. The Oregon Question arose as a result of competing ownerships of Britain and America. Both countries had big dreams for their claims on the Pacific Northwest. Polk never did fight for it, though. Neither country wanted an altercation over the area, and so Great Britain conceded to the U.S. and a shot was never fired.

As a result, the U.S. received permanent ownership of said territories, which eventually became the states of: Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. As a result of that, we can now offer the world: tasty potatoes and apples; grunge music and flannel shirts; a Tony award winning Shakespeare Festival; Appaloosa horses; The Simpsons (Matt Groening was born in Oregon); sportscaster Ahmad Rashad; Batman (Adam West - born in Washington); Microsoft, Windows, and home PCs in general (Bill Gates born in Washington); The Price Is Right (Bob Barker - Washington); Jimi Hendrix (born in - Washington); and an Olympic skier with a cute little name (Picabo Street - born in Idaho).

It was Polk's administration that concluded the Mexican-American War in 1848 (in conjunction with what President Tyler's administration had begun earlier), and as a result the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed and the United States acquired the territory of Texas. Of course, we're talking about Texas "back then". The territory of Texas "back then" consisted of what became the following states: Texas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and parts of Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana.

As a result of that, we are now the purveyors of: the Bonneville Salt Flats; half a google of country songs about the geography here; a place to put London Bridge; Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers; the subject for title of a U2 album (a Joshua Tree only grows in Arizona); John Denver; one half of "Dashmi" (Demi Moore born in New Mex.); The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and most of the other cartoons on the Boomerang channel (creator William Hannah born in New Mexico); every Paris Hilton fiasco to hit the tabloids (great-grandfather Conrad Hilton born in New Mexico); Hollywood, the Silver Screen, and nearly every movie you've ever seen; "Sin City" (not the cartoon or the movie...the place); only about most of any professional ball teams that have ever held a national title; and beef, corn, wheat, and anything else that might be in your fridge (during the growing season, of course).

Polk also kept one more promise that he'd made during his campaign. He vowed that if he was elected, he would not run for a second term. That's too bad. He was one politician who actually kept his promises and one politician who arguably made the largest territorial and economic contribution to America, which resulted in an explosion of industries that put people to work and made the U.S. self sufficient and prosperous enough to be able to take care of less fortunate places. Of course, Polk's campaigns weren't the only ones to acquire new land for the U.S., but his incredibly large contribution made it possible for the U.S. to acquire land adjacent to his added territories. As a result of Polk's territorial acquisitions, the United States contains zones of nearly every Koeppen Climate classification. That means that the U.S. contains a sample of nearly every type of environment that the world has to offer. There is no other single country in the world that contains such diversity within its own borders - Mediterranean, humid sub-tropics, tropics, and tundra...from the mountains, to the prairie, to the oceans...white with foam...

"James K. Polk" - They Might Be Giants, 1996

~Information manifest from what I remember from 11th grade American History and places like these:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Whiskey In The Jar" - Metallica version, 1998 (heavy metal)

As I was goin' over the Cork and Kerry Mountains
I saw Captain Farrell and his money, he was countin'
I first produced my pistol and then produced my rapier
I said, "Stand and deliver or the devil he may take ya"

I took all of his money and it was a pretty penny
I took all of his money, yeah, and I brought it home to Molly
She swore that she loved me, no, never would she leave me
But the devil take that woman, yeah, for you know she tricked me easy

M'uishe rinne me me don amada,**
Whack fol the daddy O,
Whack fol the daddy O,
There's whiskey in the jar.

Being drunk and weary I went to Molly's chamber
Takin' Molly with me but I never knew the danger
For about six or maybe seven, yeah, in walked Captain Farrell
I jumped up, fired my pistols and I shot him with both barrels

M'uishe rinne me me don amada,
Whack fol the daddy O,
Whack fol the daddy O,
There's whiskey in the jar.

Now some men like a fishin' but some men like the fowlin'
Some men like to hear, to hear the cannonball roarin'
But me, I like sleepin', 'specially in my Molly's chamber
But here I am in prison, here I am with a ball and chain, yeah

M'uishe rinne me me don amada
Whack fol the daddy O,
Whack fol the daddy O,
There's whiskey in the jar.

**Please note that four years of German has not improved my Gaelic any, and if this part was completely butchered, I do apologize. Nobody is for sure if this is just what the Irish call "lilting" (American's call it 'scat singing') or if it's misspoken Gaelic (as in...drunken, slurred). If those are the correct words, then it's possible that it means "Whiskey has made a fool of me"...or something like that. "Whack fol the daddy, O" sounds like drunken Gaelic for "The work of the devil", which also makes some sense.
Usually I try to use the original recorded artists when making these posts, but for this song I just HAD to use the 1998 Metallica version. First, there wasn't a whole lot of great "something to say" music that came out of the late '90s, and secondly, up until recently there wasn't a great deal of fusion of actual, tradional folk songs and rock-n-roll (especially heavy metal) as there is now.

Although the original song predates modern recording methods by a couple hundred years, the recording of this song is usually credited to The Dubliners who recorded it in the 1960's and gave it more exposure than any other group. However, it wasn't until 1998 that Metallica's cover of Thin Lizzy's 1972 cover brought the song to a huge music audience, blasting the song to #4 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Finally, the best reason to use the Metallica cover as the representative of this song is because we naturally expect nationals to cover songs of their homeland, and such is the case of The Dubliners and Thin Lizzy; yet, we never expect foreigners to cover their folk songs. Metallica pulled it off, and they did it extremely well. The song contains the subject matter that is the entire basis of rock-n-roll music - "Stick it to the man", which is perhaps why our American "metallurgists" shot this song higher on the charts than anyone else ever had.

This is a traditional Irish folk song (of course it is). Many of the song's lines bear a strong resemblance to a traditional ballad concerning the execution of Patrick Fleming in 1650. Regardless of when it first made its appearance, "Whiskey In The Jar" is the classic hero-is-the-villain story. You see, Patrick Fleming was a highwayman. Highwaymen were robbers who travelled on horseback, as opposed to those who travelled on foot. They were also socially superior to any other robbers, so much so that in fact they were often referred to as "knights of the road" or "gentlemen of the road". They were romanticized and became the stuff that legends are made of...just like Robin Hood.

Highwaymen were heroes that transcended the boundaries of societal class. They were secretly applauded by the poor as well as the rich who opposed the ruling royalty. Highwaymen first made their appearance during the Elizabethan period and lasted well into the 19th centuries. Their "rob from the rich" philosophy caught on very quickly and spread to other countries as well. In America, they were called "road agents". In Australia, they were called "bushrangers". You'll notice that these two countries have one thing in particular in common - they were both colonized by the British, but the practice of road robbing didn't spread merely because of colonial efforts.

In colonial America, this song and others like it became extremely popular because highwaymen had become more than just muggers. They represented a stealth rebellion to all things imperial. They were the raspberry seeds in the wisdom teeth of British aristocracy and the British Empire. Under imperial rule, one's criticism of government or talk of revolution often met with harsh punishment and was mainly spoken in hushed undertones and in cautious familiar circles. There were many royal subjects who were highly dissatisfied with the government but who feared repercussions if any change was attempted or even discussed. In this way, the government leaders would control many would-be revolutionaries simply with fear.

Highwaymen were fearless. They stood toe to toe and eye to eye with their victims and directly engaged them. These men were highly confrontational and were not afraid to fight for what they wanted. Their offensive posture and demanding demeanor was often enough to intimidate the victim, who was probably not used to being treated in such a manner, let alone spoken to with such force that obviously accompanied any threatening movements of the robber. "Stand and deliver!" became the first "franchised" demand, beginning somewhere around 1677. Later, somewhere in the 18th century "Your money or your life!" also became a famous line that announced a hold-up.

Highwaymen became symbols of bravery, courage, and strength. It was their practice to lay in wait for their victims at the most dangerous stretches of road. If the road was dangerous for one traveller it was dangerous for all, but these men demonstrated that the payoff and success would be much greater if one took a calculated risk instead of playing it safe. This tactic alone gave them a high success rate. Successful pursuit and capture was highly improbable often due to the status and location of that part of the road and the environment around it. In fact, the strategies of the highwaymen were the very same strategies that the American colonies adopted to fight off unwanted intruders...including the British during the American Revolution. "Militia" as they were called were small groups of average civilians who banded together to defend their towns and homes. While the militia men weren't very good at standing up to regular forces, they were particularly good at hiding in the landscape and ambushing the British supply lines and small detachments of enemy troops moving from one place to another.

The occupation of highwayman began to fizzle out during the 19th century with the beginnings of mounted police patrols. Where the highwaymen had once relied on the speed and agility over various terrain thanks to their horses, police on horseback, unencumbered by bulky coaches or pedally impassable terrain, could now freely pursue the highwaymen after their attack with the same speed and agility. The possibility of a clean getaway became extremely remote, and in the end the practice was futile ( not to mention the impending punishment was death by hanging...for treason).

Check out this really cool "highwayman" hobby site: http://www.stand-and-deliver.org.uk/

"Whiskey In the Jar" - Metallica, 1998 (heavy metal)

~This information wasn't "hijacked"...I simply remembered what I learned in 7th grade history and 12th grade AP European History...and I borrowed a little from these folks:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"The Yellow Rose of Texas", 1836 (western folk)

There's a yellow rose of Texas
That I am going to see
No other fellow knows her
No other, only me
She cried so when I left her
It like to broke my heart
And if I ever find her
We never more will part

She's the sweetest rose of color
This soldier ever knew
Her eyes are bright as diamonds
They sparkle like the dew
You may talk about your dearest May
And sing of Rosa Lee
But the Yellow Rose of Texas
Is the only girl for me

Where the Rio Grande is flowing
And the starry skies are bright
She walks along the river
In the quiet summer night
She thinks if I remember
When we parted long ago
I promised to come back again
And never leave her so

Oh now I'm going to find her
For my heart is full of woe
And we'll sing the song together
That we sang so long ago
We'll play the banjo gaily
And we'll sing the song of yore
And the Yellow Rose of Texas
Shall be mine for ever more

**Special Note: These are not the lyrics that appear in modern versions of the song. The original lyrics were re-written to remove anything that could be considered racist.**

And now a little bit more of "unsolved history". This is one of those tunes, like the last one, that has been around so long that hardly anybody knows what it's really about or how it got started. Who was the Yellow Rose of Texas that we're still singing about??

This song is the unofficial state song of the State of Texas, and while the most famous copyrighted publication of the song is from New York, the cover of which states "Composed and Arranged Expressly for Charles H. Brown by J.K." in 1855, the tune was actually first found handwritten on a piece of paper from 1836. The next question is...what was going on in 1836 that somebody wrote a song about?

Many believe this story to be a legend, however there is much verifiable, historical data and discovery to indicate that while incidental details may be fuzzy, at least the basic story is completely true. The story actually begins in 1830 when wealthy entrepreneur James Morgan came to the geographic area we now call "Texas". Land was cheap and the west was being won by anyone who either had enough money to buy it, anyone who could fight better than another, and/or anyone who could get to it first and still manage to hold on to it. Morgan had the ability for all of that. He began forming partnerships with real estate speculators from New York with the intent of buying up the cheap land and starting a colony there. The only problem was that there was that the land did not belong to any American (to purchase it from) and that there was already a colony living there. It was owned and populated by Mexico, who did not take kindly to the idea of being ousted from their own territory.

To combat the uncooperativeness of the resident Mexicans, Morgan developed a scheme to constructively evict them ("constructive eviction" is a legal term for making the conditions of one's living or working space so unbearable that one leaves voluntarily and without confrontation). Morgan's plan was to systematically flood the region with non-Mexicans from the United States, which is exactly what he did. In 1835, he doubled his efforts by recruiting workers for his new settlement. One of those workers was an indentured servant by the name of Emily D. West.

Morgan owned a large plantation on the island of Bermuda. Historical evidence suggests that this is where Emily West was brought from. Emily West was mulatto who had extremely light colored skin despite her mixed ancestry. This gave her skin an almost white, yellowish type hue ("yellow" was the term given to all light-skinned persons of mixed race/color/ancestry until 1930 when it was removed as a descendency category on the U.S. Census). The territory of Texas had outlawed slavery, and so to get around the law, James Morgan converted all of his slaves in to 99-year indentured servants. It is believed that Emily volunteered to be indentured so that she could come to America and escape the persecution she experienced because of her mixed race.

The rest of the story goes like this: In 1836, found Texas in the middle of a war for independence from Mexico. James Morgan's new, fully operation colony, New Washington was located at the mouth of the San Jacinto River, which turned out to be a strategic military location. Morgan aided General Sam Houston and his men by providing food and supplies to them. Because of the prime location of the settlement, Houston's men could pilot their flatboats right up to Morgan's docks to be laded. Morgan's aide to Houston showed that he was a friend to Texas, and he was awarded a commission as a colonel. When Morgan went off to fight for Texas, he left Emily West in charge of the settlement and in charge of lading the military flatboats.

Mexican army commander General Santa Anna learned of New Washington's military aide operation. In an attempt to cut off this aide, he and his men stole up the San Jacinto River to capture Morgan and New Washington. To his surprise, he found a young woman lading the Texas flatboats. General Santa Anna had always thought of himself as a ladies' man, and he was immediately struck with Emily's beauty. Like any ladies' man would do (ha ha) he kidnapped Emily and her young helper named Turner. He coerced young Turner to tell him where Gen. Houston's men were camped. Before Emily's and Turner's forced removal from New Washington, Emily convinced the boy to escape. The boy ran to Gen. Houston's camp ahead of the Mexican scouts and warned the Texans of Gen. Santa Anna's impending arrival.

Even though Santa Anna was married to a woman in Mexico, he had a slight self-control problem. During his command he had also married a teenage captive from one of his Texan campaigns; however, his military duties had already separated him from her for two weeks. He felt that Emily would be an appropriate...er...substitute. In his excitement over Emily, despite the protests of his officers, Santa Anna ordered camp to be set up on the plains of the San Jacinto River. This left the Mexican army completely open to surveillance and attack. It didn't take long for Gen. Houston to move his men to attack Santa Anna. On the morning of August 21, Houston shinnied up a tree to spy on the Mexicans. There he saw Emily West preparing a fancy breakfast for Gen. Santa Anna, and he remarked to himself, "I hope that girl makes him neglect his business and keeps him in bed all day." Houston's men immediately launched a surprise attack on the Mexican army (though not so surprising to the high brass who had warned Santa Anna about this very thing). General Santa was literally caught with his pants down, and the official military report is that Santa Anna was seen running from the heat of the battle with his silk shirt open.

Emily West survived the battle and was returned to New Washington. James Morgan had not heard about the Battle of San Jacinto. When he returned to the settlement, Emily told him all about it. He was so impressed at her heroism that he immediately repealed her indenture and granted her a passport back to New York. Even after she left, Morgan made sure everyone heard about her contribution to Texas' victory. In 1956, William Bollaert published a story which was related to him by either Sam Houston or Col. Isaac N. Moreland, who Emily worked for after the Battle of San Jacinto, of a mulatto girl who kept Santa Anna in his tent all day and prevented him from rushing to the conflict. This is the only more modern documentation which is available to historians.

"Yellow Rose of Texas" - Jo Ann Castle

~information loaded from the following:


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"La Bamba" - Ritchie Valens, 1958 (rock)

Para bailar la bamba,
Para bailar la bamba,
Se necesita una poca de gracia.
Una poca de gracia para mi para ti.
Arriba y arriba
Y arriba y arriba, por ti sere,
Por ti sere.
Por ti sere.
Yo no soy marinero.
Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan.
Soy capitan.
Soy capitan.


Para bailar la bamba,
Para bailar la bamba,
Se necesita una poca de gracia.
Una poca de gracia para mi para ti.
Arriba, arriba.

Is there anyone who doesn't know the words (or at least what sound like the words) to this one, even if they don't speak Spanish? Thanks to Ritchie Valens' most famous rendition, this 300 year old folk song from Veracruz, Mexico lives on, even though the tradition behind the song is mostly lost.

In English...

In order to dance the Bamba
In order to dance the Bamba
A little humor is needed
A little grace for me and for you
Faster and faster
Faster and faster
I'll be for you
I'll be for you
I'm not a sailor
I'm not a sailor
I'm captain
I'm captain
I'm captain

It doesn't quite have the same amount of "cool" as it does in Spanish. That's because the lyrics just don't quite translate into English. Like most folk songs, La Bamba came about while commemmorating a specific event, but unlike the tunes we are used to, this one's lyrics have very little to say about the actual event. Surprisingly, the song doesn't tell you how to do the dance, either.

Veracruz was becoming quite wealthy with gold and silver, much of which was being stockpiled, awaiting ocean transport back to Spain. In 1599, because of frequent flooding, the port of Veracruz was moved to the island of San Juan de Ulua. There a fort was built to protect the state from maritime assault on their riches. San Juan de Ulua was nearly impregnable. In fact, in 200 years, there was only successfully assaulted once.

While the fort was safe, the village of 5,000 people was not. On a night in May of 1683, Lorenz de Graaf, who was a Dutch pirate who was locally known as Lorencillo, stole into the village and did exactly what pirates do. He and his men rounded up all of the villagers and locked them all in the village church while he and his men ransacked, burned, and pillaged the town, doing whatever it was they felt like doing. This lasted three days. It was especially hot this time of year, and rather than wait out the onslaught, the some of the villagers climbed to the top of the church's bell tower and leapt to their deaths to escape the heat, confinement, and lack of food and water. When the rampage was over, the pirates took 30 of the villages prettiest girls to Isla de los Sacrificios before returning to ther lair in Laguna de Terminos. The girls were left there for another five days without food and water before help arrived to rescue them.

After that, the villagers of Veracruz and others up and down the Spanish Colonial Empire in the Caribbean lived in fear of further pirate attack. Lorencillo had left the villagers trembling at their own defenselessness and at the possibility of repeat performances from marauding privateers. Most people threatened to leave the colonies and go back to Spain, so the King spent a fortune to wall up the city for their protection. While they had their wall to hide in, there wasn't much of an army or navy to defend it. Consequently, many young men and slaves were conscripted into military service. This makeshift military set up a defense system of bells, alarms, and maueuver drills. In these drills, civilian participation was mandatory. The only problem in all of this was that while it was so elaborate and intricate, it was a response to a single event that had already happened. This kind of invasion had only happened once, and it wasn't likely to happen again. So, essentially they were attempting to prevent something that already happened. The word "Bamba" comes from the Spanish word "Bambarria", which means "to try and prevent something after it has already happened."

Thus, the song was born as a poke in the ribs of the local officials who had become quite pompous in their efforts. The tune caught on and spread among the locals, too, and *poof* instant folk song! The "Arriba, arriba!" part of the song is supposed to suggest the furor of the governmental efforts. The phrase means, "Faster, faster!" which was the attitude of the officials for many years after - build and train faster and faster, hurry up before the pirates strike again! After a few years, however, the people grew weary of the increased drilling (that they still had to participate in) and the vigor of more building, and we have the somewhat suddenly banal repetition of the word, "Bamba" at the end of the chorus, as if to shake one's head and say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah..." As it turns out, the villagers were correct. Veracruz never did experience another pirate attack, and in fact, just 100 years after the Lorencillo incident, Veracruz was instead occupied by foriegn military troops.

It's kind of a shame, but this song's tradition and story have been lost over the years. Traditionally, it was a song that was performed at weddings. The bride and groom would start by slowly stepping in unison. The song would get faster and faster, and their feet would appear to be making the movements of tying a ribbon together. This dance, however, has not been performed traditionally for many years, though, and the history of it is really only preserved in the dances of folk dancers.

Along with this wedding tradition, many of the original lyrics and verses have been lost as well. We know the first verse, which begins "Para bailar la bamba...". Although it doesn't come right out and say it, is a jibe at the pompous officials. Here are the other missing verses:

The second verse is about the people being locked up in the church. The climb to the bell tower (to throw one's self off the roof) required a long climb up a long ladder, and then a shorter climb to the top of the roof.

Para subir al cielo(to go up to heaven)
Para subir al cielo
Se necesita
(you need)
Una escalera grande (a big ladder)
Una escalera grande
Y otra chiquita
(and another small one)
Ay arriba y arriba (and up and up)
Y arriba y arriba,
Arriba iré
(I will go)

We also know the third verse, which begins "Yo no soy marinero". This verse is about the youth and slaves being against the military draft. "Marinero" means "sailor", and nobody in their right mind wanted to be a sailor during the golden age of piracy. Pirates may not have come into fortified ports to do their dirty work, but seagoing vessels were always fair game and almost always taken advantage of. So, no one wanted to be forced into the navy (pirates didn't take prisoners...hint, hint). The recruits would have rather been captains in the army...on land where it was safe. This verse is also repeated in the song, although it has a slight twist at the end, and the words, "Soy Capitan" are replaced with "Pero por tí seré", which means "But for you I will be (one)". These lyrics are possibly to indicate a show of force by the recruitment officer, and the draftee reluctantly resigns himself to service in the navy.

Finally, the last verse of the song follows the repetitive singing of "Bamba", and also reflects how the drilling and attack preparations had gotten old, and the public felt ready to move on:

Ay te pido, te pido!
(Oh, I ask, Oh, I ask)
¡Ay te pido, te pido por compasión(Oh, I ask, Oh, I ask out of compassion)
que se acabe la bamba! (that the bamba be finished)
¡Que se acabe la bamba y venga otro son! (that the bamba be finished and start another song)
Y arriba y arriba, (and hurrah and hurrah)¡Ay! arriba y arriba y arriba iré, (and hurrah and hurrah, and up I will go)
After the alternate occupations of French and US troops in Mexico, during the 1800s this song was reborn and the people of Veracruz began to serenade the foreigners with a new version of it. Not speaking any Spanish, these troops thought it sounded like a quaint little folk song. As the tune was catchyby foreigners, the joke was on them as they walked around singing it - this time, the song's lyrics protested the occupation of Mexico by these foreign invaders.

Here's the song the way it would sound originally, played as a folk tune.

"La Bamba" (Gipsy Kings)

"La Bamba" - Ritchie Valens, 1958 (original Valens version)

And here's a bit of a rattlesnake...the version you might be more familiar with. It's the Los Lobos version that was used in the movie, La Bamba. It's a just a little faster with a little less "Mexico" and a lot more "rock".

"La Bamba" - Los Lobos, from the 1987 movie "La Bamba",starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens.

And now, let's clear up a couple misconceptions about the movie:

1.) NO - that is NOT Lou Diamond Phillips singing "La Bamba" or any of the other songs in the movie. The singing voice you hear is that of David Hidalgo, guitarist for Mexican-American rock band Los Lobos. Los Lobos performed all of Ritchie's music for the movie, including "Donna".

2.) NO - that is NOT Lou Diamond Phillips playing the guitar in the song. The lead guitar parts there are being played by a woman, Carol Kaye, who is a famous studio recording session musician from the Los Angeles area, who also played for Phil Specter's studio band, The Wrecking Crew.

~Information found from 'cruz-ing the internet and finding ports of call like this: