New words to old tunes or snatches of a good song—different viewpoints, too

The folk process: lyrics sent by our readers: new words to old tunes or snatches of a good song—different viewpoints, too

Faith Petric

Robert Burns (1759-1796) wrote: “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursels as others see us.” This look at ourselves comes from Australia.

CITY Or NEW ORLEANS LYRICS: Keith McHenry SUNG TO THE TUNE OF: “City of New Orleans” By Steve Goodman [C] 1970, 1971 Turnpike Tom Music

Bearing on the city of New Orleans

Katrina–massive Force Five


The order came to flee the helpless


Take the kids and run from the

coming gale

All along the northbound odyssey

The folk pull out and try to flee

Rollin’ long past houses, farms and


Leaving those that have no means

Women, children, old black men

In the graveyard of American ideals


Good morning America, where

are you?

Don’t you know, we’re begging

you to come?

We’re the town they call the

city of New Orleans

There’ll be thousands of us

dead when day is done

The dead lie with the living in the


And more arrive–ain’t no one

keepin’ score

Pass the paper bag that holds the


Feel the whole world crumblin’ ‘neath

the floor

And the sons of Pullman porters

Daughters of engineers

Hide their fears ‘neath the mighty

roof of steel

Mothers with their babes asleep

Are rockin’ to a deafening beat

For the hurricane’s horror’s all

they feel

Nighttime in the city of New Orleans

This is not the way things ought

to be

Help you say it should be here by


But it’s four days now, we’re dying

can’t you see?

And all the stricken people scream

“If only this could be a dream”

And the ruling class still ain’t heard

the news

The President sings his song again

“You citizens, please stay calm”

This town’s got the disappearing

government blues


Good night America, where

were you?

Don’t you know, we all begged

you to come?

We’re the ghosts that haunt

the city of New Orleans

We were abandoned here, our

day is done

In addition to the one above from Australia, we have received many submissions about the tragedy of New Orleans from U.S. writers. We don’t have room to print them all, but here’s one from Oakland, California.



LYRICS: Ed Silberman

SUNG TO THE TUNE OF: “The Big Muddy”

By Pete Seeger

[C] 1963 Ludlow Music

Oh, the wind was ragin’ and the

water was risin’

The sky was dark and mean

And when the lake broke through

the levee

Such a sight I’d never seen

People were crying, people were dying

People walking ’round in a haze

We were knee deep in the big muddy

And the damn fool took four days

People were lootin’, people were rootin’

In the shelves for whatever they

could find

If you had money you got out of


But, the poor folk got left behind

In the land of plenty our stomachs

were empty

We looked for a helping hand

We were waist deep in the big muddy

And the damn fool took four days

Well, I don’t claim to know the


No, I don’t claim to have a plan

But when a person has the title of


You’re relying on that man

My house was a ruin, my neighbors

were dead

We thought help was on the way

We were neck deep in the big muddy

And the damn fool took four days

Here is one more hurricane song, this one from former Sing Out/ editor Bob Norman. He writes: “I started out to sing [“Iko Iko”] straight at the Raritan River Festival with my friend Ted Klett, who has a band called Snapperhead Zydeco. It’s the bestknown of the famous Mardi Gras Indian songs (SO! v23#5), and we planned to sing it as a tribute to the people of New Orleans who’ve been through so much in the past month. But, once we got going, the new words just flowed right out. I’m sure your readers can think of lots more.”


LYRICs: Bob Norman


“Iko Iko”

(CHORUS: same as original)

Jakamo fino hey to tan te rey

(lko-lko anday)

Hurricane comin’, get the hell out

the way

(lko-lko anday)

Hurricane come, and it flood the

town …

People in charge they nowhere

around …

People on the rooftop moan and cry

Where’s the Big Chief who left us

to die?

Big Chief come in a great big plane

He’s five days late and he can’t


Big Chief say he’s gonna fix it now

Gonna bring a lot of money, but he

don’t say how

Gonna bring a lot of money, gonna

make a big fix

Make everybody pay except for

the rich

The traditional song “Rivers of Texas” inspired the suggestion that every state should have a song about its rivers. We printed one for California in this column (v.44#2), there is one for Illinois and now we have one for New York City. May this inspire others to write a song for the rivers of their state, city or region.


LYRICS: Stephen 1. Suffet


“Rivers of Texas”

We crossed the Bronx River, we

forded the Harlem

We swam the East River, we

followed the Flushing

Arthur Kill is all smelly, just like

stale beer

But, it’s down by the Hudson I

courted my dear


Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy, don’t be a jerk

Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy, don’t be a jerk

Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy, don’t be a jerk

There’s many a river that

waters New York

The Hutchinson River floods the

parkway in spring

Above Newtown Creek the bridges

do swing

Richmond Creek clogs with leaves

in the fall

And the Kill Van Kull ain’t no river

at all

Trade Center wreckage lines the

banks of the Fresh Kills

Alongside the mountains that

used to be landfills

Marine Park Creek runs to the sea


But, I’ll never walk down by the

Hudson no more

She hugged me and kissed me and

called me her dandy

Coney Island Creek is muddy, and

Spring Creek is sandy

I hugged her and kissed her and

called her my own

But, down by the Hudson she left

me alone

This song is dedicated to Pete Seeger “with the thanks of the generations you have brought together.” Out of those generations have come many voices of our people who “carry it on” in back yards, on stages, in kitchens and front rooms across the United States, keeping the dream of a peaceful, just and loving world alive and Strong.

THE VOICE WITHIN OUR PEOPLE LYRICS: William R. Phillips SUNG TO THE TUNE OF: “There’s a River of My People” Words: Pete Seeger; Music: Traditional [C] 1953 Stormking Music, Inc.

There’s a voice among our people

And his spirit touches all

We discover our own harmonies

In answer to his call

There’s a leader in our chorus

With a voice that’s soft and pure

He has taught our sons and


Our traditions proud and pure

There’s a singer of our spirit

Hate Surrenders to his ring

‘Cross streams, between the


We together sail and sing

His sisters and his brothers

Make his music rise and swell

Those who learn to sing along with


Are his hammer and his bell

There’s a voice within our people

Forever will it sing

Together raise our chorus

And hear our freedom ring

Sing Out? contributing writer Michael Miles of Glenview, Illinois, works a variety of musical jobs, one of which is teaching. For a recent project, “Send a Song to the President,” coupling education and politics, he adapted the tune “Down By the Riverside” with these words:

If you want to know what’s going on

Listen to the children

Listen to the children

Listen to the children

If you want to know what’s going on

Listen to the children

Listen to what the children say


If I were the president

If I were the president

If I were the president

Here’s what I’d do

If I were the president

If I were the president I would …

Michael writes: “And then the kids (3rd graders) tell me what they would do to make the world a better place, and we put their ideas, like a litany, into the song.” A list was compiled from 3rd grade classes during the 2004-2005 school year and in early September a CD of children singing the song was sent to the White House and some senators. Altogether, 1,500 children in 15 schools were involved. Songwriting was emphasized as a means of expressing oneself about the world. “It’s a particularly thrilling and joyous sound to hear rooms full of kids sing their verses to this song … The answers are at once extraordinary, rich, hopeful and realistic. The students were delighted to find out that they could communicate directly with the President and have a political voice.” For more check out .

New verses to the Dr. Seuss-conceived “Waltzing with Bears” keep coming in. Here are a few:


We begged and we pleaded with

Uncle Walter to stay

And we managed to keep him

inside for a day

But the bears all barged in and

they took him away

Not he’s dancing with Pandas

and we don’t understand it

But the bears all demand at

least one waltz a day

Claudie Rose and Orian MacGregon:

Last night when the moon rose we

crept down the stairs

He took me to dance where the

bears have their lairs

We danced in a bear hug with nary

a care

It all seems like flying, there is no


And now my pajamas are covered

with hairs

This most recent contribution, by Jane Schroeder of New York City, has Uncle Walter gone somewhere–off eternally waltzing with bears, no doubt:

It’s been over a year since my uncle’s

been gone

And all that we have is to sing him

this song

But I’m certain that if we could

make some repairs

Everyone here would be dancing with


(Jane then replaces the “he” with “we” in the CHORUS to finish the new version.)

It may not be well known that workers in factories on American territorial lands such as Guam and Saipan are exempt from the labor standards of this country. Some of the labor abuses there were exposed in the documentary film Behind the Labels: Garment workers on U.S. Saipan. The author wrote this song after seeing the film.


Lyrics: Linda Allen


“Pay Me My Money Down”

(CHORUS: same as the original)

From China and the Phillippines

Pay me my money down

We came here with hopes and


Pay me my money down

You took us to your factories …

Tried to bring us to our knees …

The barracks are not fit for pigs

But, you should see the boss’s digs

We miss our kids, for them we stay

We work to send home all our pay

You work us 16-hour days

But eight hour’s work is all you pay

The quota keeps on rising higher

We speed up or we get fired

The night shift’s locked behind

these walls

A fire would surely kill us all

Before inspections OSHA calls

Tells the bosses, “sweep the halls”

You say you’ll move the factory

Where workers work for less than me

For three months we have cut and


You must pay us what is owed

On U.S. land we sweat and slave

So Penny’s, Gap and Sears can save

Home of the brave, Land of the free

But not for workers such as me

Did you hear the one about the man, his Labrador retriever with him, who drove his new truck out on the lake taking some dynamite to blow a hole in the ice for fishing? He lit the fuse and threw the dynamite a long way but the retriever ran and brought it back, dropping it under the truck. Man and dog escaped but the truck, in small pieces, stays in the lake under a very large hole in the ice. In the following case it took only thin ice for a lake to swallow a car.

LAMENT FOR A 1974 PONTIAC LYRICS: Peter Kingsley SUNG TO THE TUNE OF: “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”

My Bonnie’s in Lake Minnetonka*

My Bonneville’s under the ice

I tried to drive out to my fish


That’s something I shall not do



Thaw out, thaw out, oh Lake


Thaw out, thaw out!

Thaw out, thaw out!

And bring back my Bonnie to


All winter I saw my friends driving

All over the ice on the lake

Last week I decided to try it

Some snow tires were all it would


I heard the ice crumble and


I felt the ice slowly give way

As I scrambled out through the

side window

This was all I could say

*A lake just west of Minneapolis.

T.S. Hamilton writes that this song “was prompted by my disgruntlement as to how the ‘rapture driven’ radical Christian right had shanghaied both Christianity and world politics. Plus, there was an undertone of the environmental devastation that grows daily in every river, in every forest, in every salty, over-irrigated field!”


The tree of knowledge once grew tall

Its fruit was bitterest of all

All my trials, Lord, soon be over

The tree of life in Eden grew

A twisted thing, torn from our

view …

From angel swords we fled in


They drove us naked, to the waste

Two trees in Paradies once stood

They cut them down and sold their


The River Jordan runs salty and low

Can’t slake my thirst, or cleanse

my soul

The prophet fished in Galilee

And now there’s nothing left for me

They nailed him high on Calvary

That all the thieves could be set free

We pulled him down and laid him deep

Beneath a stone, where lies might


We hid his bones beneath a hill

But the undead rose and haunts

us still

His followers in rapture rise

They rend the earth and foul the skies

His holy book was read to me

And every page spelled misery

“The Folk Process” welcomes all submissions, but because of the volume of correspondence, we can’t personally acknowledge or return them. Send your submissions to “The Folk Process'” in care of Sing Out!, PO. Box 5460, Bethlehem, PA 18015-0460, or via e-mail to

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