The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

6 February 2004

Don't go there

What's the worst possible vacation spot for children? An abandoned steel mill? The Michigan caucuses? The back seat of Michael Jackson's car?

Why, it's the Big Rock Candy Mountain!

I mean, lemonade springs might be nice if you don't mind total immersion in something yellow and spewing, and I'd love to see a bulldog with rubber teeth just once, but cigarette trees? Why, John Banzhaf would have a myocardial infarction.

Yeah, I know. Haywire Mac wrote this as an ode to the road, to the hobos who hopped freights and such; he wasn't thinking about the kids at all. But eighty years later, "Big Rock Candy Mountain" has somehow become a song for children, and the youngsters don't seem to be any worse off for it — though I suspect today's vendors of tunes for tots don't bother to do the last couple of stanzas, sparing your grandchildren and mine the scary image of a lake of whiskey. Or worse, of stew.

(Inspired by Dawn Eden, which is getting to be a fairly common occurrence these days.)

Posted at 7:36 AM to Almost Yogurt


I love this song; I first read it in a book series biography about a drifter, and later was pleased as punch to hear it in 2000's O Brother Where Art Thou (so much so that I bought the soundtrack).

About it being a children's song: A friend of mine told me that it's been used as a children's song in the South (and other areas probably, although I don't remember it in New York) for decades. Rather than omit the questionable stanzas, they have alternate lyrics: "Lollipop Trees" instead of ciggies.

Posted by: CT at 9:06 AM on 6 February 2004

You think the song is questionable for kids? How about "Ring around the Roses" which is supposed to be about the plague or old fairy tales where characters are tortured and killed? Or even television? Sorry, but that song seems a bit tame to me.

Posted by: sya at 6:06 PM on 6 February 2004

Well, the plague story has been Snopesed out of existence: http://www.snopes.com/language/literary/rosie.htm.

Some of Grimm's fairy tales are indeed grim, though I don't think they do any more harm than, well, "Big Rock Candy Mountain"; indeed, they may prove useful in some instances, since they do tend to have happy endings, and a troubled child might need some sort of reassurance, however removed from his own experience, that things do work out in the end.

Posted by: CGHill at 6:45 PM on 6 February 2004