Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Go to sleep, you weary hobo....

Utah "Bruce" Phillips has passed away. He was a singer/songwriter, a hobo in the grand classic style, but also an historian, both archival and oral. Oh, and an unparalleled storyteller. I never saw him perform, but my spouse did, and says that he spent so much time telling stories that he only got through about four songs! His breakthrough recording, in fact, was a story, Moose Turd Pie:
The worst job I ever had was working for the Pacific Railroad, doing a thing called "gandy-dancing." Now most of you know the railroad was built partially by Irish labor. Well, back then the workers would use this long handled shovel, made by the Gandy Shovel Company of Great Neck New York. Well, they'd shove one end of the shovel under a railroad tie, and then run out to the other end of the shovel, when they could find it, and do a little jig on it, and they called it "gandy-dancin'". This would lift the tie up so they could shove gravel under it, which would level the roadbed, so when the train came along, it wouldn't tip over, which would be a real drag for everyone.

Well, nowadays, they run three cars out on the rail: a bunk car, an equipment car, and a mess car. The only thing they don't give you is a cook. The bosses figure you'll find out who the best cook is, and use him. Well, they were wrong. Y'see, they just find out who complains the loudest about the cooking, and he gets to be the cook. Well, that was me, see. Ol' aligator mouth. That was the worst food I'd ever had, and I complained about it. Things like "dog bottom pie" and "pheasant sweat." I thought it was garbage. So I complained. And everyone said, "alright, you think you can do better? You're the cook." Well, that made me mad, see? But I knew, that anyone who complained about my cooking, they were gonna have to cook.

Armed with that knowledge, I sallied forth, over the muddy river. I was walking along, and I saw just this hell of a big moose turd, I mean it was a real steamer! So I said to myself, "self, we're going to make us some moose turd pie." So I tipped that prairie pastry on its side, got my sh*t together, so to speak, and started rolling it down towards the cook car: flolump, flolump, flolump. I went in and made a big pie shell, and then I tipped that meadow muffin into it, laid strips of dough across it, and put a sprig of parsley on top. It was beautiful, poetry on a plate, and I served it up for dessert.

Well, this big guy come into the mess car, I mean, he's about 5 foot forty, and he sets himself down like a fool on a stool, picked up a fork and took a big bite of that moose turd pie. Well he threw down his fork and he let out a bellow, "My God, that's moose turd pie!"

"It's good though."

Phillips wrote any number of songs that sound like they've been around forever. My favorite, though, isn't a hobo song, but a simple romantic statement of faith:
"The Hymn Song"
(Bruce Phillips)

You know I think if lady luck was blind
That old sun would never shine
And I believe if death really held a knife
We'd all be beggars of life
I believe if I lived my life again
I'd still be here with you
I believe if I lived my life again
I'd still be here with you
Sometimes I wish that I could close my eyes
To some things I don't want to see
But I believe if you lived your life again
You'd still be here with me
I'll never see the ending of my mind
Everything will have a time
Why should I ask for things that I don't need
Or pretty lies to hide my greed

No comments: