28 February 2007

Orange Blossom Special

Official lyrics of Florida’s current state song:

Old Folks at Home
Way down upond de Swanee ribber,
Far, far away,
Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere's wha de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation,
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation,
And for de old folks at home.
All de world am sad and dreary,
Ebry where I roam,
Oh! darkeys how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home.

All round de little farm I wandered
When I was young,
Den many happy days I squandered,
Many de songs I sung.
When I was playing wid my brudder
Happy was I
Oh! take me to my kind old mudder,
Dere let me live and die.

One little hut among de bushes,
One dat I love,
Still sadly to my mem'ry rushes,
No matter where I rove
When will I see de bees a humming
All round de comb?
When will I hear de banjo tumming
Down in my good old home?

Florida’s legislature is now engaged in a bout of self-flagellation over whether this song is too racially insensitive to remain as the state song. Among other possibilities being bruited is Charles Atkins’ "Florida’s Song," which our new governor had sung at his inauguration instead of Old Folks at Home. The lyrics to this new contender can be found at Charles’ Atkins website.

Apart from the flagrantly incorrect notion that Florida’s blessings will live on after other hopes and dreams are gone, this isn’t too bad, but it’s rather… dull. I mean, twice we have to reference the fact that Florida is on the southern coast of North America? I’m sorry. I’m not a lyricist, but this just isn’t that good.

So I thought, what about that other song, the one that opens with de ribber? De ribber? Seriously? Okay, Stephen Foster wrote that for minstrel shows and all of that, and I don’t want to hear anybody say it was supposed to make listeners realize that blacks were just like everybody else or whatever. It was a comedy piece, more than likely. Foster was a weird duck. But do the official version of the lyrics seriously start with "de ribber?" Sadly, yes. Ridiculous, isn't it? I guess in 1935 the state wasn't terribly concerned with the lyrics being understandable or modern. Let’s reexamine those lyrics, okay?

Way down upon the Suwanee River,
Far, far away,
There’s where my heart is turning ever,
There's where the old folks stay.
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for the old plantation,
And for the old folks at home.
All the world is sad and dreary,
Everywhere I roam,
Oh! People how my heart grows weary,
Far from the old folks at home.

Sure is a racist, bigoted song desperately in need of replacement, isn’t it?

I’m sorry, that was sarcasm. I know it’s sometimes hard to get it across in print.

But in fairness, the lyrics are a bit out of date. Florida in 1851 would not recognize Florida in 2007. Furthermore, we might not want to publicize any further the fact that Florida is "where the old folks stay."

Also, I hate it when lyricists try to rhyme "love" with other words that end in –ove but don’t actually rhyme, as in the third stanza (which I only have at the top of this post). Bushes and rushes, too, in the same stanza, really bothers me. And Florida isn’t exactly noted for its bees. I suppose "plantation" is a problem for some people. I tried coming up with a word to replace it, but couldn’t; even replacing "creation" with something else wasn’t working for me. And anyway, every fifth new suburban housing tract is Something Plantation. If the notion of a plantation was so horrible there are a lot of developers who are going to need to redo their subdivisions.

So the old song is a little… old. What could replace the song now?

Allow me to suggest very strongly the good old song “Orange Blossom Special,” which has no lyrics at all. It was written in 1938 by Ervin Rouse and Chubby Wise. I have at least three versions of it among my collection. Most performers add one or two lines of text—mainly something along the lines of “All Aboard!” or “It’s the Orange Blossom Special!” or something like that, but certainly nothing controversial. Rouse and Wise were both lifelong Floridians. The song is quite well known and often regarded as one of the greatest fiddle tunes ever written—I’ve heard it referred to as “the fiddler’s national anthem.” Good musicians like to play it because it’s technically demanding and extremely impressive to the listener.

The song was written to memorialize the old Seaboard Air-Line Railway’s Orange Blossom Special, a train that ran service from New York City to Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Miami. The song may have been written almost 70 years ago, but there are still a lot of New Yorkers who come to Florida resort towns, either to visit or, unfortunately, to settle down. Some of them continue to root for the Yankees even after moving here, which should be grounds for banishment from the state but for some reason isn’t yet.

The song does, however, reflect a meaningful part of Florida history, namely, the continued onslaught of freaking northerners moving down here and wrecking the place (follow my logic carefully and you’ll see that, really, we’re all freaking northerners and we should all leave and return the state to the Seminole… which isn’t actually a bad idea).

Don’t like that? Well, why don’t you suggest something?


Port Tampa said...

I think it's interesting that Foster never actually saw the Suwanee. When Irving Berlin mentioned "Swanee played in ragtime" in Alexander's Ragtime Band he hadn't seen it yet either. When he did, he was unimpressed.

I like Johnny Cash's version of Orange Blossom Special. On his Orange Blossom Special album it's quite a bit sweeter than recorded live at Folsom.

tyler said...

There aren't enough railroad songs anyway, I think that we should start pushing the few we have back out into the light.

I agree that I like the Johnny Cash version of Orange Blossom Special. Have to listen to his lyrics a bit closer though.

However, Willie Nelson's "City of New Orleans" has always been at the top of my Railroad song list. But neither really hold true to the Bluegrass roots that they need to.

And all I have to say to all the Yankees Fans ..... Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee_rik!


Boca Grande said...

Orange Blossom Special has lyrics:

Look a-yonder comin'
Comin' down that railroad track
Hey, look a-yonder comin'
Comin' down that railroad track
It's the Orange Blossom Special
Bringin' my baby back

Well, I'm going down to Florida
And get some sand in my shoes
Or maybe Californy
And get some sand in my shoes
I'll ride that Orange Blossom Special
And lose these New York blues

"Say man, when you going back to Florida?"
"When am I goin' back to Florida?
I don't know, don't reckon I ever will."
"Ain't you worried about getting your nourishment in New York?"
"Well, I don't care if I do-die-do-die-do-die-do-die"

Hey talk about a-ramblin'
She's the fastest train on the line
Talk about a-travellin'
She's the fastest train on the line
It's that Orange Blossom Special
Rollin' down the seaboard line

Jesse C Smith Jr said...

I found your blog through Google search and enjoyed it. I started my band Jesse Smith & The LoneStar Cowboys in 1970 trying to keep the tradition of the Lonestar Cowboys of the 1930's We do a lot of Western Swing. I have tried to keep a record of all members. Around here Leon (pappy) Selph says he wrote OBS but I checked who published it and it was Ervin Rouse. Go to www.lonestarcowboys.com and hear the late/great Jim Unger do OBS