Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hallelujah, Bum Again

Oh, why don’t I work like the other men do?
How the hell can I work when the skies are so blue?

Hallelujah, I’m a bum!
Hallelujah, bum again,
Hallelujah! Bum a handout,
Revive me again.

If I was to work and save all I earn,
I could buy me a bar and have whiskey to burn.

Oh, I love Jim Hill, he’s an old friend of mine,
Up North I ride rattlers all over his line.

Oh, I ride box cars and I ride fast mails,
When it’s cold in the winter I sleep in the jails.

I passed by a saloon and I hear someone snore,
And I found the bartender asleep on the floor.

I stayed there and drank till a fly-mug came in,
And he put me to sleep with a sap on the chin.

Next morning in court I was still in a haze,
When the judge looked at me, he said, “Thirty days!”

Some day a long train will run over my head,
And the sawbones will say, “old One-Finger’s dead!”

When the springtime does come,
Oh, won’t we have fun!
We’ll all throw up our jobs
And we’ll go on the bum.

Hallelujah, I’m a bum,
Hallelujah, bum again,
Hallelujah, give us a handout,
To revive us again.

Oh, Springtime has come,
And I’m just out of jail,
Ain’t got no money,
It all went for bail.

I went up to a house
And I knocked on the door.
A lady came out, says,
“You been here before!”

I went up to a house
Asked for some bread;
A lady came out, says,
“The baker is dead.”

I went up to a house
Asked for a pair of pants;
A lady came out, says,
“I don’t clothe no tramps!”

I went into a saloon,
And I bummed him for a drink;
He give me a glass
And he showed me the sink.

Oh, I love my boss,
And my boss loves me;
That is the reason
I’m so hun-ga-ree!

“Why don’t you go to work
Like all the other men do?”
“How the hell we going to work
When there ain’t no work to do?”

From The Hobo’s Hornbook, A Repertory for a Gutter Jongleur, collected and annotated by George Milburn, pp. 97-101. Copyright, 1930, by George Milburn. New York: Ives Washburn.
It is hardly safe to classify the following widely-sung ballad as a Wobbly song. There is some dispute as to its origin. Budd L. McKillips, who has himself written some first-rate hobo poetry, has given me the following notes on “Hallelujah, Bum Again’s” history:
“A member of the I.W.W. is credited with having written the words to ‘Hallelujah, I’m a Bum.’ The question of authorship isn’t worth an argument, but if anybody will take the trouble to do some investigating, he will find that ‘Hallelujah, I’m a Bum’ was a lilting, carefree song at least eight years before the I.W.W. came squalling into the industrial world….The song was found scribbled on the wall of a Kansas City jail cell where an old hobo, known as ‘One-Finger Ellis,’ had spent the night, recovering from an overdose of rotgut whiskey.”
The first version is that of One-Finger Ellis, as well as McKillips can recall it, and the second version is the song that the Wobblies sing today. Both songs are sung to the hymn tune, "Hallelujah, Thine the Glory.”—G.M.

from A Treasury of American Folklore, edited by B. A. Botkin, 1944

related post: hoboclowns & coelacanths

1 comment:

T.R. said...

It's quite a commitment to start into a glass of something called "rotgut".