Monday, August 09, 2010

gone a long old time

I love the old songs that also serve as annotations on history. "White House Blues" concerns the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley by a frustrated job seeker who bore the wonderfully sinister name of Czolgosz, performed here by the great bluegrass banjoist and singer Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers. I don't know who the fiddler was, but he had a wonderful way with the final notes of many of the instrumental phrases. Not a blues strictly speaking, the song consists of rhymed couplets, each capped by one of several refrains.

McKinley was shot while shaking hands in a receiving line in Buffalo, NY. Czolgosz stood in the line with one hand wrapped in a bandage concealing the weapon. The assassination resulted in Vice-President Teddy Roosevelt assuming the highest office ("That damned cowboy" as one contemporary pundit called him), and the song also refers to Roosevelt's daughter Alice.

I've found that the best, most edifying way to listen to these old chestnuts is to open a second browser window, then call up the YouTube video and play it while reading the lyrics. You can either click the link and use the second window to re-access this site, or stay here and call up YouTube in the second window and key "White House Blues" into the search function. You'll want the first item on the results page.


McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled
Doc said "McKinley, I can't find that ball."
From Buffalo to Washington.

Roosevelt in the White House, he's doin' his best;
McKinley in the graveyard, he's takin' his rest,
He's gone, a long, long time.

Hush up little children, now don't you fret;
You'll draw a pension at your papa's death,
From Buffalo to Washington.

Roosevelt in the White House takin' Alice to her cup;
McKinley in the graveyard, he'll never wake up;
He's gone, long old time.

Ain't but one thing that grieves my mind,
That is to die and leave my poor wife behind,
I'm gone, a long old time.

Looky here little children, don't you fret;
You'll draw a pension at your papa's death,
From Buffalo to Washington.

Standing at the station, just lookin' at the time;
See if I could run it by half past nine
From Buffalo to Washington.

Then the train, she's just on time,
She run about a mile's far 'tween eight o' clock and nine,
From Buffalo to Washington.

Yonder come the train, she's comin down the line,
Slowin' every station, Mr. McKinley's a-dyin',
It's hard times, hard times.

Lookit here, you rascal, you see what you've done?
You shot my husband with that Iver Johnson gun,
Can't (unintelligible) to Washington

Doc told the horse, he tore down his mane,
Said to that horse, "You got to outrun this train."
From Buffalo to Washington.

Doc (unintelligible) his remedy, takes off his fix,
Said, "Mr. McKinley, Better pass in your checks,
You're bound to die, bound to die."

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