Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lomax-a-Day, Day 28

My recent exploration of animal folk songs has often led back to a family of folk-lyrics centered around raccoon, possum, and rabbit. Three of the most popular characters in African-American folk tales (the Br'er Rabbit tales, for example), these furry varmints seem to have inspired a whole anthology's worth of slightly varying tunes. From what I can tell, the two most central verses are:

Raccoon has a bushy tail
Possum's tail is bare
Rabbit's got no tail at all
But a little bunch of hair

and

Possum in the 'simmon tree
Raccoon on the ground
Raccoon says to possum
"Won't you shake those 'simmons down"

These two verses are connected to countless others about the same animals, and sometimes pop up in totally unrelated songs (see "Twistification," Day 18).  It's a perfect example of the folk-lyric phenomenon I wrote about in my analysis of "The Fourth Day of July" (Day 10): a critical mass of common verses became the shared folk-song vernacular, with singers arranging them into endless permutations. 

As I searched for variations of raccoon, possum, and rabbit songs, "Bile Them Cabbage Down" was hiding right under my nose in Lomax's anthology. I've always heard that title, but never guessed that it too was linked to these common animal folk-lyrics. Not surprisingly, the chorus has nothing to do with the verses. 

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