Song or Story
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Lily Bay (Moosehead Lake), ME
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People have likely been singing, whistling, and humming while working for as long as music and work have existed. This relationship has developed twofold, both as a way to make work go faster (either by passing the time or establishing a rhythm for work) and as a means of expressing discontent with work or working conditions.
1. Oh bushmen all, give ear to call, a tale I will relate, For my experience in the lumberwoods was in the Granite State; Its snow clad hills and winding rills, its mountains, rocks, and plains, You would find it very different from the good old State of Maine.
2. The aleners [aliens] and foreigners they flock in by the score, The diversity of languages would equal Babel’s Tower; Italians, Russians, Poles, and Finns, the Dutchman and the Dane, You ought never hear such drones as those in the good old State of Maine.
3. The difference in the wages, boys, is scarcely worth a dime, For every day you do not work you are forced to lose your time; For to pay your passage to and fro you’ll find but little gain, You will do as well to stay at home in the good old State of Maine.
4. For its in the Zealand Valley you’ll find seven feet of snow, And work when the thermometer is thirty-five below; They average there three storms a week of snow and sleet and rain, You will seldom find such weather in the good old State of Maine.
5. Our boss he will direct you with a loud commanding voice, Saying, “You know the regulations, boys; therefore you have your choice.” Of course he did not make those rules, of him we don’t complain, But I never heard such rules as those in the good old State of Maine.
6. It’s every night with pen and ink they figure up the cost, The crew was held responsible for all things broke or lost; An axe, a handle, or a spade, a cantdog or a chain - A man is never charged for tools in the good old State of Maine.
7. They figure things so very fine it’s hard to save a stamp, For its every month they do take stock of all things ’round the camp; Stoves, pots, tea kettles, knives, and forks, the draw-shave and the plane, Of those they take but small account in the good old State of Maine.
8. The rules and regulations as I mentioned here before, In typewriting and in copies posted up on every door; For to lose your time and pay your board or work in snow and rain, They’d call us fools to stand such rules in the good old State of Maine.
9. Now if you do not like the style you can go down the line, But if you leave them in the lurch they’ll figure with you fine; Cut down your wages and they’ll charge your carfare on the train, I never heard of such a thing in the good old State of Maine.
10. Oh, it is of the grub I’ll give a rub, of which it well deserves, Our cook become so lazy he allowed the men to starve; ‘Twas bread and beans, and beans and bread, and bread and beans again, For grub we sometimes had a change in the good old State of Maine.
11. And for those sub-contractors now I’ve got a word to say, If you work for a jobber here you are apt to lose your pay; For there is no lien law in this state, the logs you can’t retain, While the lumber’s holding for your pay in that good old State of Maine.
[12. Our meat and fish is poorly cooked, the bread is sour and old, The beans are dry and musty and doughnuts are hard and old; To undertake to chew one, that would give your jaws a pain, For they're not the kind we used to find in that good old State of Maine.
13. So now my song is concluded and my story's to an end, If I have made a statement wrong, I'm willing to amend; I like the foreman and the crew, of them I can't complain, For a better crew I never knew in that good old State of Maine.]
14. Here is adieu to camp and crew, to Henery and Son, Their names are great throughout this state, they’re some of the sons of guns; I wish them all prosperity until I return again, But I’ll mend my ways and spend my days in the good old State of Maine.
James Brown, Sandy Ives, Lily Bay, Maine, The Good Old State of Maine, New Brunswick, Moosehead Lake, satire, work song, protest song, unorganized labor, Larry Gorman, lumberwoods, lumbercamp, New Hampshire, Miramichi Folksong Festival, James Henry, Zealand Valley, New Hampshire, Roud
Eckstorm, Fannie Hardy and Mary Winslow Smyth. Minstrelsy of Maine: Folk-Songs and Ballads of the Woods and the Coast. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1927, 111-13; and Ives, Edward D. Larry Gorman: The Man Who Made the Songs. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 1993, 103-5, 180-87. The discussion of the Northeastern woods song tradition in Ives, Edward D. Joe Scott: The Woodsman-Songmaker. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978, 371-401 is also instructive.
Ethnomusicology | Folklore | Oral History
Brown, James. 1962. “The Good Old State of Maine.” NA62.5, CD66.6. Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History, Raymond H. Fogler Special Collections Department, University of Maine.