Monday, October 24, 2011

The Bum on the Rods, and the Bum on the Plush

by Utah Phillips

Well, let's sing one for Fryin' Pan Jack, whose alive, and the oldest of the old out there in Albany, Oregon. Fryin' Pan Jack settled out, off of the trains; a great tramp.

He got scared, he always told me: "If I get afraid to walk into a railroad yard, a makeup yard, it'll be time to quit." He used to carry a spike wall handle in his bindle, his bedroll, 'his balloon' he called it. To 'fend off' the Ne'er-do-well's. - Ya know, the way it's gotten to be now on the skids- young, mean, drunks and drug money. And so, they prey off the old poor, down under the railroad bridges.

And so, they tend to settle out and stay in one place, where they feel safe you see. He feels safe in this bar over in Albany, Oregon. You wanna find Fryin' Pan Jack, that's where you look for him.

We shared a camp down there in Oroville at the foot of the Feather River canyon, comin' out of Keedy on the western pacific. Keedy, up atop of the canyons, had us a wooden water tower, it's never been torn down, and you can camp under it. Anybody ever been there? On the High Sierra? That's beautiful. Jack and I were in that camp,

That's when [Fryin' Pan Jack] said to me - you know, he'd been tramping since 1927 - he said, "I told myself in '27, if I cannot dictate the conditions of my labor, I will henceforth cease to work." Hah! You don't have to go to college to figure these things out, no sir!

He said, "I learned when I was young that the only true life I had was the life of my brain. But if it's true the only real life I have is the life of my brain, what sense does it make to hand that brain to somebody for eight hours a day for their particular use, on the presumption that at the end of the day they will give it back in an unmutilated condition?"

"Fat chance!"

So he built that big Montana bedroll, started piping the stem, panhandling the... Head full of words, and songs, he didn't write songs, and poems... he found them. And scattered them abroad for people like me to find. Put us to work again.

He was old enough to remember the sleigh rods under the boxcars, riding the
rods. Fryin' Pan Jack; the two bums.

the bum on the rods is hunted down as an enemy of mankind
the other is driven around to his club, is feted, wined, and dined

and they who curse the bum on the rods as the essence of all that's bad
will greet the other with a winning smile and extend the hand so glad

the bum on the rods is a social flea who gets an occasional bite
the bum on the plush is a social leech, bloodsucking day and night

the bum on the rods is a load so light that his weight we scarcely feel
but it takes the labor of dozens of folks to furnish the other a meal

as long as we sanction the bum on the plush, the other will always be there
but rid ourselves of the bum on the plush, and the other will disappear

and make an intelligent, organized kick: get rid of the wasted crush
don't worry about the bum on the rods - get rid of the bum on the plush