Here’s an interesting one submitted by a reader – a parody to the title song from Jesus Christ: Superstar. The first couple of lines are easy enough to sing to the tune, but after a while I imagine that there’s a tune change? I suspect there’s a line missing here, and I’d added it into parenthesis
The reader learned in in 1980 from a cousin who lived in Bakersfield, CA:
Jesus Christ: Superstar
streaking down the hill on a Yamaha
The cops were there
they didn’t care
they wore bulletproof underwear
if I die, (bury me)
hang my balls on a cherry tree
if they fall
catch them all
send them all to juvenile hall
if the judge
says they smell
tell them that he can go to hell
What’s interesting here to me is how many lines from other playground songs show up here; I’m reminded of the Bart Simpson line about how Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ. This is a rhyme where Jesus brings together lines from all sorts of songs.
First of all, we’ve got the “streaking down the hill in a yamaha” bit, which reminds me of an occasionally-heard rhyme (traced back to about the 60s and appearing on of Bruce Sprinsteen’s spiral-bound notebooks from when he was writing Darkness on the Edge of Town):
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord
he is tearing down the highway in a black and yellow Ford
Then there’s the old: “When I die, bury me / hang my balls on a cherry tree.” This one comes up in many rhymes, perhaps most commonly in Abe Lincoln Was a Good Old Man. This connects it to much older rhymes, including an old folk/blues song known as “When I Die,” which is included in a couple of early 20th century collections of such:
The Journal of American Folklore collected one like this from “mountain whites” in Tennessee in 1907:
When I die, bury me a tall
soak my body in alcohol
When I die, bury me deep
put a quart of liquor at my head and my feet
The same source traced another version to “Mississippi negroes” in 1908:
When I die, don’t bury my at all
preserve my bones in alcohol
Another version collected from a similar source (“Mississippi negroes”) around the same time went:
When I die, bury me deep
tell the gamblers I’ve gone to sleep
put a pair of bones in my right hand
and i’ll throw seven in the promised land.
A similar version collected in Alabama in 1915 was the same as the above, with “bottle of booze at my feet” substituting for the second line.
|You see variations on this in lots of blues songs, “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues” by Blind Willie McTell comes right to mind (and I think he himself said he stole from all sorts of sources to make that song, which, itself, was similar to “St. James Infirmary Blues,” which itself grew out of even older songs like “The Unfortunate Rake,” “Streets of Laredo,” etc). So what we’ve got here is basically a progression of a 16th century British ballad growing into a playground rhyme sung to the tune of Andrew Lloyd Weber.
There are entire books about how these particular songs grow into each other, including a couple at the right:
Now, it’s easy to make the inference here, based on the above examples, that despite the dates, the “negro” version came first, as “bury me a tall” is clearly a corruption of “don’t bury me at all.” However, figuring out which came first, and who’s appropriating from who, is just about impossible in these things. Those 19th/20th century folk and blues songs are just about the perfect example of a pure hybrid, as African rhythms mixed with European melodies. Since Pete Seeger died the other day, it seems like as good as time as any to mention that in 2000 I interviewed him over the phone on a radio show (my co-host, who’d been active in the folk world for ages, had his home phone number), and he said something about how the upside of our country’s abominable racial history is that it gave us this hybrid music: “Sometimes the call it rock, sometimes they call it folk, or gospel, or blues, or jazz….”
Anyway…anyone else know this one?