…I’m headed for a land that’s far away

As a literary concept it stretches at least as far back as medieval times with the Middle English poem “The Land of Cockaigne”, which explores a mythical land of plenty where physical comforts (and pleasures), aka instant gratification, are ever within reach and peasant life is no longer a struggle.  Some etymologists believe “Cockaigne” is where the term “Cockney” comes from as it was sometimes used to refer to the City of London.

Here in North America, about a century ago, those who lived as wandering vagabonds also dreamed of such a chimerical place and in the 1890s songs with titles like “Hobo’s Paradise”, “Little Streams of Whiskey” and “Sweet Potato Mountains” were quite popular. All of which served as clear inspiration for today’s selection.

Written by a man who literally ran away from home as a boy to join the circus, Harry McClintock, whose hobo name was Haywire Mac, claimed to have come up with scads of verses for his “The Big Rock Candy Mountains” (many of them unpublishable) in 1895 when he was 15 and hoboing around the country.   First recorded by McClintock (who went on to be an author, seaman, busker, union organizer and poet)  in 1928, a later recording of the song reached Number 1 on Billboard Magazine’s Hillbilly Hits (!) Chart in 1939.

Still, it wasn’t until 1949 when a sanitized children’s version recorded by Burl Ives was released that it became popular throughout the world, with numerous other versions released by various artists, especially children’s musicians, ever since.  As an interesting aside Ives himself had done a bit of hoboing as a young man, wandering ‘round out west, picking up odd jobs along the way…as did yours truly one long-lost summer…the dog in the picture was merely a befriended local, met on the outskirts of some now-forgotten town, and yes that was a great pair of shoes.

Although a cluster of colorful hills near Marysvale, Utah goes by the name of Big Rock Candy Mountain (now featuring a resort and gift shop, of course), the song was released before the “Mountain” and the nearby “Lemonade Springs” got their name.


The Big Rock Candy Mountains

 One evening as the sun went down

And the jungle fire was burning,

Down the track came a hobo hiking,

And he said, “Boys, I’m not turning

I’m headed for a land that’s far away

Besides the crystal fountains

So come with me, we’ll go and see

The Big Rock Candy Mountains

 In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,

There’s a land that’s fair and bright,

Where the handouts grow on bushes

And you sleep out every night.

Where the boxcars all are empty

And the sun shines every day

And the birds and the bees

And the cigarette trees

The lemonade springs

Where the bluebird sings

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

 In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

All the cops have wooden legs

And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth

And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs

The farmers’ trees are full of fruit

And the barns are full of hay

Oh I’m bound to go

Where there ain’t no snow

Where the rain don’t fall

The winds don’t blow

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

 In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

You never change your socks

And the little streams of alcohol

Come trickling down the rocks

The brakemen have to tip their hats

And the railway bulls are blind

There’s a lake of stew

And of whiskey too

You can paddle all around ‘em

In a big canoe

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

 In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,

The jails are made of tin.

And you can walk right out again,

As soon as you are in.

There ain’t no short-handled shovels,

No axes, saws nor picks,

I’m bound to stay

Where you sleep all day,

Where they hung the jerk

That invented work

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

 I’ll see you all this coming fall

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

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