Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Words, Music and Memory

My boyfriend is the first to admit his singing voice is not his best quality. While trying to sing melody he might, through luck or accident, hit a harmony line temporarily. In a few notes, he'll be back in musical nowheresville.

The other day, he walked in from a jaunt to the local library, toting Catalina Magdalena Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name and singing nonsensical words to a tune of his own invention. My two little boys (ages 2 and 4) for whom any singing is still good singing were eating it up, vying for the chance to hold and shake the book. (The big, plastic googly eyes on the cover are irresistible to the preschool set.)

Despite the unfamiliar tune, which wasn't so much carried as dragged over gravel and through potholes, I recognized the song. I'd learned it in Girl Scouts with different words, though with the same tune notated at the back of the book. Our version, "Madelina Cadelina Hoopasteina Walkaneina Hocus Pocus Locust," bore no other resemblance to the version in the book, except for the verse about her teeth ("She had two teeth in her mouth, one pointed north and the other pointed south"). My favorite verse ("Her neck was as long as a telephone pole, and right in the middle was a big fat mole") was missing entirely. When I joined in the singing, I found I had to sing my version. Anything else felt wrong.

Of course, this proprietary feeling had almost nothing to do with the song itself, and much to do with the tangle of personal history. Retrieving the song from deep memory felt a lot like pulling a heap of untended fishing line from belowdecks, or a lump of unkempt thread from a sewing basket's dregs. Up came a mass of threads leading every imaginable direction, looping back over and under themselves, all apparently emanating from large knot invisible under a mat of looser stuff. Tugging any of these lines to see where it went could cause another elsewhere to clench making the knot harder to loosen later, but I had faith I'd be able to deal with anything my own extended metaphor could dish out. I started pulling a thread called "cool songs from Girl Scouts that the older girls taught the younger ones like me."

The internet is remarkable when it comes to stuff like this. If something exists, if you didn't simply imagine or dream it, traces or even the whole thing will show up on the web eventually. I had tugged this "cool camp song" thread many years before with little success, but this time I struck the motherload. As it turns out, the three songs I was looking for are all folk songs commercially recorded in the early '60s, ten or so years before I learned them.

First, I looked for a song we'd referred to simply as "Redeemed." I hadn't found it at all in prior internet searches, but this time I found numerous references. It's actually named "To Be Redeemed." The Kingston Trio recorded it on an album called New Frontier. A version (not The Kingston Trio's) can be heard here. We sang it to a slightly different tune, and with slightly different words. When I hear the song in my head, I still hear it the way we sang it. Next, I found "Crow on the Cradle." The names Pete Seeger and Judy Collins both come up in connection with this song. The Judy Collins version is on the album "Maids and Golden Apples." Jackson Browne has also performed it. A version (by none of these people, but which showcases the words) can be heard here. The tune we sang was somewhat different, but the words are essentially the same. The last is Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Codine," found on her album It's My Way! Here's a cover of it that I thought was interesting. Again, slight differences in the tune and the lyrics had been imported into the version we sang.

Finding these was comforting in a sappy way, like coming across a much-loved but forgotten childhood tchotchke. I went looking for more scouting songs and found: "Linstead Market" (we sang "Carbonaki go instant market," pretty far from "Mi carry mi ackee go a Linstead Market," but with the identical tune in the interesting mandolin rendition found here; "Spider's Web" (we sang it "made of silver light and shadows, that I weave in my room each night, it's a web made to catch a dream, hold it there until I waken, then to tell me my dream was all right") sung here as "Dream Catcher Lullaby" with a slightly different tune than we used; and then a sort of holy grail, a database of folk song information called The Mudcat Cafe, where I found discussions of variations on lyrics of "Barges," "Rose, Rose," "Dem Bones (Gonna Rise Again)," "White Coral Bells," "Rise and Shine" (we called it Noah's Ark) and many others.

The most suprising find wasn't a camp song at all, but a song my mother taught me. I've never met someone outside her family who knows this song, and I had looked for it on the web unsucessfully before. This time I found a single reference to "Oh, To Be a Gypsy." I just spent more time I can rationally justify trying to find a free online piano program that would allow me to record and provide the melody, to which we sang only the first and last of these four verses believing that to be the complete song. My mom died more than 10 years ago. This song was special to us, partly because it seemed so private. Finding it turned out to be the thread that made another tighten, in a bittersweet but strangely validating way.

We still have a "private" song, or at least one I haven't yet found it on the web. The words are:

Goldenrod, where do you find your gold?
Butterfly, how do your wings unfold?
This is a story that's never told--
Butterfly, how do your wings unfold?

And I'm sure I didn't dream it.



Anonymous said...

Hello Morgana,

I was looking for the words to the song Goldenrod on the web with no luck, then finally saw your info. My mom (85 yrs old) has asked me if I could find the words. I'll check again with her but she sang it:

Goldenrod goldenrod, where do you get your gold?
Butterfly butterfly, how do your wings unfold?
This is the story that never was told..?

We arent sure of the words now.
Thank you for any info you have.


**Morgana** said...

Hi Shirley,

It's so exciting that someone else has heard of this song!

The words in the post you found are all the words I know, it was the complete song as my mom taught it to me. It was just a very short little ditty as she sang it, along the lines of White Coral Bells or Make New Friends. Really short, no multiple verses or anything. Did your mom grow up in the south if I may ask?



Anonymous said...

My dad sings this song too. I've had no luck finding any information about it either. Please report back if anyone discovers more. I will do the same.
- Paul

Anonymous said...

OK, this is how my Mom sang it to me:

Goldenrods where do you get your gold?

Butterflies how do your wings unfold?

This is a story that I wish I knew, that I wish I knew.

Goldenrods where do you get your gold?

Fireflies who lights up your lamps for you?

This is a story that I wish I knew, that I wish I knew.

I, too, have been looking for the words to the whole song!

Gwe2n said...

I am also looking for this song! My mother sang it to me for years, circa 1962-1965, if that helps at all. She was raised in the south, but we lived in PA when I was younger. I can still remember the tune for the first two verses, but am lost after that. I shall ask my aunt who is still alive if she knows it and will post back here. I have no idea why this song means so much, but it does.


Becky said...

I'll never forget this song as my sister and I were both in elementary school (1960's)and sang it in a talent show and won 1st or 2nd place ($5). I always loved the lyrics & melody, but have yet to find anyone that remembers this song. The lyrics are found at the following link.

Anonymous said...

I can't belive it. For years I have been singing one verse of "Goldenrod where do you get your gold? Butterfies how do your wings unfold? This is a story I've never been told and I wish I knew," at Elderhostels, Occupuy encampments, reunions, singalongs hoping someone would recognize it and know the second verse.
I am 88 years old and learned it in the 3rd grade in 1933 in
Alderson, West Virginia. No one, even at the Senior Centers I've visited had ever heard it.
A young (42 yrs old) friend said, "Put it on Google and see what happens." What a foolish idea--a grade school song from the Great Depression years on the internet.
Tonight I was teaching this same friend "The more we get together," and she asked, "Did you find your song?" I came home, put in the first line and this is the best birthday gift I've received today. Thanks to whoever and however the song, both verses,got here. I know the tune well. I'll sing it to anyone who phones. Mary at 937-767-1889.