Deep Down in the Jungle redux

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon May 22 02:27:45 UTC 2006

At 7:50 PM -0400 5/21/06, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>On 5/21/06, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
>>At 12:26 AM -0400 5/21/06, Wilson Gray wrote:
>>>I believe Sister Sookie done lost her mind
>>>She wears a pair of shoes of the strangest kind
>>>With the heels in front and the heels behind
>>>I couldn't tell _whether_ she was coming or gwine
>>A variant of that last couplet occurs in "Long John", recorded by
>>those "musical miscreants" (so described on their remastered 1999 CD
>>release) the Holy Modal Rounders in December 1963:
>>Now Long John made him
>>A pair of shoes
>>They were the funniest shoes
>>That you ever could see.
>>They had a heel in front
>>And a heel behind,
>>You could never tell where
>>Long John was gwine
>>>From _A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore_ by Harold Courlander
>(1976, 1996), pp. 407-8:
>One of the classic prison camp work songs, "Lost John," tells of an
>escaped prisoner who outwitted his pursuers by placing an extra heel
>on the front of each shoe. When his footprints were discovered, it was
>impossible to tell the direction of his flight. (As sung by a work
>gang, each line delivered by the singing leader was repeated by the
>One day, one day
>I were walking along
>And I heard a little voice
>Didn't see no one
>It was old Lost John,
>He said he was long gone
>Like a turkey through the corn
>With his long clothes on.
>Had a heel in front
>And a heel behind
>Well you couldn't hardly tell
>Well you couldn't hardly tell
>Whichaway he was goin'.
>Whichaway he was goin'.
>One day, one dya,
>Well I heard him say
>Be on my way
>Be on my way
>'Fore the break of day
>By the break of day,
>Got a heel in front,
>Got a heel behind,
>Well you can't hardly tell
>Well you can't hardly tell
>Whichaway I'm goin'.

Very interesting.  The H. M. Rounders, who were sort of cousins of
the (Village) Fugs in the 60's, clearly have a less serious take on
the situation.  Their Long John is something of an oddball who is not
on the lam, but in many ways he is a close relative of the original
Lost John above.  As we learn from the HMRs chorus:

Long John,
You know he's long gone
With his long pajamas on
Like a turkey through the corn
He's long gone, long gone.

But then matters deteriorate...

Long John got him
A bumbershoot
It was the bumberest shoot
That you ever could see
With a bumber in front
And a shoot behind
You could never tell where
Long John was gwine


The American Dialect Society -

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