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Idealist or Idiot? 5/27/15
This is the story of John Henry.
John Henry was a little baby, sitting on the his papa's knee
He picked up a hammer and little piece of steel
Said "Hammer's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
Hammer's gonna be the death of me"
captain said to John Henry
"Gonna bring that steam drill 'round
Gonna bring that sterm drill out on the job
Gonna whop that steel on down, Lord, Lord
Gonna whop that steel on down"
Henry told his captain
"A man ain't nothing but a man
But before I let your steam drill beat me down
I'd die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord
I'd die with a hammer in my hand"
Henry said to his shaker
"Shaker, why don't you sing?
I'm throwin' thirty pounds from my hips on down
Just listen to that cold steel ring, Lord, Lord
Just listen to that cold steel ring"
Henry said to his shaker
"Shaker, you'd better pray
'Cause if I miss that little piece of steel
Tomorrow be your buryin' day, Lord, Lord
Tomorrow be your buryin' day"
shaker said to John Henry
"I think this mountain's cavin' in!"
John Henry said to his shaker, "Man That ain't nothin' but my hammer suckin' wind! Lord, Lord
That ain't nothin' but my hammer suckin' wind!"
the man that invented the steam drill
Thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry made fifteen feet
The steam drill only made nine, Lord, Lord
The steam drill only made nine
Henry hammered in the mountains
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard, he broke his poor heart
He laid down his hammer and he died, Lord, Lord
He laid down his hammer and he died
Henry had a little woman
Her name was Polly Ann
John Henry took sick and went to his bed
Polly Ann drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord
Polly Ann drove steel like a man
Henry had a little baby
You could hold him in the palm of your hand
The last words I heard that poor boy say
"My daddy was a steel driving man, Lord, Lord
My daddy was a steel driving man"
took John Henry to the graveyard
And they buried him in the sand
And every locomotive comes a-roaring by
Says "There lies a steel-driving man, Lord, Lord
There lies a steel-driving man"
every Monday morning
When the bluebirds begin to sing
You can hear John Henry a mile or more
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring, Lord, Lord
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring
There was a time in America, when people celebrated those who wouldn’t bend from their ideals. When was the last time you heard a new song about someone who wouldn’t let go of what he or she believed in?
American heroes still exist. Why is it no one writes songs about them?
Maybe seeing people who are firm in their beliefs makes us uncomfortable because we aren’t firm in our beliefs. Maybe it makes us uncomfortable because we don’t know what our beliefs are. Maybe it makes us uncomfortable because we don’t know if our beliefs will make us unpopular. Maybe seeing people who put their lives on the line to serve their country makes us uncomfortable because we’re too preoccupied with having the next big thing. Or maybe we just think idealists are idiots who should shut up and sit down.
So we keep our beliefs to ourselves. We choose carefully with whom we associate. We’re not just respectful of others’ beliefs – we’re silent about our own.
You know who I admire in the story of John Henry? The shaker. He put his absolute faith in John Henry’s ability to hit a hardened steel chisel, day after day, for hours on end, without smashing the shaker’s hand.
John Henry and the shaker may not have agreed on much else, but between the two of them, they beat the steam drill.
John Henry paid a steep price for his belief. Do you think the engineers at General Motors who failed to fix poorly designed ignition switches deserve a song about their deeds? Does Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) merit a song because he wants to spend $7.2 million for an underground parking garage at the State Capitol that would provide a grand total of 30 parking spaces ($240,000 per parking space)?
The lyrics posted here are from the web site Songs for Teaching.com. The link is: http://www.songsforteaching.com/folk/johnhenry.php
This was the most complete version I could find.
Instructions We Never Read
But maybe we should.
I’m not making this up. The Warnings section on an AquaFresh toothpaste tube reads, in part: “Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”
Questions arise. What constitutes “more than used for brushing”? What if the family dog (who doesn’t brush with AquaFresh) decides toothpaste tastes good, and chews up a tube?
The Directions section says “adults and children 2 years of age and older:” What? Weren’t we just told to “Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age”?
Of course there’s the question about how do you accidentally swallow more than is used for brushing?
Life is filled with mysteries.
“I think a lot of people start out full of idealism and fresh ideas. And then a lot of times, being re-elected becomes more important than staying true to your principles.”
I welcome public comment on this topic. Anyone willing to give his or her name is welcome to respond here. Thom.Boncher@gmail.com No anonymous responses will be posted. No obscene language will be permitted. Threats, personal attacks, and spam will not be posted. My house, my rules. But if you have something to say, and if you are willing to put your name on it, I won’t refuse to let you be heard.