ethel’s words

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WHERE DO THE OLD MEN GO?
        (Talkin’ Yarns For Guitar)

Where do the old men go, men go
        When the sun goes down
               and the chill winds blow;
        When the nights are long
               in a swirl of snow
                      Where do the old men go, men go?

Hardrock says:
There’s a place beyond, where the streets are gold;
’N nothin’ but the best for them that’s old;
For the gandy dancers and lumberjacks,
Muckers and miners and the razorbacks.

How can the old men live, men live
        When they have no coin
               and the rich won’t give?
        The bulls are orn’ry
               and they won’t forgive,
                      How can the old men live, men live?

Leadville Louie says:
When the coal is dug and the copper’s mined;
The ores are smelted and the steel refined;
When the railroad’s built, clear out to the Bay,
Then the Big Boss gives you all o’ your pay.

How could the old men ride, men ride
        When the bulls are mean,
               and no place to hide?
        Off to the clinker,
               to be locked inside.
                      How could the old men ride, men ride?

Mississippi Bones says:
There’s a glory train runs on silver track;
Jerusalem Slim pulls the throttle back.
The twelve bindlestiffs stoke the engine fire;
You roar up the sky on the Red-ball Flier.

Where do the old men sleep, men sleep,
        When they have no bed
               and the cold drives deep;
        When the Reaper stalks
               and they barely creep,
                      Where do the old men sleep, men sleep?

Chicago Slim says:
You take a trip to a place in your head;
Your bindle’s as warm as a feather-bed.
The gondolas rock like your gran’ma’s chair
And the railroad bulls don’t charge no fare.

What do the old men need, men need,
        Alone and lonely
               in a world of greed;
        When sometimes they wish
               that their ghost be freed
                      What do the old men need, men need?

Hoosier Joe says:
In Hobo Heaven an eternal fire
Keeps coffee as hot as a butter pyre;
There’s a bottomless pot o’ jungle stew
That bubbles and simmers the whole day through.

What do the old men eat, men eat
        When the hunger grinds
               and the soul is beat?
        Where there ain’t no bread
               and there ain’t no meat
                      What do the old men eat, men eat?

Frisco Fred says:
There’s celestial kitchens that serve up steaks
With trimmin’s and sauces and fancy cakes.
There’s brandied java comes after the grub
And a long, hot bath in a golden tub.

What do the old men share, men share
        When the sun is warm
               and the day is fair?
        When friends are dead
               and the strangers stare
                      What do the old men share, men share?

Idaho Speed says:
They meet on Skid Row, in the friendly sun
An’ they spin long yarns ’bout what they’ve done.
With a cynic’s grin and a twinkling eye
They say they’re in line for pie in the sky.

What do the old men crave, men crave?
        When they know they soon
               will go to their grave;
        They’d like a reward
               for the work they gave
                      What do the old men crave, men crave?

Roustabout Riley says:
They want Bull Durham in a bag of silk,
Or tailor-mades, if they’re of that ilk.
Or Copenhagen, or Brown Mule to chew,
With Havana cigars passed out to you.

What do the old men do, men do
        When the back is tired
               and the Shift is through?
        When the hands are gnarled
               and the hopes are few,
                      What do the old men do, men do?

K.C. Red says:
You meet your old friends for many years gone;
Who died o’ T.B., or dead o’ the con.
An’ you chew the fat ’bout Wobblies and Debs,
Coeur d’Alene,* Ludlow, and the Fightin’ Rebs.

What will the old men sing, men sing,
        Ridin’ the crummy
               for their final fling?
        When their hobo soul
               will at last take wing,
                      What will the old men sing, men sing?

Alabama Billy says:
There are hobo angels who come along
Strumming their banjos to a rebel song.
A bottle o’ lush to warm old bones
While the songs are crooned in mournful tones.

A folk nevermore to be seen on Earth:
Their comradeship held as the greatest worth;
With a loyalty and a brotherhood--
It was one for all, for the common good.

That’s what the old men dreamed, men dreamed;
Of places as good as their plans had seemed.
A place in the mem’ry, a place in the heart;
A lifeway they lived in a world apart.
That’s where the old men go, men go.
That’s where the old men go.

*“Coeur d’Alene” could be replaced with “Cripple Creek”, “Leadville and”, or “Telluride”.

© Copyright, 2002

Ethel C. Hale