It’s Not Easy Being Grey

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In my Week 8 Music Notes post, I mentioned that The Grey Goose can be heard as referring to the undeniable resilience of the African-American, with the goose’s numerous travails and ultimate escape providing some encouragement to the downtrodden and a veiled message for the white folks. Listening again last night, I realized that many of us white folks might have trouble understanding the lyrics as Mr. Baker sings them, thus making the message even more veiled than it needs to be. Let me help. Each time Baker sings a line, the chorus replies “Lord, lord, lord.” Baker sings each of the song’s thirty or so lines twice: here are the twenty-two I’ve judged most salient to the “plot.”

Well, last Monday mornin’
My daddy went a-huntin’
Well, he carried along his zulu
Well, along come a grey goose
Well, he pulled on his trigger
Well, a-down he come a-windin’
He was six weeks a-fallin’
Well he put him on the wagon,
And he take him to the white house
He was six weeks a-pickin’
Well they put him on to parboil
He was six months a-parboil
Well we put him on de table,
And the fork couldn’t stick him,
And we throwed him in the hog-pen,
Well he broke the sow’s jawbone
And we take him to the sawmill,
And he broke the saw’s teeth out
Well the last time I seen him,
He was flyin’ towards the ocean,
With a long string o’ goslin’s,
And he’s goin’ quack quack quack.

As a bonus, here’s another version of The Grey Goose, this one by the great Leadbelly, who, without a chorus to slow him down, gives us the whole saga in eighty-six seconds flat. Leadbelly literally sang his way out of prison, and his powerful performance makes it easy to understand how that could happen. Leadbelly tells the story a little differently: here the goose’s adversary is a preacher who went hunting on Sunday. Either way, the goose is often down, but never out.

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