September 28, 2014
So pardon me for rambling on, but the title of last week’s blog was in fact derived from a blues song by Mississippi Joe Callicott that goes under several names including “Leaving Town Blues” and “Plow Hand Blues.” There are pretty similar lines in blues sung by Big Bill Broonzey and Leadbelly, though in those instances the blues seem to be an ingredient rather than a consumer of bread. I’m a poor philosophy professor and in no sense anything more than the most amateur of musicologists, so who am I to say who gets definitive credit. All of them are quite a bit less well known than “That’s Alright, Mama,” but in the spirit of last week’s blog, I think any of these blues could get sung during food songs month in Michigan.
Which is another way of saying that my obsession with sorting out what is and what is not a food song has gotten out of hand, I think. I mean who cares about the ontological commitments of song lyrics, anyway? I just got into that thread by accident, and if you want to sing Marvin and Johnny’s version of “Cherry Pie,” or Skip and Flip’s version of “Cherry Pie” or even Warrant’s version of “Cherry Pie,” during your own food songs festival, well go right on ahead and don’t let me stop you.
And while we’re in the “passing references to food” category, let’s give a shout out to Gary P. Nunn’s answer to “What I Like about Texas”:
It’s another burrito, it’s a cold Lone Star in my hand
It’s a quarter for the jukebox boys
Play the Sons of the Mother Lovin’ Bunkhouse Band
There’s also a reference to Mi Tierra in the song, which used to be a 24 hour joint where farmer’s would catch a quick bite to eat after unloading at the adjacent San Antonio farmers’ market at 5:00 am. It’s now surrounded by tourist-oriented shops selling a blend of crap, works by local artists and genuinely interesting crafts imported from Mexico. Mi Tierra has made the transition along with them, and it may have become a bit too tourist friendly. It’s been too long since I was there, but on my last visit it was 6:00am, well before most of the tourists were awake but not too early for a table full of honkies to be wrestling with the meaning of “huevos rancheros”. One of them was getting cross because the waitress had failed to bring enough menus for everyone. If you know the drill, you can still order chilaquiles and fresh-squeezed orange juice just like in the old days, even though neither is on the new menu. So I did.
My waitperson took my order without skipping a beat, after which the Latino gentlemen (a total stranger) sitting near me tipped his head toward the table where the out-of-towners were still trying make sense of things with the patient Latino waitress. He gave me a smile and wink and then he said, “We don’t need no stinking menus.” One of my all-time greatest moments in food.
I also wanted to say something about another Trout Fishing in America song before letting another food songs month pass us by. You’ll recall that their “Pico De Gallo” sits atop the all-time food songs list, and I wouldn’t want to displace that. But they also have
All I want is a proper cup of coffee
Made in a proper copper coffee pot
I may be off my dot but I want a proper coffee
In a proper copper pot”
Iron coffee pots and tin coffee pots
They are no use to me
If I can’t have a proper cup of coffee
In a proper copper coffee pot, I’ll have a cup of tea
We don’t need no stinking pumpkin-spice macchiato!
Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University