Monday, September 18, 2006

Hobo's Lullaby

Ever dress up as a hobo for Halloween? Yep, me too. Hobos and pirates. Love em, can't get enough of em.

Sure I went through a phase where I wanted to grow up to be a marine biologist, but that was fleeting. Secretly...and sometimes I would brave the answer when asked what do you want to be when you grow up? A hobo. A pirate. An artist.

The three were always shocking and always intertwined in my childs mind.

Hobos were free. They rode trains, carved wood, sang songs and lived outside! A life of adventure. I loved dressing up as a hobo. The long stick, a handkercheif tied with snacks at the end, raggedy clothes a dirty filthy face...these were the stereotypes and they filled me with dreams of exotic places and crazy characters. No wonder I grew up to be an artist.

Since I was about 18, I have focused any volunteer work I've done around people who live outside( the "homeless" to the squares), usually doing something related to literacy programs for street kids.

People who live outside have it all figured out. Find some money, hang out with your friends, share some meals, stay safe and avoid the Man.

What else does one need to have a rich stress free life?

Often people felt sorry for the American Depression forced men to travel for work. Today, a general trend of thinking is that people who live outside are mentally ill, or waiting for that one lucky break to join back into the ranks of upstanding society=...earn money and give it to wealthy people and buy some food. You know you are of sound mind and body when you slave forty hours a week to feed your self, your kids, and pay for politicians to play their little games.

But in a world of insane workers subsidizing insane world leaders...are the humble people who live outside without the burden of society really crazy? CRazy like the disenfranchized hobos of the American Depression?Well, they get treated as if they are...less than zero...

"Oh ridin' on the rattlers, a-ridin' all the day,
And nuthin' in yer belly all along the way;
No 'baccy in yer pocket, and no jack for to spend,
And old John Law a-waitin' at the next division end."

Hobo art has long been absorbed as a hot commodoty collectable. Drifters transplanted from Europe with arts and crafts backgrounds jobless in America began tooling cabinets, frames and canes often while riding the rails. A vibrant hearty subculture of songwriters, poets, disenfranchised drifters who survived just this side of social constructs. It makes for great storytelling and songwriting. Just the lyrics to The Hobo's Lullaby bring tears to my eyes, it is an incredible experience to heara good version performed.

The Road by Jack London. London's memoirs of his hobo days.

Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer about a young man who gave away his inheritence and hitchiked around America looking for an authentic way to make a living.

Bronco Billy...a seldom seen Clint Eastwood movie about a band of rodeo performers...or are they?

Hobo Art
Hobo Dictionary
Thumbnails of Tramp Art
Tramp Art
Hobo Literature


Anonymous said...

sept 19 is talk lika pirate day, dun 4get 2 dress up

mister anchovy said...

Great post. I posted a little something to accompany it over at misteranchovy.

Of course, it's all fun and games being a pirate until somebody loses an eye, as they say. And being a hobo isn't just Railroading across the Great Divide. It was a violent and nasty way of living, cold, hungry, riding the rods, hiding from East Texas Red, the meanest bull around. Have you read You can't Win, the autobiography of theif junky Jack Black? I think Stagg must have sent me a copy of this.....

Anonymous said...

as pup says, try this!

Red said...

Is the Jon Krakauer you mention the same guy who wrote Into Thin Air, about the 1996 Everest expedition? Yes, I see from a quick Wikipedia visit that he is. I like his writing style, I might check out that Into the Wild. (Has Krakauer got the monopoly on titles beginning with "Into"?!)

I don't know much about hobos in American history, but I daresay that Mr Anchovy has nailed it with his comment. Perhaps we have an excessively romanticized vision of living outside -- whether during the Great Depression or in modern times. Having said that, I'm sure that, given a choice, a significant proportion of people who live outside would still live outside rather than move into a flat. But then you have to ask, is it because they feel they are truly free or because they are afraid of change? Ah, this could be an interesting conversation to have face to face! Meanwhile, you should check out a film called Dark Days, it's a documentary about people living in the subway in NYC. Fascinating stuff.

Candy Minx said...

Red, I have seen Dark Days...I forgot about that one.

Well, I realize that all hobo life wasn't just singing and campfires.

The single most challenging aspect of being a hobo from what I have read...was the lack of female company and intimacy. This really did affect the people who were forced to travel just to find work...sometimes grifting and hiding from the law or railroad cops.

But there were some famous hobo queens and rail riders too...
The song, the Hobo's Lullaby does capture the side of loneliness of tramp life.

I think that there is an unacknowledged pleasure in living the tramp life. And people who live outside do suffer through cold seasons...but they purposefully, over time do not want to change back to the life they were brought up in the moment has some rewards. More or less having a schedule of places to sleep, and safe sleeping buddies or loves is pretty difficult to reconcile with what most of us have come to define as comfort.

Yes, we do read a book or watch tv on a couch. Leisure time is enjoyed.but its not very much leisure time. But, aside from that...for many people the work week is a period of lack of sleep, budget worries, overspending, mortgages, traffic jams, line ups...

I think we have been somewhat conditioned to immediately assume that if someone lives differently than we do in contemporary culture...they have miserable lives. I'd be willing to argue, they seem pretty relaxed.

I always give give people who panhandle, or live outside money. I hope they always have a good time and a safe time.

Some of the people in that film Dark City...and other folks who lived in thomkins Square Park were relocated...given houses and some support money. A large part of them returned to the outside.

Now, I hear people say, see, mental illness? But I am more of an Occams Razor person. The idea that out of two or more assumptions, the simpliest one is likely correct.

Mental illness...I think people return to outside living because they like it. It is our fear or conditioning that allows us to believe they have mental problems. Is it so crazy once one tastes the here and now, the simplicity of living without many of the rules and shcedules we live by might actually be a satifying way to make a living?

I think we just need to create more gyms for them. In Vancouver there is an incredible drop in centre...with awesome pool, shower and locker facilities. Plus, three meals a day are served. The breakfast is under $2, lunch around $3, and dinner now about $4. Vancouver has one of the largest group of transients, and folks who live outisde. This particular facility isn't enought for all the popoulation, but it really is wonderful and a great start.

Candy Minx said...

Red, I forgot, yes Into The Wil is by same writer as Everest book, which I loved so much I've read it twice. I really recommend Into The Wild...and I did expect his next books to be "into" as well! But no, mister Anchovy read his Mormon murder expose...I haven't read that yet. I love his writing style and Into The Wild is a small book, but a fascinating life story...really thoughtful.

Anonymous said...

hey you should read Marilyn Robinson's housekeeping--tons of stuff about hobo freedom versus society's restrictions. And I think one of dos passos' USa trilogy had huge sections on a life of riding the rails. - Minerva Jane

* (asterisk) said...

Very interesting, Candy, as always. I think you're spot-on when you ask exactly who is the mentally ill here. Those who get screwed over by the government, working their tits off to earn an honest crust and keep their family warm, or those who reject all that (along with personal safety; after all, who wants to risk being torched alive on a park bench?) in favour of personal freedom?

Of course, like Red says, I'm sure there are countless thousands, millions, who would prefer to be part of what we call society and just can't get back in. But for those who get it right and manage to pull off that most delicate of balancing acts, there must be some benefits to the hobo lifestyle.

Adam Frazier said...

I was a hobo/tramp and also a pirate *sigh*

Timmer said...

Once upon a time I dressed as Bruce Springsteen, with a red bandana in my rear pocket, and a nice 5 o'clock shadow painted on. People thought I emulated a hobo so I went with it. At school I dress for halloween as a vampire rock star pirate...the kids get it and love it!

Heidi Grether said...

Personally, I think hobos are very, very courageous. I also think Mother Theresa was, as she shunned all the worldly wealth and comforts to bring her riches of love and faith to the suffering.

I wish I was more like her.

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