An Experiment in point of view

I admit that I mimic the great poets and embellish their sensibilities; competitors and former friends say I am an imposter still masked. Men learn to mimic with their mouths the trilling notes of birds long before they are able to join together in tuneful song. It was akin to the whistling of the breeze through hollow reeds that taught the Ancients to blow through hollow hemlock stalks. After that the wayfarer, troubadours and jongleurs, and wandering minstrels (or nomads like myself) learned by slow degrees the plaintive melodies that with the touch of a player’s fingers flow from the flute.

Coordinated action throughout evolution, I believe, comes to us today in call and response songs inherited from prehistoric kinfolk. Employed to foster “muscular” bonding, these musical dialogs trigger elemental human emotions: love, hate, and fear. We reflect patterns of human communications with a succession of a call phrases in our provincial tongues, the langue d’oc, followed by a direct comment or response. If the sun smiles upon us, then comes the time for joking, talking, and merry laughter. I speak of the heyday of the rustic muse, when he dances out of step, moving limbs clumsily with feet stamping on mother earth.

An Experiment in point of view

Folklorists traditionally capture songs in regions of isolated poverty. Be not deceived, the wayfarer’s song is a phenomenon of cosmopolitanism conceived and incubated in the intense heat of cultural hearths, be they multicultural urban centers or densely packed boomtown camps. Men compelled to wander in search of purpose and utopia carry music from home and hearth. This music imbued with intangible nomadic qualities, hopes, and fears, morphs within shady alleyways and busy bars; it binds wayfarers together even as they compete for opportunity in boom times, but it also shares the sorrow, death, and bust times. Music aligns strangers into kin groups. The fortunes of Liberty get tested with each generation; we must not limit posterity to our limited understanding of freedom, for posterity is born of another time. The wayfarer quickly learns that what does not kill him, will make him stronger.

Anthropologists argue that we inherit music from our male primate ancestors who used it to attract mates. Epic songs, the Ancients believed, were derived from the Muses who ruled over all creative and intellectual endeavors. Evolutionists suggest that music is an action like art and language that changes with social dynamics and cross-cultural nuances through time. They also say that music is practical in ritualized mother-infant exchanges that are shaped by universal common understanding. Song, scientists today argue, is simply various courtship displays akin to those expressed by other complex, varied, and interesting animal sounds found in nature. Music, they agree, is not an object of physical sustenance – like food or water – it provides no protection against attackers. However, they discern, it serves a social function by fostering deeper relationships shaped by both biology and culture. Melodies take shape far from the busy highways, amid groves and thickets in the solitudes where the wayfarer spends his sunlit leisure.

An experiment in point of view.


Here, halt, I pray you, make a little stay,

   O wayfarer, to read what I have writ,

And know by my fate what thy fate shall be.

   What thou are now, wayfarer, world reknown,

I was, what I am now, so shall thou be.

   The world’s delight I followed with a heart

Unsatisfied: ashes am I, and dust.

Alcuin’s Epitaph

Friends, I give you two themes to ponder: wayfarer and counterfeit humbug confidence man. I know what I am on any particular day, do you? Be not deceived, my friends, God is not mocked, said the Preacher. To each his own… Men of bad judgment quest after Fortuna and ignore the good that they hold in their hands until they have lost it. America may be the land of restless wanderers, but the wayfarer learns that we meet all of life’s great tests alone with our maker. Wayfarers and seafarers seek a better tomorrow, where only the mighty are celebrated. The wayfarer’s song tells of epic journeys. A wayfarer develops his own daily narrative for survival… even if he, like a Robinson Crusoe, only counts days as ticks on a wood slab. His blues come to us still, though Dame Fortune is rarely out-rightly named. The lives of ordinary men overlap, captured in ephemeral tunes – born, short-lived, and then doomed to oblivion – unless through serendipity they merge into the stream of historic memory. Self-conscious poets, lacking the artfulness of great bards, simply embellish popular tunes that linger in their consciousness.

Each wayfarer constructs a persona (a way of presenting himself) within the American dream of having a decent place to call home and enough resources to start a family. To each his own… sometimes the construction is a deconstruction of the American way of life. To each his own… some times the construction is a pretense, feigned to defraud. While the wayfarer experiences varied degrees of success; meanwhile, through their toil, they expand the boundaries of America and the semantics of what it means to be a man. As for me, I am a loving wayfarers: I lean towards the exotic; I follow hoops that are of low self-esteem. I wear them down with my unrelenting artfulness then move on before their male protectors can detect me. I wish to love, and I cannot; I wish not to love, and I cannot.


An Experiment in point of view

An irascible yet lovable keyboard pal had a glimpse at my essay about Mart Taylor (1824-1894) and his popular Gold Rush song called “California Humbugs,” encouraged me to write more creatively about Mart’s world:

This California is a humbug State,

   ‘Tis out of the world, in the bushes,

Where, to meet with a poor man’s fate,

   Many a poor devil pushes.


[Chorus] Haul off the jacket, and roll up the sleeve,

   For mining is a hard kind of labor.

Haul off the jacket, and roll up the sleeve,

   For mining is a hard kind of labor I believe.


Merchants hope to accumulate a pile,

   By selling goods to the miners,

They will trust them out, and in a little while,

   “Bust up” for the want of shiners.


Haul off the jacket, &c.


Each druggist clerk, who comes from the States,

   “Sets up” in the bleeding profession,

If he kills a man, that he’s called too late,

   Is excuse for the quackish transgression.


Haul off the jacket, &c.


If you have a case to refer to the law,

   And a lawyer for you shall begin it,

Your dust will somehow slip his paw,

   And you’re broke if you happen to win it.


Haul off the jacket, &c.


The priest will preach one day in the week,

   And cause the sinners to tremble,

Read the Bible all day, and when it is dark,

   With the rogues he’s bound to assemble.


Haul off the jacket, &c.


The miner works hard with the shovel and the pick,

   Till his body is feeble and tender,

He goes into town at the end of the week,

   And spends all his dust on a bender.


Haul off the jacket, &c.


The gambler deals from the bottom all day,

   And loiters about the Diana,

He raises the devil, when he gets broke,

   He raises the stake from a miner.


Haul off the jacket, &c.


The miner lays himself down to sleep,

   The fleas are jumping around him,

Or overgrown bed bugs over him creep,

   And leave him less than they found him.


Haul off the jacket, &c.


Mart lived seventy years old. What to the wayfarer is a lifespan? Is it long enough to see the transformation in the American way of faring? It certainly is not long enough to draw any definitive conclusions. This is not quite a history, but conversely, it is no fiction; what follows will be an experiment half-baked and a departure from Austen into another world… that of a young America attempted from a male vantage point. To any decedents of Mart (who does not appear at first, but rather, at last as an itinerate preacher without a religion) or others – legitimate or otherwise – please do not take offense – just enjoy the imagined backstories of wayfarers and their songs.


Source: I would recommend Debby McClatchy’s interpretation found on ‘til the good times come (Trails End 098) and Mart Taylor, The Gold Digger’s Song Book containing the most popular, humorous & sentimental Songs. San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1975. Some of the figures of speech come from Taylor’s Local Lyrics and Miscellaneous Poems (San Francisco, Hutchings & Rosenfield, 1858).