Peter Rabbit On Steroids

I love sitting in as Crowd Control in the summer music classes. The last time I felt this good about my musical aptitude was in Mrs. Ballard's morning kindergarten class of '60-'61. I could play a mean pair of red sticks in rhythm band back then, but it didn't lead to a recording contract.

Thankfully, the students have finished singing "Did You Ever See a Lassie/Laddie" in music class. The kids took turns imitating a peer leader who either stood still while staring into space, or went totally berserko dancing in the middle of the circle.

Now the kids are doing a call and response folk song about "John the Rabbit":

John the rabbit, OH YES!
John the rabbit, OH YES!
He has a mighty bad habit, OH YES!
Of jumping in my garden, OH YES!
He ate all my tomatoes, OH YES!
And sweet potatoes, OH YES!
And if I live to see next fall, OH YES!
I just won't have any garden at all. OH YES!

This is an old play party song, so there are many different versions. John the Rabbit seems to be both trickster and Everyman, pro- and anti- tagonist. John isn't Peter Rabbit, or Peter's cousin, Little Benjamin Bunny. John is Peter Rabbit crossed with John Henry, Casey Jones, and Paul Bunyan. John the Rabbit is "Big Bad John," the mythic, mysterious giant miner hero of the 1961 song* recorded by Jimmie Dean, Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and many others. I kid you not.

John the Rabbit is a steel-driving spinach leaf thief.
He's been pumping iron, but giving no grief.
Drove that golden carrot spike and had a big ox.

Big John the Rabbit, OH YES!
Big John
Big bad John

One Sunday morning, in the driving rain
Around the bend came a passenger train.
In the cabin stood Big Rabbit John
Noble engineer but he's dead and gone.

Big John the Rabbit, OH YES!
Big John
Big bad John

This old engine makes it on time
Leaves central station bout a quarter to nine
Hits river junction at seventeen to
At a quarter to ten you know its travlin again:

Peter Rabbit don't you call me, 'cause I can't go! I owe my soul to the company store.

As far as I know, John the Rabbit is not linked to the recent murder-suicide-love triangle of the female weight-lifting champ, the steroid dealer, and the former Cowboys player here in my own North Texas suburb. Still, I'm having nightmares about big blue bicep bunnies, freight trains, coal mines, and brussel sprouts.

*Big John
Big John
Every morning at the mine, you could see him arrive.
He stood 6 foot 6, weighed 245.
Kind of broad at the shoulders, narrow at the hip.
And everybody knew you didn't give no lip to Big John.

Big John
Big John
Big bad John
Nobody seemed to know where John called home.
He just drifted into town and stayed all alone.
He didn't say much, kind of quiet and shy,
And if you spoke at all, you'd just said hi to Big John.

Big John
Big John
Big Bad John

Then came the day at the bottom of the mine,
When a timber cracked and men started crying.
Miners were praying, and hearts beat fast
And everybody thought they had breathed their last
cept' John.

Big John
Big John
Big Bad John
Through the dust and the smoke of this man-made hell,
Walked a giant of a man that the miners knew well.
Grabbed a sagging timber and gave out with a groan,
And like a giant oak tree he just stood there alone.

Big John
Big Bad John
Big John
And with all of his strength, he gave a mighty shove.
Then a miner yelled out, 'theres a light up above!'.
And twenty men scrambled from a would-be grave
now theres only one left down there to save,
Big John.

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

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