January 14, 2010

Better Take an Ax and Bust 'em

The mind is a funny place, or thing, or whatever it is.

Don't ask me why, but yesterday I was trying to see if I could remember the lyrics to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I couldn't remember much of them, and, as might be expected, my memory of the genuine lyrics soon elided into the much more familiar kid song parody about the "burning of the school" where the "teacher hit me with a ruler" and gets shot with a "loaded .44" in the end.

I'm pretty familiar with this version of the song. In fact, I'm not at all sure I didn't think the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "John Brown's Body" weren't spectacularly unfunny parodies of it rather than the other way around when I first encountered the original.

But in the background of these vague images of my little kid self imagining a burning school and being hit with a ruler and getting revenge with a gun while actually sitting, gun-less, in a non-burning school, a very strange image began intrude. This was of a giant insect, like a mantis from a Japanese movie, but made of metal, looming over a cartoon-like girl with a big smile on her face. The girl looked a little like Nancy from the comic strip.

Suddenly, new lyrics made themselves known:

Mine eyes have seen the folly of the automated age
where computers write the checks and put employers in a rage
when they find out their employees have been paid a triple wage
the bugs are still not gone

Glory glory you can't trust 'em
even though you fix 'em and adjust 'em
better take an ax and bust 'em
the bugs are still not gone

I'm pretty sure it is from MAD Magazine. I mean, it has to be right? And I'm pretty sure I haven't seen it or thought of it since I first read it way back whenever that was. I believe the cartoon girl image came from the magazine, too, meant to illustrate the only other line I recall, which is: "when they send five gross of girdles to a five-year-old in Maine."

As for the giant mechanical insect, I suppose at the time the notion of "computer bugs" didn't mean enough to me to imprint in my mind as a functional metaphor, even though I doubt I really thought the song was literally about bugs. Or perhaps my memory was just punning of its own accord, just to mess with me.

I could well be wrong about the source. I couldn't find it via google, though I did find this, which seems to be a garbled version of the one I remember. (Mine seems like the original because it scans and rhymes properly.)

Anyway, in view of all that, this seems worth the $35.

Posted by Dr. Frank at January 14, 2010 10:14 PM | TrackBack

Wow. Your memory amazes.

Issue 161, September 1973. Protest Songs for Life's Everyday Complaints - Just uploaded it for you:


I have the Mad set, and a quick search of battle hymn brought it up...but what do you think the bug you're thinking of was? There are five or six other songs, but none have anything like a giant mantis.

Posted by: Nick at January 15, 2010 06:42 AM

PS - interesting side note from a former Mad obsessee, issue 161 (with the cover spoof of the Poseidon Adventure, with only Alfred's feet visible in a life preserver) is Mad's best-selling issue of all time.

Posted by: Nick at January 15, 2010 06:46 AM

Lay off the potent stuff Frank, you're not a kid any more ;) lol

Posted by: Zaphod at January 15, 2010 03:51 PM

Quick Snippet:

I'm listening to Pandora radio right now and for my custom station I had listed Weird Al Yankovich as the main influence. The MTX song, Predictable just played. MTX and Weird Al? Interesting.

Posted by: Zaphod at January 15, 2010 05:56 PM

Hey, thanks Nick. Strange to see after all those years. I did remember it pretty well, didn't I?

The insect came from the line about bugs. I can't think of any other explanation.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at January 16, 2010 12:45 AM

If it's MAD and it's parody poetry, there is a good chance it was written by Frank Jacobs. Check out his book, PITILESS PARODIES AND OTHER OUTRAGEOUS VERSE.

His SCHWARZENEGGER done as Hiawatha is classic.

Posted by: Jon Scieszka at January 18, 2010 04:38 PM