“Travelin’ Musicians”

Lyrics

Part 1

[Leroy]
I’m on the road to somewhere
Take my tuba-phone with me
I’m on the road to somewhere
It’s a lovely place to be

I’m on the road to fortune
I’m the only one around
Who can play on old man tuba
With a hee-haw hee-haw sound

I’m a travelin’ musician
Just the best there be
I’m a travelin’ musician
A tuba-playin’ donkey with a hee-haw-hee

Part 2

[T.R.]
I’m a travelin’ musician
Down the road I go
I’m a travelin’ musician
A banjo-pickin’ chicken, just the best I know

[T.R. and Leroy]
We’re the travelin’ musicians
We’re the only two
We’re the travelin’ musicians
[Leroy] A tuba-playin’ donkey
[T.R.] A banjo-pickin’ chicken
[Leroy] Hee-haw, hee-haw
[T.R.] Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle
[together] We’re the only two

Part 3

[T.R. and Leroy]
We’re the travelin’ musicians
We’re the three alone
We’re the travelin’ musicians
[Rover Joe] Just a-playin’ on my shiny, slidey kinda thing that has a funny name, sort of like… ham bone?
[T.R., spoken] Boy’s got a way with a lyric

Part 4

[Catgut]
I’m on the road to somewhere
Got my trumpet ‘long with me
I’m on the road to somewhere
It’s a lovely place to be

[all]
We’re on the road to fortune
We’re the only four around
[Catgut] We can swing out old man music
With a wailin’ glory sound

[all]
We’re the travelin’ musicians
We’re the only four
We’re the travelin’ musicians
[Leroy] A tuba-playin’ donkey
[T.R.] A banjo-pickin’ chicken
[Rover Joe] A trombone-huffin’ doggy
[Catgut] A trumpet-puffin’ kitten
[Leroy] Hee-haw, hee-haw
[T.R.] Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle
[Catgut] Me-ow, me-ow
[Rover Joe, howls]
[all] We’re the huffin’ puffin’ playin’ pickin’ donkey cat and dog and chicken barnyard band

 

Music by Jack Elliott, lyrics by Jerry Juhl

*Underlined words are my best guess at deciphering the lyrics, but I need your help to finish them. Comment with your own best guess, and we’ll complete the puzzle together like we did with The Tale of the Bunny Picnic.


“Travelin’ Musicians” from The Muppet Musicians of Bremen

What a funny little feel-good romp about four friends “on the road to fame and Gogalala.” Granted, it has more offensive Southern stereotypes and hillbilly tropes than you can shake a stick at, but it’s mostly aimed at the bad guys, so that makes it okay, right? (Spoiler alert: no.) Though I do find “Well, put me in overshoes and call me a duck” rather charming.

Leroy the donkey, T.R. the rooster, Rover Joe the dog, and Catgut the cat are all kicked out of their homes. One by one, they join together to become traveling musicians. They’ll bring joy and entertainment to the adoring masses, who’ll welcome them to and homes and dinner tables.

But one thing still sticks in my craw: why isn’t Catgut playing a fiddle?? Fiddles and violins were historically strung with cat guts, right? I am shaking my head at you, Henson Company, for this missed opportunity for a slightly macabre pun.

Here’s something I love about this story: the heroes aren’t just rejected and destitute; they’re old. Heroes are almost always young. In fairy tales, old age is reserved for overbearing mothers, wise and generous hags, and villains. Here, the four main characters are kicked out of their homes for their perceived uselessness; in America at least, this is a trait often ascribed to the elderly, whether consciously or subconsciously. But instead of being the helpful NPC in someone else’s story, they take control of their own. They’re the equivalent of folks in their sixties and seventies who go to grad school, start businesses, or become movie stars. Not everyone can do something so big and drastic late in life, but if it inspires more folks to learn to play the piano or travel to Thailand or learn to speak Klingon, so much the better.

The four friends meet when they have nothing but an instrument apiece, optimism, and each other, kinda like the fairy tale equivalent of Golden Girls. I can’t quite tell whether this song is about the delusional, reckless optimism that you have to cling to when you have nothing else, or the inspiring resilience of starting a new chapter in life when no one thought you were worth anything, but it’s probably a mix of both.

This resonates with me a lot, as an “elder millennial” supported by two retail jobs, bigger dreams, and a community of friends. We don’t have much of a structure, collectively. We are “sewing shreds together and seeing beauty in a multiplicity of patches.” None of us has everything, but together we have a lot. A toolkit. A KitchenAid stand mixer. A house with a guest room. An old yoga mat you can just have, I got a new one. An extensive first aid kit and a degree in nursing. A library of cookbooks. Knowledge of local politics and who you should vote for. Enthusiasm for plants and gardening. A wall of board games. A couch you can crash on for three weeks or eleven months. A sewing machine and the ability to add pockets to your favorite skirts. A solid recipe for banana zucchini bread that also works really well gluten-free. A car, the ability to rent a truck to help you move, and the strength to carry your mattress and dresser. A tea collection to rival the gods.

None of us has our shit together. But together, we make one damn good Stone Soup. Who knows what’s next, but really, who cares?

I’m on the road to somewhere
It’s a lovely place to be

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