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2. I Wanna Go Back To Dixie

Well, what I like to do on formal occasions like this is to take some of the various types of songs that we all know and presumably love, and, as it were, to kick them when they're down. I find that if you take the various popular song forms to their logical extremes, you can arrive at almost anything from the ridiculous to the obscene, or - as they say in New York - "sophisticated". I'd like to illustrate with several hundred examples for you this evening, first of all, the southern type song about the wonders of the American south. But it's always seemed to me that most of these songs really don't go far enough. The following song, on the other hand, goes too far. It's called I Wanna Go Back To Dixie.

I wanna go back to Dixie,
Take me back to dear ol' Dixie,
That's the only li'l ol' place for li'l ol' me.
Old times there are not forgotten,
Whuppin' slaves and sellin' cotton,
And waitin' for the Robert E. Lee.
(It was never there on time.)

I'll go back to the Suwannee,
Where pellagra makes you scrawny,
And the honeysuckle clutters up the vine.1
I really am a-fixin'
To go home and start a-mixin'
Down below that Mason-Dixon line.

Oh, poll tax2,
How I love ya, how I love ya,
My dear ol' poll tax.

Won'tcha come with me to Alabammy,
Back to the arms of my dear ol' Mammy,
Her cookin's lousy and her hands are clammy,
But what the hell, it's home.3

Yes, for paradise the Southland is my nominee.
Jes' give me a ham hock and a grit of hominy.

I wanna go back to Dixie,
I wanna be a Dixie pixie
And eat corn pone4 till it's comin' outta my ears.5
I wanna talk with Southern gentlemen
And put that white sheet on again,5
I ain't seen one good lynchin' in years. 

The land of the boll weevil,
Where the laws are medieval,
Is callin' me to come and nevermore roam.
I wanna go back to the Southland,
That "y'all" and "shet-ma-mouth" land,
Be it ever so decadent,
There's no place like home.


      1In live performances, Lehrer occasionally varied the lyrics of some of his songs. It is reported that this line was sometimes sung as:

"And the jasmine and the tear gas smell just fine."

      2After the Civil War, many Southern states enacted a Poll Tax, as a way of preventing poor black Republicans from voting. This lasted until the passage of the 24th Amendment in 1964.

      3This verse was modeled after the first verse of the Phil Harris hit, That's What I Like About the South, a kind of proto-rap song, which was one of Phil's signature pieces on The Jack Benny Show for years. Phil can be seen performing the song on YouTube here. The full lyrics are as follows:

Won't you come with me to Alabamy?
Let's go see my dear old Mammy,
She's fryin' eggs and broiling hammy.
That's what I like about the South.

Now there you can make no mistakey,
Where those nerves are never shaky.
Ought to taste her layer cakey,
That's what I like about the South.

She's got baked ribs and candied yams,
Those sugar-cured Virginia hams.
Basement full of those berry jams,
An' that's what I like about the South.

Hot corn bread, and black-eyed peas,
You can eat as much as you please,
'Cause it's never out of sea-son,
That's what I like about the South.

Aahhh, don't take one, have two,
They're dark brown and chocolate too.
Suits me, they must suit you,
'Cause that's what I like about the South.

Well it's way, way down where the cane grows tall,
Down where they say "Y'all".
Walk on in with that Southern drawl,
'Cause that's what I like about the South.

It's down where they have those pretty queens
Keep a-dreamin' those dreamy dreams.
Well let's sip that absinthe in New Orleans,
That's what I like about the South.

Here come old Bob with all the news,
Got the boxback coat and the button shoes.
But he's all caught up with his union dues,
An' that's what I like about the South.

Here come old Roy down the street,
Ho, can't you hear those scufflin' feet.
He would rather sleep than eat,
An' that's what I like about the South.

Now every time I pass your door,
You act like you don't want me no more.
Why don't you shake that head and sigh,
And I'll go walkin' right on by.

Gone on.  On, on, on and on and on.
Honey, when you tell me that you love me,
Then how come you close your eyes?

Did I tell you 'bout the place called Doo-wah-diddy?
It ain't no town and it ain't no city,
It's just awful small, but awful pretty,
Well, Doo-wah-diddy.

Well I didn't come here to criticise,
I'm not here to sympathise,
But don't tell me those no-good lies,
Cause a lyin' gal I do despise.

You love me like I love you,
Send me fifty, P-D-Q.
Roses are red and violets are pink,
I'm gonna get all fifty, I don't think.

She's got backbones and butter beans,
Ham hocks and turnip greens.
You and me and New Orleans,
An' that's what I like about the South.

      4Corn Pone:  corn bread often made without milk or eggs and baked or fried

      5In some live performances, the beginning of this verse was sung as:

I wanna start relaxin'
Down in Birmingham or Jackson
When we're havin' fun, why no one interferes. 

      This was a reference to separate events that occurred in 1962 and 1963. In 1962, James Meredith was the first black person allowed to enroll at the University of Mississippi in Jackson, but the presence of the National Guard was required to ensure that he was actually able to attend. In 1963, police in Birmingham, Alabama used fire hoses and dogs to break up a demonstration being carried out by Martin Luther King and several other ministers.

      5In the studio version of this song, the line is "And put my white sheet on again."

      Lehrer Comments:  "I Wanna Go Back to Dixie was a crowd pleaser in the 1950s because one associated that kind of bigotry with the South. Now the North is just as bad, so it doesn't really make much sense any more." --1996 Interview

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