Words Of Wisdom

by Brian Dewan

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  • Lovingly-designed foldout Digipak featuring album art by Brian Dewan, plus a glossy 11" x 17" poster.

    Includes immediate download of 16-track album in the high-quality format of your choice (MP3, FLAC, and more), plus unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app.
    ships out within 3 days

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about

A true American original, artist and ephemeralist Brian Dewan has collaborated and toured with They Might Be Giants, played zither with the Raymond Scott Orchestrette, Drink Me, and three different symphony orchestras, and written scores for theater and films of Ladislaw Starewicz, Three Legged Dog, Sesame Street, MTV and Blue Man Group. He is one half of the electronic music duo Dewanatron, with cousin Leon Dewan.

Brian’s first album since 2000’s The Operating Theater (Instinct Records), Words Of Wisdom is a collection of North American songs written between 1690 and 1950. Some of the authors are known, most of them not. The songs espouse varying perspectives, by turns humorous, frank, sentimental and stoic.

Words Of Wisdom is the first in Brian’s Humanitarium Series: recordings of musical artifacts drawn from folk material, parlor music, ditties, chants, jingles, historic popular song, and music for liturgical and institutional use.

"Enigmatic jack-of-all-trades Brian Dewan has dabbled in everything from carpentry to free-form electronic music and worked with everyone from the Blue Man Group to Sesame Street, so it comes as no surprise that his latest mission is to rescue as many long-buried American folk songs from 'old schoolbooks, garage sales attics, and basements' as he can find and filter them through his sepia-toned armory of parlor-room instrumentation... Dewan's love for the macabre informs many of his song selections, some of which were obviously drawn from the dusty pages of children's books created in an age where parents and politicians had more important things to do than remove 'questionable' material from scholastic texts for fear of moral depravity and potential lawsuits... Masterfully conveys the pioneering attitude, limitless imagination, and dark whimsy of the pre-Information Age."
James Christopher Monger, All Music Guide

"If you're wondering why Dewan has only released three albums in 14 years, it's because he's been providing cover artwork for the likes of David Byrne (Uh-Oh), They Might Be Giants (Lincoln), and Neutral Milk Hotel (the interior of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea). His piece for the latter ('Flying Victrola') is almost as enchanting as Jeff Mangum's magnum opus. Dewan's follow-up to Brian Dewan Tells the Story (1993) and The Operating Theatre (1998) is a one-man affair with the artist on autoharp, electric zither, organ, and accordion. Of the solo efforts I've heard this year, Words of Wisdom is among the best."
Kathleen C. Fennessy, AndMoreAgain

"This isn't your average singer/songwriter!"
MTV.com

credits

released 13 November 2007

ESC009

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about

Brian Dewan Catskill, New York

Brian Dewan presents The Humanitarium—a series of folk compilations featuring songs he’s unearthed in old schoolbooks, at garage sales, in attics and basements, arranged for his instruments of choice: autoharp, electric zither, organ and accordion. Fans of Brian's original albums, his art, and his work with They Might Be Giants and the Blue Man Group will treasure the Humanitarium series. ... more

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Track Name: Words Of Wisdom
There is wisdom in the proverbs of a bygone day
Much wisdom in the sayings that our fathers used to say
If we could but remember them they’d save us pain and woe
So listen while I tell you of those sayings if I may

You never miss the water ’til the well runs dry
And if you step upon a rake ’twill bop you in the eye
So save up all your money for a rainy day
And wait, wait, wait ’til the clouds roll by

You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink
So take a dose of aspirin if it hurts your head to think
And people in glass houses should pull down the window shades
And never, never, never bathe in the kitchen sink

For all that glitters, so they tell us, is not gold
And moss is never gathered by a stone that’s being rolled
But who in heaven’s name has any earthly use for moss
For you can’t get any younger when you’ve really gotten old
Track Name: The Kettle Valley Line
I always ride up on the roof on the Kettle Valley Line
I always ride up on the roof on the Kettle Valley Line
I always ride up on the roof
I’d pay my fare, but what’s the use
So I always ride up on the roof on the Kettle Valley Line

I order my meals through the ventilator on the Kettle Valley Line
I order my meals through the ventilator on the Kettle Valley Line
I order my meals through the ventilator
They taste no worse and saves tipping the waiter
I order my meals through the ventilator on the Kettle Valley Line

I buy a sandwich from the cook on the Kettle Valley Line
I buy a sandwich from the cook on the Kettle Valley Line
I buy a sandwich from the cook
He pockets my money, the dirty crook
I buy a sandwich from the cook on the Kettle Valley Line

The railroad bulls are gentlemen on the Kettle Valley Line
The railroad bulls are gentlemen on the Kettle Valley Line
The railroad bulls are gentlemen
We’ll never see their like again
The railroad bulls are gentlemen on the Kettle Valley Line

They tip their hats and call you Sir on the Kettle Valley Line
They tip their hats and call you Sir on the Kettle Valley Line
They tip their hats and call you Sir
Then chuck you into the local stir
But they tip their hats and call you Sir on the Kettle Valley Line
On the Kettle Valley Line
On the Kettle Valley Line
Track Name: The Civil War
Eastend was once a happy town where harmony and love
Was busting out at all the seams and in the trees above
The doves of peace were laying eggs, there were no signs of strife
For each man loved his neighbor and sometimes his neighbor’s wife
But a sudden change soon come about, storm clouds were in the sky
Nobody stopped to kiss a body coming through the rye
For each man eyed his neighbor with malice and with hate
Housewives no longer spilled the beans across the garden gate
We had a war, a civil war
Folks often asked us what we’re fighting for
Well most of us wanted water mains, and sewers and bathtubs too
But the rest of them decided they’d make the slop pails do

It was sewer pipes versus slop pails, the town was split in two
With profane propaganda the air was often blue
The sewer and water faction ran a sanitary plank
They said shallow wells and slop pails and toilets always stank
But those slop-pailers were stubborn, they fought with tooth and nail
They said our nitwit council should be languishing in jail
They told how high taxation and plumbers’ union fees
Would land us in the poorhouse and they’d throw away the keys
We had a war, a civil war
Folks often asked us what we’re fighting for
Well most of us wanted water mains, and sewers and bathtubs too
But the rest of them decided they’d make the slop pails do

But when the vote was counted the slop-pailers met defeat
And then they started tearing up our quiet village street
Now peace and harmony once more replaced the grapes of wrath
So when next you visit Eastend, just stop in and have a bath
Track Name: Horse Named Bill
I had a horse and his name was Bill
And when he ran, he couldn’t stand still
He ran away one day
And also I ran with him
He ran so fast that he could not stop
He ran into a barber shop
And fell exhaustionized with his eyeteeth
In the barber’s left shoulder

I’m going out to the woods next year
To hunt for beer and not for deer
I am, I ain’t
I’m a great sharpshootress
At shooting birds I am a beaut
There is no bird I cannot shoot
In the eye - in the ear
In the teeth - in the fingers

In ’Frisco Bay there lives a whale
She eats porkchops by the pail
By the hatbox, by the pillbox
By the hogshead, by the schooner
Her name is Lena, she’s a peach
Just don’t leave food within her reach
Or toothpaste, or candles
Or chocolate ice cream sodas
She loves to laugh and when she smiles
You just see teeth for miles and miles
And tonsils and spareribs
And things too fierce to mention
She knows no games so when she plays
She rolls her eyes for days and days
She vibrates, she yodels
And breaks the Ten Commandments

A man went up in a balloon so big
The people on the Earth looked just like a pig
Like a mice, like a katydid
Like flies and like fleasens
The balloon went up with its bottom side higher
Fell on the wife of a country squire
She made a noise like a doghound, like a steam whistle
And also like dynamite
Oh what can you do in a case like that
Oh what can you do but stamp on your hat
Or an eggshell, or your toothbrush
Or anything that’s helpless

I like to go down by the brook
With a fishing line and hook
And fish for clams
And oranges and bananas
And if there is a sign so near
That says no fishing goes on here
I’ll hunt for buttons
Or for turnips, or for candy
Track Name: Tobacco's But An Indian Weed
Tobacco’s but an Indian weed
Grows green at morn, cut down at eve
It shows our decay, we are but clay
Think on this when you smoke tobacco

The pipe that is so lily white
In which so many take delight
Gone with a touch, man’s life is such
Think on this when you smoke tobacco

The pipe that is so foul within
Shows how the soul is stained with sin
It doth require the purging fire
Think on this when you smoke tobacco

The ashes that are left behind
Doth serve to put us all in mind
That unto dust return we must
Think on this when you smoke tobacco

The smoke that doth so high ascend
Shows that our life must have an end
The vapor’s gone, man’s life is done
Think on this when you smoke tobacco
Track Name: The Devil Made Texas
Oh the devil in Hell they say he was chained
And there for a thousand years he remained
He neither complained and nor did he groan
But decided he’d start up a hell of his own
Where he could torment the souls of men
Without being shut in a prison pen
So he asked the Lord if He had any sand
Left over from the making of this great land
The Lord, He says yes, I have plenty on hand
But it’s way down south on the Rio Grande
And to tell you the truth, the stuff is so poor
I doubt it would do for a hell anymore
So the devil went down and looked over the truck
And he said as it came as a gift he was stuck
For once he examined it careful and well
He decided the place was too dry for a hell
So the Lord, just to get the stuff off of His hands
Said He’d promise the devil He’d water the lands
For He had some old water that wasn’t no use
A regular bog hole that stunk like the deuce
So the grant it was made and the deed it was given
The Lord, He returned to His place up in Heaven
The devil soon saw he had everything needed
To make up a hell, and so he proceeded
He scattered tarantulas over the roads
Put thorns on the cactus and horns on the toads
He sprinkled the sand with millions of ants
So the man who sits down must wear soles on his pants
He lengthened the horn of the Texas steer
He added an inch to the jackrabbit’s ear
He put water puppies in all of the lakes
And under the rocks he put rattlesnakes
He wove thorns and brambles all over the trees
He mixed up the dust with jiggers and fleas
The rattlesnake bites you, the scorpion stings
The mosquito delights you by buzzing his wings
The heat in the summer’s a hundred and ten
Too cool for the devil and too hot for men
And all that remained in that climate soon bore
Stings, bites and scratches, and blisters galore
He quickened the buck of the bronco steed
He poisoned the feet of the centipede
Where the wild boar roams and the black chaparral
It’s a hell of a place that we’ve got for a hell
He planted red peppers beside of the brooks
The Mexicans use them in all that they cook
Just dine with a Mexican and you will shout
"I've got hell on the inside as well as the out!"
Track Name: Only A Brakeman
Listen now while I tell you
Of a story you do not know
Of a true and trembling brakeman
And to Heaven he did go

Do you see that train a-coming
Oh it's good old ninety-nine
Oh she's puffing and a-blowing
For you know she is behind

See the true and trembling brakeman
As he signals to the cab
There is but one chance for him
And that chance is to grab

See the true and trembling brakeman
As he falls beneath the train
He had not a moment's warning
Before he fell beneath the train

See the brave young engineer man
At the age of twenty-one
Stepping down from upon his engine
Crying, Lord, what have I done?

Is it true I've killed a brakeman
Is it true that he is dying
Lord, you know I tried to save him
But I could not stop in time

See the wheels go rolling o'er him
O'er his mangled body and head
See his sister bending o'er him
Crying, Brother, are you dead?

Sighing Sister, yes I'm dying
Going to a better shore
Oh my body's on a pathway
I can never see ye no more
Track Name: There Was An Old Woman
There was an old woman in our town
In our town did dwell
She loved her husband dearly
But another man twice as well
Sing too-de-um, sing too-de-um
Whack fol-lolly-day

She went down to the butcher shop
To see if she could find
To see if she could find something
To make her old man blind
Sing too-de-um, sing too-de-um
Whack fol-lolly-day

She got twelve dozen marrow bones
She made him suck them all
Said he, old woman, I am so blind
I can’t see you at all
Sing too-de-um, sing too-de-um
Whack fol-lolly-day

Said he, I’d go and drown myself
If I could only see
Said she, my dearest husband
I’ll go and show you the way
Sing too-de-um, sing too-de-um
Whack fol-lolly-day

She bundled him up in his old gray coat
She took him to the brim
Said he, I cannot drown myself
Unless you push me in
Sing too-de-um, sing too-de-um
Whack fol-lolly-day

The old woman took a step or two back
To give a rolling spring
The old man stepped a little to the side
And she went tumbling in
Sing too-de-um, sing too-de-um
Whack fol-lolly-day

She bubbled and gurgled and squawled out
As loud as she could bawl
Says he, old woman, I am so blind
I can’t see you at all
Sing too-de-um, sing too-de-um
Whack fol-lolly-day

The old man being kind-hearted
For fear she couldn’t swim
He went and got a very long pole
And pushed her further in
Sing too-de-um, sing too-de-um
Whack fol-lolly-day
Track Name: The Mirimachi Fire
This is the truth that I now tell you
Part of which my eyes did see
What did happen to the people
On the banks of the Mirimachi

Seventh evening of October
Eighteen-hundred twenty-five
Two hundred people died by fire
It scorched those that did survive

Some said it was because the people’s
Sins did raise like mountains high
They did ascend up to Jehovah
He would not see and justify

In order to destroy their lumber
And the country to distress
He sent the fire in a whirlwind
From the howling wilderness

’Twas in the Nor’west first discovered
Twenty-two men there did die
Then it passed across the meadows
To Newcastle it did fly

While the people were all sleeping
Fire seized upon the town
Fine and handsome were the buildings
They soon tumbled to the ground

Then it went on to Black River
Where it did kill sixty more
Then it made its way with fury
’Til it reached the briny shore

Burnt three ships that they were building
And two more at anchor lay
Some of those who saw that fire
Thought it was the judgment day

Forty-two miles by one hundred
This great fire did extend
All was done within eight hours
Not exceeding over ten

Kill the wild beasts of the forest
And in the rivers all the fish
Such another awful fire
To see again I do not wish
Track Name: The Big Rock Candy Mountains
One evening as the sun went down, the jungle fire was burning
Down the track came a hobo hiking, and said Boys, I’m a-turning
I’m headed for a land that’s far away, beside the crystal fountain
So come with me, we’ll go and see the big rock candy mountains

In the big rock candy mountains there’s a land that’s fair and bright
Where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars all are empty and the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees
And the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings
In the big rock candy mountains

In the big rock candy mountains all the cops have wooden legs
All the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled eggs
Where the farmers’ trees are full of fruit and their barns are full of hay
And I’m bound to go where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall and the wind don’t blow
In the big rock candy mountains

In the big rock candy mountains you never change your socks
And little streams of alcohol come trickling down the rocks
There ain’t no short-handle shovels, no axes, spades or picks
And I’m bound to stay where they sleep all day
Where they hung the Turk that invented work
In the big rock candy mountains

In the big rock candy mountains all the jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again as soon as you are in
Why the brakemen have to tip their hats and the railroad bulls are blind
There’s a lake of stew and a gin lake too
You can paddle all around them in a big canoe
In the big rock candy mountains
Track Name: Girls Of Ohio
Hi-ho, the world may know
The very best girls are from Ohio
We can darn a stocking, turn a wheel
Get up a dinner or dance a reel
Workers in the morning, ladies at night
Yet always cheerful and polite
Sing gaily sing, sing gaily sing
We sing all day at work or play
For our hearts are as pure as the morning

Hi-ho, the world may know
The very best girls are from Ohio
Up with the lark in the morning bright
Away to our tasks with hearts so light
Sweep a floor, make a bed
Cheerful morning table spread
Sing gaily sing, sing gaily sing
We sing all day at work or play
For our hearts are as pure as the morning

Hi-ho, the world may know
The very best girls are from Ohio
Whenever we meet the suffering poor
We freely give, we can work for more
For well we know the generous part
Makes the freest hand and the lightest heart
Sing gaily sing, sing gaily sing
We sing all day at work or play
For our hearts are as pure as the morning

Hi-ho, the world may know
The very best girls are from Ohio
Wash and iron, bake and clean
Dress up for a party as nice as a queen
If you want to lead a happy life
Don’t leave Ohio ’til you get a wife
Sing gaily sing, sing gaily sing
We sing all day at work or play
For our hearts are as pure as the morning

Hi-ho, the world may know
The very best girls are from Ohio
Track Name: Blue-Haired Boy
He’s gone forevermore is our darling blue haired boy
We’ll never see our cross-eyed darling more
Like a dream he passed away on the thirty-ninth of May
He never died so suddenly before

No more upon the mat will he play with pussycat
No more between his teeth he’ll squeeze her tail
No more he’ll rub her nose against the red-hot iron stove
For little brother Jimmy’s kicked the pail

We knew he was departing by the color of his breath
We saw his eyebrows dropping in the mud
The doctor said the only thing to save the boy from death
Was to stop the circulation of his blood

We gently bathed his head in a pot of boiling lead
And then we gently laid him down to rest
But through the night a burglar came and broke into the room
And swiped the mustard plaster off his chest

We filled his mouth with glue to try to bring him to
Alas, though, all our efforts were in vain
But last of all we tried, but he sneezed and smiled and died
He blew his nose and smiled and died again

He’s gone forevermore at the age of ninety-four
There’s nothing in this world his life could save
I’m going to the barbershop to fill his last request
To plant a bunch of whiskers on his grave
Track Name: Carve That Possum
That possum meat am good to eat (carve him to the heart)
You’ll always find it good and sweet (carve him to the heart)
My dog did bark and I went to see (carve him to the heart)
He had that possum up a tree (carve him to the heart)
Carve that possum - carve that possum, children
Carve that possum - carve him to the heart
Carve that possum - carve that possum, children
Carve that possum - carve him to the heart

I reached up for to pull him in (carve him to the heart)
That possum, he begin to grin (carve him to the heart)
I took him home and dressed him off (carve him to the heart)
I hung him that night in the frost (carve him to the heart)
Carve that possum - carve that possum, children
Carve that possum - carve him to the heart
Carve that possum - carve that possum, children
Carve that possum - carve him to the heart

The way you cook that possum sound (carve him to the heart)
Is parboil him and bake him brown (carve him to the heart)
Put sweet potatoes in the pan (carve him to the heart)
The sweetest meat in all the land (carve him to the heart)
Carve that possum - carve that possum, children
Carve that possum - carve him to the heart
Carve that possum - carve that possum, children
Carve that possum - carve him to the heart
Track Name: The Mountaineer's Wedding
Oh when’re you going to come see me
Come see me, come see me
Oh when’re you going to come see me
My dear old Nicholas boy

I think I’ll come next Sunday
Next Sunday, next Sunday
I think I’ll come next Sunday
If the weather is good

Oh how long d’you think you’ll court me
You’ll court me, you’ll court me
Oh how long d’you think you’ll court me
My dear old Nicholas boy

I think I’ll court you all night
All night, all night
I think I’ll court you all night
If the weather is good

Oh when’re we going to get married
Get married, get married
Oh when’re we going to get married
My dear old Nicholas boy

I think we’ll marry in a week
In a week, in a week
I think we’ll marry in a week
If the weather is good

Oh what’ll we ride to the wedding in
To the wedding in, to the wedding in
Oh what’ll we ride to the wedding in
My dear old Nicholas boy

I think I’ll bring my log sled
My log sled, my log sled
I think I’ll bring my log sled
If the weather is good

Oh why not bring your buggy
Your buggy, your buggy
Oh why not bring your buggy
My dear old Nicholas boy

The ox won’t work to the buggy
To the buggy, to the buggy
The ox won’t work to the buggy
’Cause I never seen him try

Oh who’re you going to bring to the wedding
To the wedding, to the wedding
Oh who’re you going to bring to the wedding
My dear old Nicholas boy

I think I’ll bring my children
My children, my children
I think I’ll bring my children
If the weather is good

Well I didn’t know you had any children
Any children, any children
Well I didn’t know you had any children
My dear old Nicholas boy

Oh yes I have six children
Six children, six children
Oh yes I Have six children
Joe Jim John Sally and the baby

Run and tell Aunt Mary
Aunt Mary, Aunt Mary
Run and tell Aunt Mary
The old grey goose is dead

The one that she’s been saving
Been saving, been saving
The one that she’s been saving
To make a feather bed
Track Name: Abalone
Oh some think that the Lord is fat
And some that he is bony
But as for me, I think that He
Is like an abalone

Oh some drink rain and some champagne
And whiskey by the pony
But I will try a dash of rye
And a hunk of abalone

Oh some like ham and some like jam
And some like macaroni
But our tomcat gets nice and fat
On juicy abalone

The more we take the more they make
In deep-sea matrimony
Race suicide will ne’er betide
The fertile abalone

I telegraph my better half
By Morse or by Marconi
But when in need of greater speed
I send an abalone

Oh Mission Point’s a friendly joint
Where every crab’s a crony
And true and kind you’ll ever find
The faithful abalone

Some live on hope and some on dope
And some on alimony
But bring me in a pail of gin
And a tub of abalone

Oh some folks boast of quail on toast
Because they think it’s tony
But I’m content to pay my rent
And live on abalone

Oh some folks say that pain is real
And some say that it’s phony
But as for me when I can’t agree
I eat an abalone
Track Name: I Cannot Sing The Old Songs
I cannot sing the old songs
Their charm is sad and deep
Their melodies would waken
Old sorrows from their sleep
And though all unforgotten still
And sadly sweet they be
I cannot sing the old songs
They are too dear to me

I cannot sing the old songs
I sang long years ago
For heart and voice would fail me
And foolish tears would flow
For bygone hours come o’er my heart
With each familiar strain
I cannot sing the old songs
Or dream those dreams again