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Thursday, December 31, 2009


Track 9: Tub-Tub-Ma-Ma-Ga-Ga

album: American History + Rock-n-Roll = The Deedle Deedle Dees

words & music by Lloyd Miller, arrangement by Chris Johnson, Ely Levin, Lloyd Miller, and Anand Mukherjee

lead vocals: Ulysses S. Dee (Lloyd Miller)

guest kid vocalists: Charlie Kil7gore, Hannah Finamore-Rossler, Elodie Keating, Isabel Thornton



If you get tired, do the Tub-Tub-Tubman
If you get mad, do the Martin Luther King
If you're feeling greedy, give it away like Gandhi
Hum, hum, if you're too tired to sing


If you get tired, do the Tub-Tub-Tubman

She never let anybody whine on the way

"I'm sleepy!"
"I'm hungry!"

"I want to go back to the plantation!"
"Stop whining, keep walking. We got ten more miles today."


If you get mad Do the Ma-Ma-Martin

Let me tell you, it's not easy

People can be so mean

But take somebody's hand, a woman or a man

I don't care if you can't stand 'em

Tell 'em "I'm stickin' with love, hate's too much for me."


If you get greedy then give it away like Gandhi

cos all you need are some sandles, some glasses and a mat

At least that's what some fella from Massachusetts told me

when he was tryin' to explain why he only traveled with one pair of slacks


As I've mentioned before, most Dees songs that actually make it on an album have been "battle-tested." We would say "kid-tested," but read on. This is a song that we've played for years for all different types of audiences -- babies, preschoolers, elementary schoolers, even surly junior highers. There have been a number of times that Chris (Booker Dee) and I have shown up at an NYC school to perform for (no joke) as many as 600 kids. If the kids are little (3rd grade and younger) they usually don't care what we do -- they just love hearing music and getting a chance to move around. If they're older, though, they expect to be entertained... and when two dudes show up in sport coats toating a banjo and an upright bass and calling themselves "The Deedle Deedle Dees" (usually mispronounced by the adminstrator whose introduces us first by threatening the kids that they better behave or we'll never ever come back) the odds are decidedly not in our favor.

That's where this and other workhorse tunes of ours come in. For starters, this song probably has the most famous names of any Dees composition (we prefer the lesser known heroes and villains of history, as our loyal fans know) so a good number of kids, whether they know a lot, a little, or nothing about the three namechecked people, at least feel some sort of familiarity with the subject matter. During the course of this song, they won't learn much more about these people than they already knew, but they (amazingly nearly all of them) "do the Tub-Tub-man" (walk in place), "the Ma-Ma-Martin" (take hands with someone next to them or, if this is socially unacceptable, pretend they're holding hands or, in extreme cases, just stand near someone), and "the Ga-Ga-Gandhi" (slap hands with someone). In my very brief pre-song intro I explain that they're walking because Ms. Tubman did a lot of walking, holding hands because MLK held other people's hands to show the police and others that he was strong and couldn't be ignored, and giving fives because Gandhi liked to give people things. Simplistic, yes, but efficient. If one of them, just one, looks up one of these people later, it's worth it.

A note on the first verse: according to eyewitness accounts, Harriet Tubman actually said "You'll be free or die" when runaway slaves protested that they wanted to turn back. She said this while brandishing a pistol. In a classroom situation I'll explain this to the kids, in an auditorium, it works much better to simply sing what's above: "Stop whining, keep walking..."

A note on the second verse: When kids groan in response to my request that they hold hands, I tell them to imagine themselves and everyone else in the school in Times Square (pre-Bloomberg's no-traffic Times Square). If all of you, every kid in this school, held hands and blocked the street, I ask them, could cars pass without hitting you? This explanation doesn't get the no-hand-holders to change their minds most of the time, but, if I'm a good reader of faces, most of the kids seem to get that the idea that holding hands doesn't only signify young love. It's a start.

A note on the third verse: A good friend of mine is a big fan of Rick Steves, the public television host who advocates traveling extremely light to the point that one has to wash and hang one's underwear every night. Re-read the lines in light of this fact.

A note on the kids who sing:

Isabel is my guitar student. I first worked with her over four years ago when she was in a second-grade production of Twelfth Night that my wife put on with her class. We wrote a bunch of original songs. Isabel, pardon the expression, played the fool.

Elodie used to be my guitar student. Both she and Hannah are, like Isabel, veterans of my wife's class and performers I admire.

Char7lie (he likes to spell his name like that, the "7" is silent) is an awesome drummer. He also, yes you guessed it, was in my wife's class. He wrote a rap about fish and chips that I still repeat in my head when things get bad.

A note on the first guitar solo: Yes, that is a guitar but that's not the only instrument you're hearing. There's also a pencilina there. The two instruments trade back and forth. See if you can figure out which is which.

What's a pencilina? Our producer, Bradford Reed, invented it. He used to play it when he was in the band King Missile and in the Blue Man Group (he was an original member of the cast, "before it went all corporate" as I've heard some folks remark). He now plays it on his solo albums and his scores for shows on the Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, and elsewhere. Check him and his "amazing pencilina" out here: