1. The teacher, Miss Randall, was a power-mad martinet: tall, black-haired, with a constant scowl and a baton that doubled as a weapon of mass destruction.
2. Why should anyone other than future pop stars learn how to sing? It was a holdover from prehistoric times, when people sang to each other for entertainment. News flash: we had radio and tv now!
3. How could you grade someone on their musical ability? It was a talent, like painting or poetry.
5. The songs were usually oppressively heterosexist, all about boys meeting their true loves, courting girls, getting married. Only Streets of Laredo mentioned a gay relationship, and the boyfriend was dead.
We didn't know about cool folksingers like gay-friendly Woody and Arlo Guthrie, or the gay Justin Utley (left).
So we decided to engage in some civil disobedience, just like I had in second grade, when I corrupted the Mean Boy. We got a few confederates, had a practice session in Bill's family room -- his big brother Mike joked that we were becoming rock stars -- and when it came time to sing, we had a few different lyrics:
Shucking of the Corn, Old People's Version
The winter's cold in Cairo, the sun refuses to shine
Before I'd let my true love suffer, I'd work all the summertime.
The winter's cold in Cairo, the sun refuses to shine.
If I can't see a boy with muscles, I'll kiss a porcupine!
"Some of you are way off!" Miss Randall shouted. "Pay attention to the words!"
Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she bake a cherry pie, Charming Billy?
She can bake a cherry pie, quick as a cat can wink his eye
She's a young thing, and cannot leave her mother
Can he take off all his clothes, Charming Billy?
He can take off all his clothes, and be naked to his toes
He's a young thing, and cannot show his pee-pee.
Now she was catching on. "Sing the right words!"
Sweet Betsy from Pike, Old People's Version
Oh don't you remember sweet Betsy from Pike,
Who crossed the wide prairie with her husband Ike,
With two yoke of oxen, a big yellow dog,
A tall Shanghai rooster, and one spotted hog?
Oh, don't you remember sweet Benny from Pike
Who crossed the wide schoolyard with his buddy Ike
With two boys with muscles and a color tv,
And a tall guy from Shanghai who wants to kiss me?
We had to stay after school and write an essay on "Our Proud Musical Heritage," but it was worth it.