AG: Then it gets to the American ethos, and, in this book (The Penguin Book of Ballads), I hadn’t seen it before, but there’s a.. one complete version of the great American ballad, which everybody knows, known as “The Streets of Laredo”, which is a classic ballad, as good as any of these other ones. Does anybody know the whole thing?
Student: Didn’t Marty Robbins write it?
AG: Well, I don’t know who did.
Student: I thought Marty Robbins wrote it.
AG: No, I don’t think so. Who’s Marty Robbins anyway?
Student: The guy who popularized it..
AG: I’ll find out.. Let me see.. ((Page) one-eleven..and there is actually…) No, it’s – from B.A, Botkin – A Treasury of American Folklore – “An American adaptation of the English eighteenth-century ballad, “The Unfortunate Rake”, of which there are many descendants. The rake, soldier, or sailor, having caught his death from flash-girls with syphilis” – So.. the reason he’s dying, he’s dying of syphilis, actually (it isn’t said here, in the ballad, and I’d never had known that until I looked this one up). Want to hear the whole thing? – Because it’s very rare to hear all the words
“As I walked out in the streets of Laredo/As I walked out in Laredo one day/I spied a poor cowboy wrapped up in white linen/Wrapped up in white linen and cold as the clay/ “Oh, beat the drums slowly and play the fife lowly/Play the dead march as you carry me along” – [Allen begins picking up the melody here] – “Take me to the green valley, there lay the sod o’er me/For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong/ “I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy”/These words he did say as I boldly stepped by/”Come sit down beside me and hear my sad story/I am shot in the breast and I know I must die/”Let sixteen gamblers come handle my coffin/Let sixteen cowboys come sing me a song/ Take me to the graveyard and lay the sod o’er me/For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong/”My friends and relations they live in the Nation/They know not where their boy has gone/I first came to Texas and hired to a ranchman/Oh, I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong/”It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing/It was once in the saddle I used to go gay/First to the dram-house andthen to the card-house/Got shot in the breast and I am dying today” – (Okay, he got shot, but, originally, it was syphilis, the cause of death wasn’t laid out) – “Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin;/Get six pretty maidens to bear up my pall/Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,/Put roses to deaden the sods as they fall./”Then swing your rope slowly and rattle your spurs lowly/And give a eild whoop as you carry me along,/And in the grave throw me and roll the sod o’er me/For I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong/ “Oh bury beside me my knife and six-shooter,/My spurs on my heel, as you sing me a song,/And over my coffin put a bottle of brandy,/That the cowboys may drink as they carry me along/ “Go bring me a cup, a cup of cold water,/To cool my parched lips”, the cowboy then said;/Before I returned his soul had departed,/And gone to the round-up – the cowboy was dead/We beat the drums slowly and played the fife lowly,/And bitterly wept as we bore him along/For we all loved our comrade, so brave, young and handsome/We all loved our comrade although he’d done wrong”.
It’s a very noble sentiment at the end, a very American sentiment too, like admiration for the outlaw, but, again, some little element of the..like Neal Cassady, (Jack) Kerouac, we all love our comrades – “so brave, young and handsome/We all loved our comrade although he’d done wrong” – that’s sort of the archetypal American drunken legend, the.. some kind of..
[Audio for the above can be found here, beginning at approximately fifty-nine-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding approximately sixty-three and-three-quarter minutes in]