The bus driver who offered me a free ride for a song was driving the 94 again yesterday.
"We've missed you, been waiting for you," he said. "There's room right here on the wheel well for your guitar case."
The boy with the earbuds grinned and shoved over to make room for a woman with guitar, and a few of the passengers further back smiled at me, clearly aware of what was coming -- a song from a stranger.
I unpacked my guitar, telling the busdriver, "You weren't driving the last time I rode this bus, but I had such a bad cold that you wouldn't have wanted me to croak anything out."
"You seem fine today," he observed.
So I sat down and sang my favourite joke song (don't you think there should be a music category like that?), 'The Preacher and the Bear.' This time, no one applauded, but they laughed at the punchline. Then I packed up my guitar again, and chatted with the driver about this and that until we arrived at the university where I got off.
The driver said, "You made the day of some of my riders. If you can do that, why not?" And I agreed. But next time, I think I'll sing an audience participation song. Hey Jude, maybe?
Last night I searched the internet for 'The Preacher and the Bear,' a song that my Uncle Richard recorded in the early '70s with the Macklin Alouettes on the only record they ever made. It's a song that has stayed with me for reasons unknown -- I guess because it's a cute, clean joke with a catchy tune. I've sung it on several occasions, sometimes to pull the leg of clergy friends (substituting "Fr. Jim, he went a walking," for the opening line). It usually gets a chuckle or two.
There are some interesting versions of the song on YouTube, but they all leave the poor preacher stuck in a tree, including my favourite find by the Jubalaires, which is almost more like slam poetry than the song I sing.
I love how the story of the preacher and his grizzly nemesis are the verses between "That a-old-time-a-relid-gion-brother..."
Of course, I much prefer Uncle Richard's version of the story in which the two opponents go their separate ways, one somewhat triumphant and other unscathed. Not finding anything like it on YouTube, I've recorded my own version in an effort to keep the song alive -- I don't imagine too many people are listening to the Macklin Alouettes these days, and I'm not sure where the Alouettes found the song to begin with. Maybe they invented their own version? Complete with the sound of a boxing ring bell ('Ding! One round for the bear!').
So here's 'The Preacher and the Bear,' especially for Uncle Richard, for my friends and readers, and, as I said, as a record of a song that I can't find anywhere else. I'm glad for these electronic ways we have of preserving the stories and songs of the past (those Jubalaires have some pretty great old tunes if you have time to listen)... and I'm also grateful that I have a voice to sing one or two of them for my own enjoyment. It's not a great voice, but it's a good story. Enjoy!